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?