Why I Gave Up “Positive Thinking”

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In my first teaching job, we always began the year by setting a goal.  We would write this goal on an index card and place it in an envelope.  Midway through the year, this goal would turn up in our mailbox, so that we could monitor our own progress.

This was kind of an inside joke between my aide and me, because we always had the same goal: to be more positive.

It wasn’t that we didn’t take our goal seriously or try to be positive.  It’s just that those pesky “negative” thoughts and words always crept in.

And it wasn’t only at work that this was happening.  I noticed negativity in my conversations, in my self-talk, and in my mood, in all aspects of my life.  And during my last winter living in the house in Michigan, I launched an all-out effort to change it.

How did I change it?  I got up early and recited a positive poem to begin my day.  I wrote a gratitude list.  I watched subliminal videos with positive affirmations on You Tube.  I read books about positive thinking.  I recited mantras throughout my day.  I wrote a list of everything I hated about myself and turned it all into the positive, opposite. 

I sought to bombard my mind with positive messages, multiple times a day, so that there would be no room for the negative.  And when I did have negative thoughts, I worked to replace them with positive thoughts, right away.  I worked as hard as I could to fight against that toxic negativity.

And I failed, miserably.  Changing my thoughts was never, could never be so simple. 

After I abandoned my journey toward “positive thinking,” I began a new journey–the journey toward truly understanding my mind.

I learned that in my effort to only think positive thoughts, I was rejecting my own mind.  Negative thoughts are an effort of the mind to communicate something, a cry for help.  And I was attacking my mind for its cries, because they were “negative.”

The alternative course of action is to make peace with these cries for help, and to answer them.

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This is what I learned in my journey to pursue that course:

1.  Negative thoughts are often based on misunderstandings.  When I attacked myself with my thoughts–when I called myself fat, stupid, or a failure–I was misunderstanding myself.  There was something about me that I needed to look at more closely, a misunderstanding that I needed to clear up.  Now, when I think poorly about myself or someone else, I gently ask my mind “why.”  Why am I thinking that?  In looking at the answer and clearing up the misunderstanding, I am able to stop a lot more of those thoughts than I was through “positive thinking.”

2.  Negative thoughts can stem from neglecting our own needs.  If I’m crabby about doing something, helping somebody, or going somewhere, I’ve found that it’s usually because I need to spend some time doing something I want.  In some way, it’s because I need to spend time meeting one of my needs.  Martyrdom and overextension breed such “negative” thoughts, which are really just the mind’s cries for help.

3.  Hopelessness comes from misunderstandings and exhaustion.  “It will never get better; why do I try?” is the mind’s way of saying, “I don’t know what to do, and I need a NAP!”  Learning to relax, then think calmly about a situation has done a lot more to open up my creativity, than any positive affirmations ever did.  And learning to ask for what I need, when I need it, has worked wonders toward stopping that feeling of overwhelm.

In the end, I learned that every negative thought has a purpose, and that simply trying to override them can never work in the long-term.  By abandoning “positive thinking” and moving toward understanding, I have found my outlook to be sunnier and my mind to be calmer.

36 Lessons I’ve Unlearned

Last year, on my birthday, I wrote 35 lessons that I learned in 35 years.  This year, I will share my 36th lesson that I learned, but first I wanted to share 36 “lessons” that I have unlearned.

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I have learned that all of these are not true at all:

1.  I need to “matter.”

2.  “Others” and “myself” are two separate categories.

3.  There is a wrong way to live.

4.  The things other people say should be taken at face value.

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5.  It is possible to have my needs met through another person.

6.  My actions don’t affect those around me.

7.  It is possible for love not to exist.

8.  Hierarchies exist.

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9.  Selfishness is caused my giving yourself too much attention.

10.  Narcissism is caused by loving yourself too much.

11. The “smoothest” relationships are the most beneficial.

12.  Experiencing fear makes me a failure.

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13.  It is not possible for me to experience inner peace.

14.  There is a such things as a coward.

15.  Character flaws exist.

16.  There are people who have it all together and never experience (or act upon) fear.

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17.  Having fewer possessions is virtuous.

18.  Willpower can solve problems.

19.  There is a such thing as “negative” thoughts and emotions.

20. It is necessary to fight some things in life.

21.  If someone really cares, they will be a part of our life forever.

22.  What we see, is what is real.

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23.  Autism is a hindrance.

24.  I have a “past.”

25.  The past exists.

26.  Judgement exists.

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27.  Hate exists.

28.  It is possible to lose weight without loving your body.

29.  We should always give advice to help those around us.

30. Talking about problems makes them more manageable.

31.  Drama is inevitable.

32.  Conflict is a part of being in a relationship.

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33.  There are dark and light times in our lives.

34.  Strong emotions add color to life.

35.  I am my thoughts and emotions.

36.   There is a such thing as unworthiness.

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It’s been an exciting trip around the sun, to be sure!  What are some lessons in life that you have unlearned?

In Praise of my Mischievous Child

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I keep a secret from my daughter.  There is something I don’t tell her, when I’m giving her a time-out or discussing the reason for the bad report from her teacher.

I am secretly happy that she gets into trouble.

Beanie isn’t angry.  She doesn’t get in trouble for deliberately harming anyone.

What Beanie does is test limits.  She conducts social experiments.  She’ll put her hand on the fire alarm to observe her teachers’ reactions.  She’ll say a bad word, to see what happens. She hits her friends, because she thinks it’s funny.

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Of course, we show her what happens when she crosses a line.  We don’t encourage her to “misbehave.”

But I still like that she does it.  I like that she believes enough in her own worth to be unafraid of making mistakes. She’s not afraid to try new things, make mistakes, and learn.

Can we say the same for ourselves?

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I know that I have always been a people-pleaser.  I have always been terrified of doing anything that might offend, or lead someone to “not like me.”  Being socially shunned has always been my fear.

And because of this fear, I have been afraid to try. Better not to rock the boat, than to do something “wrong.”  And when I inevitably made mistakes anyway, it led to a ridiculous drama in my head.  I admonished myself for being so stupid, and spent more time regretting the fact that I tried something that didn’t work, rather than learning from it.

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Beanie is not a people-pleaser.  She doesn’t feel the need to do anything or be a certain way in order to be loved.  Yet she also has no desire to hurt anyone’s feelings.  She realizes that her experiments won’t hurt anyone’ feelings, at least not in a way that a hug and an “I’m sorry” won’t fix.

Beanie doesn’t freak out when she makes a mistake.  She thinks no less of herself.  She merely  learns from it, and, if not, she repeats the “lesson.”  

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And the most amazing part of it all?  While staying true to herself, Beanie DOES have a lot of friends.  In the three schools she has attended, she has been quite popular in all of them.  She is very successful, socially, even after being the “new kid” twice.

I think we all might have something to learn from that kid.

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What is Selfishness?

Last winter, I asked a friend of mine what the difference was, between loving yourself and being selfish.  To me, they appeared to be the same thing.

My friend replied that they weren’t going to answer the question, and said I was coming at it from the wrong direction.  I chose to let it be, and let life be my teacher.

And a teacher, it most certainly was.

I learned what selfishness was, when I caught myself acting selfishly.  The specifics are not important–what is important is that I caught myself, and learned the lesson that was being presented to me.   And now I’m going to pass that on to you.

First off, let’s talk about what selfishness is NOT.  It is not selfish to:

  • Think highly of yourself.  You actually are amazing, and capable of much more than you realize.  There is nothing wrong with being aware of this.  In fact, having this awareness allows us to accomplish even more amazing things.
  • Forgive yourself.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean that the action is all right.  It means that we let go of the anger and judgement.  Once you stop judging yourself, you can look at the fears and misunderstandings that led you to make the mistake in the first place.  If you can’t look at the reasons for your behavior, you will have a very hard time making any changes.
  • Be compassionate toward yourself.  When you are more in tune to your own needs, you have an easier time understanding others.  We interpret everything we see through our own experiences.  When we’ve been extrememely kind and understanding toward ourselves, we can’t help but treat others the same way.
  • Seek support when you need it.  We’re not meant to go it alone.  There is absolutely nothing wrong about reaching out to others, when you feel like life has thrown you more than you can handle. 
  • Spend time on yourself.  You are a part of humanity, and you deserve to be happy as much as anyone else.  When you enjoy life, and see how amazing it all is, you will naturally pass this on to others.

So what is selfishness?  Ironically, I found that I was acting very selfishly when I wasn’t doing all of those things.  When we don’t know ourselves well, we judge our actions, thinking they are a part of who we are.  This leads us to become afraid of ourselves, and of life in general.

We can do any number of things, when we’re experiencing this fear.  What did I do?

  • I sought out approval and validation, and continued seeking it out when my doubts inevitably crept back.
  • I became fearful of being alone, and of being abandoned by the people who had given me validation.
  • I became very needy and clingy, because I did not trust myself.
  • I could only see my story and my struggles, and I expected everyone to drop everything to constantly give me validation.
  • I overspent, overate, and engaged in other behaviors in order to find happiness and safety.

Selfishness is not caused by loving yourself too much.  It’s a manifestation of fear, and nothing more.  We all do it, from time to time.  The important thing is not to judge ourselves when we realize that we are in the pattern–judgement will only make the problem worse.  We need to look at the fears and misunderstandings compassionately and–surprisingly–give ourselves a lot more attention.  This may be counter intuitive; I know that I used to think the answer lie in forgetting myself and giving back to others.  However, ignoring the fear will not make it go away, and the selfish behaviors and tendencies will return.  

We need to attend to the fear first, and then giving back becomes much easier and fulfilling.

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35 Lessons in 35 Years

Today I have officially been on 35 trips around the sun!  I am old enough to be President, and I’m halfway to 70.  I thought I would share with you 35 things that I’ve learned, over those 35 years:

1.  Fear exists only in your head.

2.  Love is the only thing that is real.

3.  No good can come from overthinking.

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We all look great eating, don’t we?

4.  It is just as incorrect to put others before yourself, as it is to put yourself before others.  It’s time we quit putting ourselves in this lonely group of one, apart from the rest of humanity.

5.  Being stabbed in the back will not kill you.

6.  There is always a path.

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7.  Love is always unconditional.  If it has conditions, it isn’t actually love.

8.  Everybody has a story.

9.  A whole lot can be accomplished by just listening.

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10.  There are a lot of neat things going on around us, but we’re often too distracted to notice.

11.  The answers aren’t online.

12.  We’re all a part of something much larger than ourselves.

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13.  Every thing we do, matters.

14.  Life is much better without television.

15.  Question everything you’re told.

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16.  It is in searching for the answers, that we gain an understand that takes us much further than the answer itself.

17.  It’s all about the journey.

18.  Survival mode is destructive.

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19.  Parenthood is a humbling experience.

20.  Judge no person, experience, thought, or emotion.

21.  We’re all capable of more than we realize.

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22.  Perfection is boring.

23.  Don’t believe everything you think.

24.  Adventure strengthens a marriage.

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25.  Home ownership is not for everyone.

26.  Driving is not for everyone.

27.  Faulty perceptions can make life miserable.

Two Mrs. Rosselits are better than one!

Two Mrs. Rosselits are better than one!

28.  None of us are as alone as we think.

29.  We’re all kind of socially awkward.

30.  Whatever happens, you can always create a life from that point.  Your life is never “ruined” unless you decide it is.

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31.  Kombucha and sushi make the world go around.

32.  If you’ve never failed, you’ve probably never really tried.

33.  The past matters a whole lot less than we think it does.

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34.  Do not be afraid of change.

35.  Life is the only thing we’re promised in this world.  It’s up to us to make the most of it!

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I don’t have many plans for today, except to relax with Rob and Beanie in the evening.  I’m hoping for some cake, wine, sushi, and maybe some kombucha as well!  We’ll see…

I would say the most important thing I’ve learned is that we should never stop learning and growing.  I’ve learned more in the past year, than I have at any other time that I can remember.  Every experience, easy or difficult, has so much to teach us, and it is up to us to see and understand the lessons in everything.  Life is about growing and changing, and making something marvelous out of it.

It is my hope, through sharing, that all of you continue to learn, grow and change.  I hope that your years are filled with lessons, and experiences that transform the difficult into the beautiful.

What lessons have you learned, over the years?

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Hypocracy and Inadequacy, Revisited

“Wounding and healing are not opposites. They’re part of the same thing. It is our wounds that enable us to be compassionate with the wounds of others. It is our limitations that make us kind to the limitations of other people. It is our loneliness that helps us to to find other people or to even know they’re alone with an illness. I think I have served people perfectly with parts of myself I used to be ashamed of. ”

Rachel Naomi Remen

Within the past month–and especially within the past couple of weeks, I have made the intentional decision to become more honest with all of you.  And I have to say that your response has simultaneously excited, terrified, and surprised me.

  • You appreciate my honesty.
  • You are on my side.
  • You have endured–or are enduring–similar struggles.
  • You think highly of me, and say so.

And, I must confess, it is that last one that terrifies me.  It would be different, if I had conquered fear, if I were always strong, if things from my past were just…my past.  I am terrified that you think that I am always strong, that I am never afraid.

Because nothing could be further from the truth.

Don’t put me on a pedestal.  There are nights when I still can’t sleep, because I am overcome with fear and anxiety.  Staying positive and hopeful is still something I must consciously practice daily, and it’s still two steps forward, and one step back.

I’ve often felt like a fraud, for not being perfect.

I could rattle off yet another list of confessions for you: I don’t keep up with my daughter’s home program, I procrastinate, I get so caught up in my own worries that I don’t notice what is going on with others, I still misinterpret reality….but I think you get it. 

I’ve explained to you, already, my purpose in writing this blog.  Yet I have something to add to it.  My new, added purpose is twofold.  First, I want to see, once and for all, if I am the only one who struggles as I sometimes do.  Second, I want all of you to see that YOU are not alone in your struggles.

Because, even as we improve and grow, we will struggle.  We will struggle on and off our entire lives.  We’ll never reach perfection.

But that is no reason for holding back.  We can still contribute to the world.  We still have something to bring to the table.

Imperfection is beautiful.  And it’s through our imperfections that we are able to come to a place of understanding.

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Cultivating a Love of Learning: Write Now!

Teaching has only brought me one heartbreak: kids don’t love to write.

Growing up, I spent all of my writing workshop time making little books. I’d make up stories about my friends, about made-up characters, and anything else I could imagine. I made up poetry. I started keeping a diary. My desk drawers, in my bedroom, were filled with little books and stories.

As I got older, I developed four characters who were in all of my stories. I would write chapters, ongoing. Through these characters I had adventures I otherwise would not experience; I explored facets of my personality that I normally kept hidden. My friends and I would share our writing at lunch, and when we got together.

In high school, it became work, more expository. However, I greatly enjoyed my rhetoric class. Here, I gained concrete devices to help convey my emotions, my passions, my heart…and to draw the reader in as well.

In college, in a creative writing class, I rediscovered myself when I kept a journal. My professor told me that I made everyday experiences interesting, and that I should write a book of essays about my life. The book of essays hasn’t happened, but I did find a creative outlet…

But now, writing is how I convey my joy, my grief, my laughter, my sorrow, my pride, my fear, and my convictions.

So, back to my current students. In the beginning, it is always like pulling teeth, to get them to write anything. We work with them, and restore much of the love. As parents, though, we can go a lot to instil of love of writing in our children. Here are some suggestions:

–Let them see you write. It can be with pencil and paper, or typing. They just need to see you doing it and enjoying it. Go ahead, write that mystery, or romance novel. My father-in-law journals, then shares them with the family. If they see you doing it, it won’t be drudgery.

–Write a story just for them!

–Write a letter to grandma, with them. Make sure grandma is in on this, and will write back.

–Write some fanfiction together. If they have a favorite cartoon, book, or movie, work together to write stories involving the characters.

–Write poetry together. Poetry is great for reluctant writers. It need not rhyme! Read some e.e.cummings, then try to emulate it. William Carlos Williams is another great poet to emulate. Kids also love to write acrostic poems.

–Make a little book together.

Remember, anyone can be taught to write a 5 paragraph essay. What you can offer your child, by instilling a love for the craft, is worth so much more.