Here’s how to be positive when “positive thinking” makes you cringe

While positive thinking can help you overcome obstacles, deal with hardship and reach new goals, thinking positively is much easier said than done. We spoke to the experts about how to create realistic expectations around positivity, and find a method that works for you.

Picture the scene: you’ve had a long, stressful day at work.

Your Zoom calls have refused to work. When you popped out at midday to grab lunch, you got caught in a downpour – twice. After work, you got into an argument with your significant other.

And just when you wanted to collapse on the sofa in front of Netflix, the boiler broke.

Now, imagine someone telling you that all you have to do to make everything OK again is to think positively.

Up for it? Of course not.

You want to rage, sulk and tell that well-meaning person to mind their own business. That’s not, however, the response we’ve been taught to prioritise in popular culture.

For years, the message we’ve received from the positivity movement has been uniformly prescriptive: change the way you think, and your life will improve exponentially. But in reality, this misconception is selling us false hope.

Thanks to our culture’s obsession with happiness, we’ve arrived at a model of positivity that suggests the power of our imagination alone can give us the perfect life.

According to master life coach Lydia Kimmerling, this type of fantasy is a misunderstanding of positive thinking.

“People think that once you start thinking positively, nothing bad will happen in your life,” she explains.

“This is not true: life is always going to be good and bad, positive and negative. You can’t stop life from doing its own thing.

“It’s about changing who you’re being in relation to life, not trying to change the nature of life itself.”

In fact, positive thinking can turn toxic when it prevents us from experiencing the full range of our emotions.

If you’ve ever been advised not to wallow when you were having a low period, or to “look on the bright side” when you suffered a disappointment, you’ll have experienced this in real-time. 

Not only does this excessive optimism cause harm to our mental health by encouraging us to repress emotions traditionally perceived as negative, but it can make us like we failed in our positivity mission when something bad happens.

“Thinking centred around ‘I need to be more positive’ can in itself lead to sabotaging your efforts to adopt a more positive outlook, as it is veiled with judgment, expectation and pressure to achieve,” says life and business coach Roo Davies.

However, while there’s a danger in overvaluing the power of our thoughts, positive thinking can also have great merit. As coaching psychologist Rosie Peacock explains, it’s particularly helpful for people whose mental framework predisposes them to negative emotions.

“Evolutionary psychology suggests we have an inbuilt survival mechanism called ‘negativity bias’ which means we tend to focus on the ‘bad’ things in life over the good,” she says.

“The application of positive psychology can teach you just how important your perspective is. Simply adapting a more positive mindset – or being a little more optimistic rather than pessimistic — can work wonders for your life.”

So how exactly do we go about practising healthy positivity?

The answer, according to the experts, has no one-size-fits-all approach, which is good news considering everyone’s inner world is so uniquely different.

Many of us still might prefer an explicit set of actions to help us feel as though we’re moving towards a place of positivity. Physical habits like walking, swimming or even cleaning are all tangible ways to encourage a positive mental attitude.

Menial tasks might not seem an obvious place to start, but they can be elevated to become mindful and soothing.

Try swapping out your regular products for an elevated alternative, like Method’s Wild Rhubarb Anti-Bac All Purpose Surface Cleaner – a summery fragrance (which legit smells like actual rhubarb, rather than overpowering chemicals). Making a change like this, combined with doing something proactive is a great way to introduce some positivity into your living space.

Alternatively, you can also take active steps to train your brain to come up with sunnier takeaways.

“One way to combat the negative bias is by learning the art of savouring,” says Peacock.

“This is a practice which takes an experience and connects it to all your senses. For positive experiences, it’s enjoying the moment, and for negative experiences, it’s moving through the emotion, acknowledging the feelings, processing them and letting them go.

“Then, once the emotions have been stilled, you’re able to review that experience objectively, reframing it or understanding what the positives were from that experience.”

Adopting a positive outlook needn’t mean you escape the reality of a situation, either – only that you shake off the idealism that prevents you from coping with life’s challenges.

Davies’ go-to technique reframes positivity in terms of helpful or unhelpful thinking that can give clarity to how you think and feel.

“Helpful thinking will enable you to make progress, feel in control, and to be energised and content – these feelings will help shape a helpful perspective,” she explains, “while unhelpful thinking is often fused with fear, comparison and worry. This feeling will cloud your view and keep you stuck.

“For example: if you have unhelpful thoughts around your ability to perform in an interview, you can switch that thinking to focusing on ‘What will serve me well right now?’ This could be watching videos on interview tips or practising questions with a friend.”

Positive thinking and positive action aren’t mutually exclusive, though. Backing up your state of mind with a set of conscious actions, Kimmerling suggests, may help reinforce the path of positivity by stimulating your brain, making you feel good, and getting you more motivated to keep choosing it. 

“A quick and simple way to figure out what new positive thought works best for you is to write down a negative thought you no longer want, then write down 10 positive versions that are the opposite,” she advises. 

“As you read each one back, feel for the one that lights you up. It may not be a direct opposite, but that buzzy feeling around the affirmation is a good guide to what you need right now.”

Whichever route to positivity we feel is the best fit for us, what’s evident is that it takes persistence to produce favourable outcomes in our life, even when it feels hard. The key is to see past the buzz-words and adopt the practices that feel best for you.

Embrace positivity and introduce a little more joy into your home this January, with Method’s Wild Rhubarb Anti-Bac All Purpose Cleaner. Method products ban boring from the kitchen sink – made from plant-based cleaners and with vegan-friendly, biodegradable ingredients, you can rest assured that your cleaning products have been thoughtfully designed with the planet and your home in mind.