My issue with “positive thinking” and “visualizing”…

My issue with “positive thinking” and “visualizing”…


The unsexy truth is that our days are dictated by the habits we have established.  Not only habits of actions and habits of choices…but, perhaps most importantly, habits of thinking and feeling.

One of the habits that can be particularly damaging to our desire to live full, happy, vibrant lives is the habit of mentally escaping our lives.

What happens when we escape – especially if escaping has become our default mode – is that we no longer get all the amazing benefits of living life.

We kind of “skip out” on what life has for us.

When we skip out on the hard stuff, we skip out on the wondrous too.  And we miss the most unassuming of moments that hit like a streak of lightning and can bring you to your knees with sheer gratitude and joy for how extraordinary life really is.  Yup, those pass us by if we are always checked out.

Brené Brown explains it like this:  “You can’t selectively numb out emotions.  If you block out the painful ones, you block out the joy too.”

So how does this fit into my problem with positive thinking?

Here’s the thing.  I’m a huge believer in re-training your mind and life to focus on and amplify the positive. I believe much of our difficulty in life has to do with the meaning we give to our lives- and not just our lives in broad strokes…but to our everyday moments in life.

To become a master of your perspective is critical to living a joy-filled abundant life.

But when it comes to practicing positive thinking most of us sit down during some rare quiet moments and decide we will write out our ideal life.  We detail exactly what our dreams are.  We get bold and big and daring with the details of it all.

And then we get back to life.

Which doesn’t look much like that “dream”  life at all.  And this is exactly when the problem starts.

Positive thinking and visualization can just become another escape mechanism.

We think that the way to get to that dream life is to push our current life aside and go to that dream place in our heads.  Let our thoughts transport us to that dream place and try to live there while the real word is screaming and noisy and hard all around us.

The farther your dream world is from your real world the more feelings rise up of doubt and discouragement and desperation.   And your feelings are just so so so much stronger than your thoughts, sweet one.  They will win every time.

So what is the solution?

Presence with a plan.

“Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.” -Seth Godin

You can not live a full, rich, abundant, vibrant life outside of the present moment.  Right NOW is the only place that life is really going on.

But as moms, how exactly do we stay present…when we are ALWAYS present?

I want to just begin this discussion and take a couple steps toward unraveling it a bit. (Because there is a lot more on this subject than one article can cover!)


1.  Realign your life so that you don’t feel like escaping as much.

I know this seems obvious and somewhat irritating to even read.  Because most of us would say we can’t, as mothers, take everything hard off the plate.

But we have far more control over what is in our life than we give ourselves credit for.  An honest, systematic and introspective look at our lives – and at what aligns and what doesn’t align –  can literally transform your day from one you try to escape from to one you can’t wait to wake up to every morning.

2.  Take note when you find yourself most likely to escape.

Shine some light of awareness there.  Get clear around the patterns of escape which have established themselves in your life.  Likely they will be around times or roles or responsibilities that you don’t like, enjoy or want a part of your life.  They also will likely come with charged judgments on your part about what a deficient, bad, lacking person you are because you feel this way.

Sit without that judgment.  Don’t rush past this step.  What if it was truly OK if you didn’t love every part of being a mom?  What if it didn’t say anything about your value or goodness if you found parts of your children or marriage or life difficult?

Write out your truth.  Simple, clean, non-emotional.

Maybe it looks like:

After too much time with my kids, I want to escape the noise, the neediness and the “kid-ness” for a while.  I crave quiet, personal, non-interrupted time to focus only on things that I personally enjoy and want to do.

3.  Build some “presence” muscles

Next, we have to get to the gym (figuratively, this time).

How do we live more presently without escaping so often?  You build “presence” muscles.  How do you do that? With rituals that bring us back even when it doesn’t feel natural.  Just like any other time you build a muscle.  It is like any other pattern or habit.  You re-create a new one, you re-wire your pathway.

Marie Forleo shared a simple thing she does whenever she finds herself floating out in nowhere land in her head…she says (out loud) “I’m back.”  Simple, maybe even feels silly at first.  But you know what happens when she says “I’m back”?  She comes back.

It works and it resets her in her present moment and present life.

There are many rituals you could create to bring you back to the present.  To give you the structure and spaciousness to dive in deeply into your life as it is now.

I recently coached a mom who was guilty over feeling awkward and disinterested in spending focused time with her toddler.  Her self-talk was telling her what a bad mom she was but every time she tried to get on the floor and connect her mind swirled with all the things she should be doing and she felt literally dragged away to get “busy” with something on her to-do list.

If you were a new runner….would you try to jump right into a mile run on your first workout?

No.  You would start slow.  Set yourself up for success.  Give yourself clear goals and boundaries so you aren’t passing out on the treadmill and are encouraged to get back on the next day.

So I encouraged her to set the kitchen timer for 5 minutes a few times a day.  Get on the ground and play with him with as much focus and presence and love that she had available….knowing in 5 minutes the timer would go off and she could shift away for a bit.

From there start to build it up.

4.  Let “positive thinking” take its rightful place

It is from a place of presence that the work of positive thinking and visualization can take root.  Get back to the here and now.  Be present and available to your life by being in your life.

And then activate the positive thinking you want to replace the negative spirals that take hold.  Positive thinking should never cover up your true feelings about life- it should transform them.  But it can’t transform them if you are coming from a place of escape all the time.

Visualize the life you desire clearly and compellingly and then embrace your here and now with all the gratitude, excitement and enthusiasm you anticipate you will also have in your dream life as it unfolds for you. Let it go.

Your blessings come to the life you are living here and now.

If you don’t integrate your dream life to your right now life, you don’t get the benefits of seeing your dreams take form in reality.  Because, of course, reality is nowhere but here…in the present.

How often do you find yourself “escaping”?  What strategies work for you to build your “presence” muscles?


33 responses to “My issue with “positive thinking” and “visualizing”…”

  1. This is so timely for me. I have so much trouble being in the moment with my kids. My latest solution to this problem is to build more structure into my days. I have a set time to focus on chores and am following a Fly Lady-esque plan so that I know exactly what the plan is for the day. That way I don’t always feel the nagging of chores calling me. My next step is to focus on being mentally – not just physically – present in the time I’ve designated as “kid time.”

    Another trick I’m using is to take a minute each day to try and just memorize one of my kids as they are in that moment – noting every strand of hair and each dimple on the chubby hand.

    1. Oh I love that tip- memorizing something in the moment…like taking a mental snapshot 🙂

      Sometimes if my thoughts just won’t quiet down I give them something to do and start to describe what is happening around me…the angle of the sun, the feel of the wind, the noise in the car, the color of the houses, ect ect…just “think” about the here and now in detail…and it generally helps me find such beauty and peace in the ordinary.

    2. Thank you so much for this lovely tip. I have just memorised something about my son in that very moment and feel so so great… im gonna do it daily from now on.. Thank you thank you in million times.

      1. Love this idea of memorizing a moment of my kids, so simple and yet powerful, thank you!!

  2. Thanks for this post. Ill used the 5 minutes timer tomorrow.

    Thank you again,

  3. What a fantastic post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with such clarity, purpose and helpfulness!

  4. Again! Your post is timely and right on! I thought it was my “expectations” causing my guilt. I never gave my “escaping” a second thought! I thought the escaping was helping even though my frustrations and overall unhappiness (with my life) was increasing…in turn it would increase my guilt because I have a beautiful life. Your posts always speak to me – Thank you so much.

    1. Love your aha– thank you for sharing!

  5. This is great!!! I just shared it on my FB page b/c it is a message I REALLY believe in…thank you for writing it so succinctly and well!


  6. I thought I was the only one who had mental escapism disorder. You just took loads of guilt off my shoulders today, Lisa, and gave me a belief for the first time that this is something I can overcome. I will use the “I’m back,” the timer, and more to help me live more abundantly in my present world where the blessings actually come. Thank you.

    1. Exactly what Jaime said. Thank you so much for caring!

    2. Doesn’t it calm so many triggers to know we all struggle with similar things?! Love your comment…thank you so much for being here!

  7. What a great article! Thanks for bridging the gap betweent he reality we live in and the dream we want to achieve, and thanks for revealing the true barrier between them! I find myself escaping a couple of times a day. I’ll be using the “I’m back” as well as also training my kids a little more consistently to get some quiet time in, starting in small chunks.

  8. Yes, totally agree!


  9. I remember the first time a homeschooling consultant a few years back suggested I was having escape thoughts. I felt so appalled at first but she was right. It’s a normal, mindful mama condition!

    I notice that my weakest moments are around 3:00; the hour before dinner is to be started and my general energy is slumped. What works is to meet the kids on the couch for a book to read together and then we just sit there and cuddle and giggle. Connection and also recharges me on all levels.

    1. So beautiful, Kathy- and while it can feel the hardest to deeply check IN when we are feeling our worst- that is always such an elegant solution. The more we are trying to escape our here and now the more becoming open and receptive and present to it will calm the discomfort.

  10. Love this post Lisa…being present is so key. And I love the Seth Godin quote!! It’s certainly how I live my life and what I encourage my clients to strive for as well.

  11. Two years ago my husband and I left the church we’d attended for 25 years as we were seeing some pretty glaring drifts. One of them was this problem. They were always vision casting and “what if we as a people…?” or “imagine if we all…” The problem was that apart from the 40 minute sermon once a week, they were not investing in developing their people in the NOW to become those type of people that would “some day” do thus or such. They were outwardly focused, but failed to see that to get there from here, they needed to look inwardly a bit and teach and train those they hoped would do these mighty things in the future. Does that make sense?

    Another problem, as you’ve pointed to, is one always felt like they never measured up. There’s this ideal put out there, but we, in the here and now, are either still making our way there or “there” is just an illusion and doesn’t really exist in real life anyway. Meanwhile we’ve wasted the here and now feeling inadequate and defeated.

    This is a good post…the effects of this thinking are so broad, whether it’s living in the future when you’ll be that skinny person, or when you’ll finally get to be home with your kids, or when you become that sainted follower and the world can’t help but “sign up” because of your testimony. It’s defeating and robs us, as you said, of living in the here and now.

    Thank you, once again, Lisa–you nailed it!

  12. Oh Lisa… love to read your thoughts and ideas.. but need them on my kindle or in a book.. can’t wait for that to happen so I can read and underline and journal.. hugs, Erin

  13. Love this blog ! I feel that the Zenwand with your mantra, your positive affirmation is a tool you will like. Check it out !


  14. I find myself wanting to escape more during the summer months when my kids are out of school and we are around each other all the time. During the school year I don’t feel as drained because I have so much time away from them (so time to do the things I personally enjoy) that I want to be present with them for the smaller amount of time that I have to spend with them.
    For me when I feel like I want to get away I usually try to LITERALLY get away. I put the baby down for a nap, tell the kids to do a quiet activity in their play space and tell them that mommy needs so time to do “mommy stuff” for a while. Ironically when I say this to them they understand and leave me alone. When I cannot get away I am reminding myself of the things that I am grateful for. So when they are noisy and I wish for some quiet, I remind myself that I am grateful that they are healthy and have voices to make the noise they do. Then I tell them “Babies I know you want to play but you need to be more quiet”. It is all sooooooooooo much of a process and I am learning and growing every day. Thanks For the post Lisa. As always a good and thought provoking one.

  15. Thanks, these are the things I need to hear 🙂

  16. I feel strongly about this one too. Esp when it comes to birth. As a birth Doula (coach for women during labor) there was this Hypnosis seminar that we could be trained in to give our clients another option. Helping them to escape/be somewhere else during their labor. Yet in our training to become doulas in the first place, that was how you could spot someone that was not dealing with it well, and had possibly been abused, was that they seemed to not be present, somewhere else, instead of the healthy dealing with and reframing of the contractions and pain as a positive thing and working with and letting her body do what it is well capable of doing.
    Needless to say I opted out of the Hypnosis classes.
    Good things to remember all around, thanks!

  17. This is exactly what I needed! I homeschool our 2 kids, which I feel is so important, and yet I am this introvert that never felt I was a “kid person”. I love my kids, of course, but I find myself escaping a lot and wishing for my dream life and just feeling frustrated. The part where you said that our blessings only come to the life we are living here and now struck me so hard because it is so true. I am going to use the “I’m back” and a timer too to really focus on being present with my kids. I have also started a goal to focus some of my recharge time on working toward something I want in my life – to read and do research (I’d like to go for a master’s degree in History in about 10 years). Even though I can’t devote a lot of time to this goal, doing a little here and there still adds up and helps me feel like I am making progress on one of my dreams which is helping to lessen my frustration.

  18. Recently, I’ve been struggling with the escape factor. My dream home has white furniture, fluffy pillows, cozy bright throws, a front porch with flower pots and rockers, lovely kitchen for cooking and entertaining in, the list goes on. It’s my ‘escape’ from the clutter and busyness that the little people in my life create. I love them dearly. But my house is a hole in the ground. No, not a hole dug by an animal. But a cozy basement, with mismatched furniture. We have so much more then someone who lives under a bridge or in a straw hut. Thank-you for reminding me to ‘live in the present.’ I will need to come back and read this every time I find myself ‘leaving’ my present home.

    1. Janice~Just wanted you to know you are not alone. I live in the lower level of my mother’s home with my dear husband. We live here, not by choice, but due to my medical conditions that mandated we sell our own home. We have the mismatched furniture and no kitchen. We share mom’s kitchen upstairs. It’s been over two years that we’ve lived here. On good days I can recite a list of the positives of being here with my 77 year old mother. On bad days….well, there’s another list I can recite. 🙂

      Trying to live in the present, with gratitude,

  19. Great post, Lisa. Lived the entheos conference last week and your life mapping teleseminar; so encouraging and inspirational. My life is largely one that I don’t feel I need a vacation from, in so far as it is within my choosing. Life stressors like medical issues, dying family member, etc. can lead me to want to ‘check out’ for a time-thru curling up in bed reading or a mini-adventure. These have their place, for sure, but numbing ourselves from life or reality as a general rule doesn’t help at all. The timer trick worked for me with my first born, in particular. Playing Batman or hotwheels can be fun when you know it’s only for 20 minutes:)

  20. Great post thank you Lisa! I remember reading this post last year and re-reading this has been a great reminder especially during this holiday season. Something I read by John Ortberg (a pastor and writer) really helped in bringing the “here and now” back to me, he said that “NOW is the greatest moment of your life”, because there is no other moment except NOW that I’m actually living in! So true! Also, I heard a podcast recently that talked about a perspective shift that was so helpful, it relates to what Lisa talked about here regarding positive thinking without it being another way to escape – which is, instead of thinking we “have to” do something, such as clean our kids’ messes, take care of sick kids, or whatever that’s a drag – we can think of it as, we “get to” do these things. For me, thinking that I “get to” do these things helps remind me that many of my present tasks are only temporary, and to see my life as an opportunity rather than a never ending list of tasks! But it also does not encourage escape because I’m not forcing myself to “love” these things, but just to shift my mindset towards gratitude for the opportunity, because many years down the road, I might really miss doing the things I think are a hassle now 🙂

  21. Lisa,

    This is a wonderful reminder that in order to get to the “life of my dreams” I need to stay in the life that is happening right now. I have so many dreams and passions that I feel get pushed to the side right now because of having small children. And some days, I honestly do get taken out by the thoughts and then the corresponding emotions. It goes back to Danielle LaPorte’s exercise on getting clear on how we want to feel and living that. Because I can live in a feeling at any moment, even if the details around me aren’t the picture perfect dream life I have in my mind. And the more I feel like the life of my dreams, the more it becomes that. Thank you for sharing, Lisa. Your work inspires me so.

  22. I have been thinking about positive thought and how when we do it, it actually makes new pathways in our brain and the old pathways break down because they’re not used anymore. Love what you said about positive thought doesn’t cover up our true feelings about life…it should transform them. But it won’t if we aren’t in touch with our true feelings and aware of them.

    Thank you!

  23. Thanks for these great tips lisa

  24. Love this so much lisa! I’m Really struggling with finding my groove after leaving a full time job for part time and being home more. Do you think watching tv while making dinner is escapism? Working on being more present but feeling bored a lot of the time!

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