A student of ours very sincerely told us that when there's a problem, she pretends that the problem does not exist. She believes that the more one thinks and talks about the problem, the more it gets " energised" and gets bigger. She thinks she is being " positive".
Walk into a bookstore and check out the self-help section, you will find hundreds of books encouraging ' positive thinking'. There are innumerable teachers teaching us to be positive and you only need to go online to find articles, books and studies promising long- standing emotional, physical and even situational benefits of positive thinking. These teachings appear to follow a simple philosophy — ' our thoughts create our reality' — and so they believe and teach that it is possible to change our reality by changing our thoughts.
As empowering as this philosophy may be, the problem is that the teachings are often oversimplified to be understood as ' we just need to think' and things will change. But we conveniently forget the ' act' part of it. We are held captive by our own hopes and paradoxically it paralyses us from taking any action.
College- goer Swati came to us heartbroken. The " love of her life" had turned her down and she could not move on. The following is a part of the conversation with her:
Therapist: How do you feel?
Swati: I feel devastated and awful.
T: So this boy clearly said he is not available…
T: So why is it a problem?
S: Because I can't imagine myself not being with him.
T: So you imagine yourself with him?
S: Yes, all the time.
T: Even though the boy is not available?
T: You want to move on and yet you keep imagining yourself with him.
S: Yes, I guess I am being stupidly hopeful here.
T: So what can you do to move on?
S: I think I have to let go of this hope first. Guess hope is hopeless for me at this time. [ There is a faint smile on Swati's face]
Thinking positive doesn't mean we have to stay in a fantasy world. It just means that no matter what the situation we are in, we can find the courage and resources within us to face problems without fear or bias, and with an openness to look for solutions however unpalatable they may appear to be, as in Swati's case.
Whether it is psychology, philosophy or spirituality, all these fields nudge us to acknowledge and see what really is. Only then can we be truly empowered to see the solution and walk towards it.
If you want to get rid of the cockroach hiding in a corner of your house, thinking that it's not there would hardly help. It's only when we acknowledge what we see, can the possibility for a solution arise, be it using a broom to shoo the cockroach away or spraying insecticide.
When faced with a problem, think positive, think realistic. Here are eight questions to help you get a realistic assessment of a problem:
1) What is the problem?
E.g. I am broke.
2) Why is it a problem?
E.g. I can't provide for my family.
3) What are the available facts related to the problem?
E.g. I lost all my money in business.
4) What do you want to achieve?
E.g. I want financial security.
5) Are you contributing to the problem? Or, are you moving towards a solution?
E.g. I'm feeling so helpless that I am not doing anything, I am contributing to the problem.
( If you've said yes to the first half of question no. 5, ask — What do you want to achieve?
E.g. I want financial security.)
6) What can you do to achieve or come closer to the goal even if it seems like a tiny step?
E.g. I can look for a job.
7) What skills do you need to develop to do that?
E.g. I need to learn computers.
8) What is your plan of action for that?
E.g. I can join a computer course and start looking for a suitable course right now.
If you can write down truthful answers to these questions, it might help you approach your problem with clarity and in turn help solve it.
( Name changed for confidentiality)
Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches