Henry Ford once said “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”
I was described a few months ago as “Relentlessly positive”. My Facebook friends will immediately understand why, as I’m sure it seems that every day I’m posting sayings of encouragement or positivity, and in fact it was a friend of sorts that I’d known since high school who said it. We’d never been best friends, we simply had an association through mutual friends and ended up in the same social circles at our school because it was small and by process of not fitting in with everyone else. This person and I hadn’t spoken face-to-face for probably 5 years, and I couldn’t tell you his favourite ice cream flavour or what he wanted to be when he grew up – nor could he say the same thing about me – yet here he was, acknowledging my positivity. I’m grateful for the description, and I’m grateful for the recognition, because oh boy positive thinking is hard work. I became worthy of that description once I’d gotten to my lowest, most miserable point in life, looked around and decided that it wasn’t where I wanted to be. To be positive is a choice I make, each and every day. It doesn’t come automatically and it doesn’t always come easily, but the choice is made every morning.
In January, 2013, my life sucked (on paper). My relationship ended and, just a week later, my company let me go as they’d lost an account. I’d been transferred across the world (from Australia to America), I loved what I did and I’d realised that the relationship that I’d been in for just over 6 years wasn’t where I saw my future. It hit me like a tonne of bricks. It would have been very easy for me to just give up, go home and live at my Mum’s house while I licked my wounds and pretended that I was just super. I didn’t, though. I’ve been able to grow and get through the sleepless nights, the stress and the shock of losing my job of 5 years by coming to a seemingly simple realisation: short of death, the almost simultaneous loss of my job and my relationship ending could either single-handedly be the worst things that could happen to me or I could make something of it.
That decision alone was the start of something within me. I realised, for the first time, that if I had another 60 or so years on this planet then I didn’t want to be miserable all the time. I’d been pushed to a “make me or break me” situation, so I committed to letting it make me. I realised I was unhappy with the cycles I’d gotten myself into – I was self medicating by working more, by disengaging from the relationship, by focusing on instant gratification or drinking or whatever helped me ignore Inner Steve and his cries for help.
My first step was to admit to myself that I didn’t want this life. That’s not to say I wanted to end it, but that I was tired of feeling like this, that I was worthy of something more. I had a conversation with myself (and some amazingly supportive friends, who I love dearly) and I started to own my actions and choices. If I was the sum of my choices, then the answer was wrong. If I was unhappy with where I was, I needed to change this. My family couldn’t do it. My friends couldn’t do it. Nobody else but me. I wasn’t alone, but it was a decision that only I could make. So I looked, and I realised that I had to change the way I had been doing things, because it was making me unhappy. Easier said than done. Changing habits is amazingly difficult, because they become automatic, unthinking actions. We learn, we repeat, it becomes ingrained. My human guide wrote something for me that I keep in my wallet to this day: “Your desire to change must be greater than your desire to stay the same” When I stopped and realised that I was on these hamster wheels of suck, and that I genuinely wanted to change, it became the pebbles that started a swift landslide. My desire to change had begun to outweigh my desire to let things progress as they had been.
After having that realisation, I did a self audit: What did I like about myself? What didn’t I? What about my job? Friends? Relationships? I started by establishing boundaries. What would I accept from myself and others? What was no longer acceptable? To boil it down: What made me feel positively about myself, and what made me feel negatively about myself? I had to acknowledge the negative characteristics and actions I’d been carrying round, and commit to actual change. I started by realising that all those things I’d been saying that I wanted – a promotion and more money – were a result of what I’d been taught to think by society. I understand that people have bills to pay, but it was like an old cartoon – I was trying to climb to the top of a ladder that never ended. I was always grasping for the next rung… why? Once again, I’d been running around for years after more money and titles, and yet here I was, unhappy at a basic level. I’d spent my adult life with my hand out, waiting for the next thing to be given to me. The things I felt needed to be altered were rapidly piling up!
After the audit, I stripped it back. My life up to this point had been my relationship and my job. OK, that was gone. But wait a minute. This meant I WAS FREE! Suddenly I could do what I wanted, and I wanted to keep this landslide rolling. I must admit, I enjoyed the feeling of giving up the stress and drama that I either created or encouraged. It was like bricks being lifted from my shoulders. I realised that I liked feeling positive. It felt nice. It wasn’t easy, though. Part of the changes involved me walking away from relationships that no longer were in my best interests – being able to respectfully disassociate from people whose thinking no longer aligned with mine, who encouraged poor decisions or who were so much relentless drama that it was exhausting. I changed my influences. I was always on Facebook, so I subscribed to some of the great positive communities and started bombarding myself with the messages. I spoke more with positive people, and made sure to listen to what they had to say. I started to consciously lift my chin and head up when I walked, so I wasn’t looking at my feet – I made it a point to make eye contact with people and smile. I also started hacking my brain – I’d tell myself silly jokes to make me laugh when I was walking to the train station. I still do it, and it ensures that I get a laugh and start my day off with a smile (For the record, the joke is almost always the same one: What’s brown and sticky? A brown stick!)
If there’s a takeaway from all this, it’s that positive thinking doesn’t happen overnight. I didn’t wake up one day singing and with rainbows all around and everything was magic – in fact, it’s been almost 18 months, and I still have days that can be rough – I get stressed, feel sad and so on. The good news is that it can be done. By making a decision and owning it, you really can create your own landslide of awesomeness. That’s the key though – you have to create it. It’s difficult, but VERY rewarding.
Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, thank you for taking the time to read this. I wish you the very best for today, and please feel free to comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org