I see a lot of memes on Facebook feed these days and they have never really sat well with me. Memes such as “Be Positive”, “Think positive thoughts and the universe will provide” “It’s going to be OK”, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and “Someday I’ll be a unicorn”. Actually the last one was sort of funny but you get the drift. Simply put if all the sad, depressed or anxious people had to do was think positive and everything would work out then the mental health profession would be reduced to creating happy memes on the sidewalk for a dollar a piece. These sayings, cliches, memes or whatever you wish to call them, are simply a sad attempt at a sympathy bandage by people who don’t want to get down and dirty and try a little empathy and understanding.
I’m going to show you exactly how useful positive thinking is. For a minute or two I want you to think of those things that make you happy. Dinner with a loved one, a hundred puppies licking you, unicorns, magic carpets, Hugh Jackman, Jenifer Lawrence or anything that genuinely makes you feel warm, loved and happy. Keep it in your mind and hold it there for as long as you can.
Now most of you have a healthy respect if not outright fear of spiders. I’m here to help you get over your fear of spiders so I open a jar for you and inside it is a Sydney Funnel Web. Yes it’s venomous, one of the most toxic in the world. It’s also aggressive but not to worry, I gave the jar a good shake to pacify it. I tip the jar onto your hand and the spider plops out. It’s quite large, almost the weight of a small candy bar.
You look down at your hand and the spider is very alien looking. Long black legs, chitinous body, hairy abdomen and the fangs, frankly they’re frigging huge. The spider immediately latches on and bites down striking you three or four times. Resist the urge to shake it off; you won’t feel the venom effects for another 15 minutes, plenty of time to get you to a hospital. The spider has had enough now and it scampers up your arm. You can feel its feet slightly digging in and tickling the hairs on your arm as it moves up. It crawls across your shoulder and up your neck. I can see that really tickles but please don’t move now you really don’t want a dose of venom that close to your carotid artery. It’s in your hair and you can feel it moving amongst your follicles as it tries to hide and burrow into your scalp.
How are those positive happy thoughts holding out? I would put money on the fact that you haven’t had a single thought about puppies or unicorns since I started talking about spiders. That’s because none of those happy positive thoughts have substance, they will simply evaporate on contact with fear. There is nothing behind those thoughts except for imagination and it’s damned easy to have your imagination subverted for other purposes. Once your imagination has turned to another subject those positive happy thoughts simply cease to exist.
There isn’t a single anxious person in the world who doesn’t already know this so when you give someone sympathy by telling them to be positive and buck up, things will get better the person you are saying that to knows exactly how meaningless those statements are. If all it took were happy thoughts sad people would already feel better. Anxious, depressed or sad people know better though. They already know that happy thoughts simply aren’t going to cut it.
All those fearful, negative, sad and depressing thoughts you might have in areas where you lack confidence they can’t be wished away. Confidence has to be earned and it can only be earned through hard work, sometimes requiring courage and bravery. For me the only things which ever replaces a fear or a negative thought is knowledge, practice and experience and the only way to gain those things is to repeatedly do the very things that make me afraid, anxious or sad.
For me this means I have to repeatedly putting myself in social situations. I know I am going to screw things up, stomp over other people’s feelings in my ignorance. I’m going to have ask people what I have done wrong or what I don’t understand, I’m going to have some of my deepest insecurities leak out from time to time. Worst of all the peoples who feelings I accidentally stomp, or I have to ask a blunt question they are going to be people I respect and sometimes they won’t speak to me again and that hurts. The only way I can gain knowledge experience and practice though is to keep doing those very things and accepting I’m in training to be better.
With every failure, more than I readily want to admit, and the occasional small victory one by one my fears, uncertainty, negative or sad thoughts are replaced. They are replaced with certainty, with understanding or with knowing I can do the very things I was once afraid to try. Self-confidence comes from mastery and you can’t master anything if you never try.
I only need one positive thought now and it is simply that I will get better with practice. It doesn’t evaporate in the face of fear because it isn’t based on my imagination. It is based on memories that I have practiced and I am better than before I started. That one positive thought has substance to it. Fear and negative thoughts blow right around it because I know that one fact with certainty and with practice I will replace all the rest of those fears and negative thoughts one by one. As my confidence grows it won’t be faked until I made it. It will be earned by the hundreds if not thousands of painful steps I took build it.