Let me start off by sharing a quote worth memorizing.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space, we have the power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor Frankl
For more than two decades, I have become known as an entertaining motivational speaker. I call it just being myself. My work is about empowering people to think better because it leads us to living better. My biggest case study is – ME! Most of my work is based on research and my own journey to learn how to manage and deal with certain emotions.
The other day I had made a comment on a post by Brene Brown and it got a lot of attention. She was promoting a podcast on toxic positivity. My position is I agree with Brene, but at the same point, I don’t want us to turn or become sour on authentic and helpful positivity. Because positivity used and shared the right way still has healthy benefits.
Some people are surprised when they seek my advice and it's not exactly what they expect or expected. My message isn't "just be positive" when things are bad. Because that process doesn't work. If you review my posts, speeches and books, there is a pattern or process to it all. They all lead you to think in a way that works for you. They offer a process to think in a way so your choices, responses, and behaviors follow and work for you. So for example, if I think “Life Sucks”— how will I respond to walking around with that thought all day? What choices will come from thinking that way? How will I interpret everything based on this kind of thinking?
Obviously, there is root cause of why I think life sucks, but if I am stuck in that emotion or thought pattern, my choices and responses are going to reflect that emotion. So, what happens next is my choices and my behavior reinforce that life sucks. That is what happens when you are stuck or at least feel stuck in a less than ideal emotion. And then something happens – we want to escape being stuck –do you know that feeling? Yet, we are not sure how to think our way out – so we become more vulnerable to make poor choices and develop bad habits or even an addiction.
When we are having a difficult time and someone offers us a positive pick me up or positive encouragement, they are doing what comes natural to all of us. This is a small part of empathy. However, offering a positive as a way to deal and manage certain emotions may not be the answer. That is where people open the door to this “Toxic Positivity”. And I don’t think it’s done on purpose. I think some people are just trying to do the best they can with what they know. But, you can’t force it. Using or forcing positivity to manage an emotion that requires a delicate or unique process is going to defeat real progress or growth. However, it doesn’t mean we should give up trying to lift others up or offering something healthy and positive. Because, a positive – used or shared- in the right way can actually be very effective.
Let me use this example. So, if my wife has had a long day and seems tired and not herself, I could force something positive by saying, “Hey, let’s sit down and talk about what we are grateful for.”
That is forced positivity and can be toxic. Meaning, it’s not a solution. It’s not what is helpful to my wife. It’s just what makes me feel comfortable in the moment.
However, healthy positivity is me asking, “What do you need right now that would be helpful to you? What can I do that would be helpful?”
Maybe just going to lay down for 15 minutes or taking a shower is her specific positive that moves her emotions and energy into a better place.
Here is another lesson I discovered: Guessing is not an effective process.
When a group hires me to speak, they want a speaker who inspires everyone – to feel good, to be excited and to generate enthusiasm. These moments to recharge are necessary. I mean, think about it – would you want your favorite sports team going into a game with zero inspiration? Why do you think coaches give pep talks before game time – because how we think is the main thing that drives everything.
So, when a group hires me, they are removing the guess work of how to inspire and doing so in a way that is effective. Any other way would be like me guessing how to fix my plumbing. My family would be the first to tell you—me doing this without knowing how to do it is not a good thing—toxic plumbing. Do you see the picture?
When someone is depressed based on chemical or situational, it's a natural thing to want to rescue them from the pain, yet if we don't understand it—we can only guess how to help. It's normal to want to make them feel or be positive. However, we can't force it because we can't rely on positivity alone as the primary treatment towards what we don't understand. How much positivity is enough or too much? What is the right dose and process for it?
We don't want to let toxic positivity become a thing that we minimize the power of optimism. Optimism is healthy for us and it doesn't need to be forced—it can be simple and calm our anxieties, worries, and frustrations. We don't want to make looking for a silver lining a bad thing, because what we look for, we find.
Ultimately it comes down to how we think. Being positive doesn't stop the junk from happening or being felt, but when we choose to think better, we discover the creativity, resilience, and optimism to deal with what is difficult, learn from it, and grow from it. Finding a masterpiece in a mess is not easy, but look at every cause in the world—most started from a place of pain—example, Make a Wish. There is a journey to embrace what the experience or information is communicating and teaching us. We can't force the positives, sometimes we have to learn patience to get there, and that can be a very healthy place. Personally, I think optimism is courageous thinking. When everything is giving me every reason not to keep my head up, I can believe it and submit to the consequences of those thoughts or choose the kind of thinking that works for me.
Some people are naturally positive and we never want to minimize that gift or quality. They know how to find the silver lining and use it to manage their emotions so they move forward. Personally, I don't have that quality, so when I make up—it's a tug of war of emotions. Sometimes I feel fear and other times I feel motivated. Some days, it’s like a box of chocolates – “You never know what you are going to get.”
My process of thinking better is to nurture my thinking in a healthy direction. I want to think healthy and so if I am not nurturing that, I will gravitate to the negative and that guarantees the influence of everything toxic.
I want to wrap this up by saying, I don't mind the "pick me up" from time to time because I need it. And there are times, I don't realize I need it and so the accountability of a positive pick me up is a reminder to think better so I can be better. However, we have to respect that not everyone thinks like us. I happen to find incredible value in reading, listening, and associating with positive influences. However, I need to respect that some don't and not to force what works for me onto them. That is an "all of us" lesson right there.
The bottom line, when positivity is forced, it can turn toxic, but when it's delivered through authentic empathy, examples, and encouragement it can do wonders.
Hope this helps!
To hire Sam Glenn to speak at your next big meeting, contact our booking office at Contact@SamGlenn.com.