My mother used to tell my brother and I not to be so negative so many times when we were kids that I think it may as well be tattooed on my arm. We weren’t exactly super negative kids, and at times I felt that maybe we weren’t being given the chance to be negative even for a short period, but, the thing is; she was completely and utterly right. Granted there were times as a teenager where all you wanted to do was sit there and stew in your own blind disappointment and annoyance, thinking that everyone was out to get you and that the whole world was filled with nothing more than disappointment and despair. Whilst that does seem disgustingly self-indulgent it doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. For the most part though, positive thinking is the way to change your entire life in the most subtle, but fantastically wonderful way.
For me, in the last few weeks, this whole notion of positivity has been more important than perhaps ever before. We have a four and a half month old and he’s currently going through what the ‘experts’ call a ‘sleep regression.’ Someone asked me the other day how I was going with it, checking in that I was managing well despite only having an hour or two of solid sleep a night. My response was honest when I said that it was a serious challenge both physically and mentally but, and this is the important part, it wouldn’t last forever. This friend, jokingly, told me that ‘forever’ could potentially be years worth of bad sleeping. We had the obligatory laugh and then went on with polite conversation. I didn’t think much of it until I got into the car to go home and then it suddenly hit me. How utterly demoralising and horrible would it be if I thought about this phase in my son’s life in such a negative way? If I sat there and thought to myself, “this is never going to end, this is just the beginning of what will be sheer Hell for such a long, unknown amount of time?” I would start to dread night times and I would probably even begin to resent my son for it as well. So with one simple change in how I talk about this phase in my boy’s development, I am changing how I handle the entire situation. Instead of saying “it’s horrible I just wish it would end,” I’m saying “it’s challenging, but it won’t last forever.” I’m looking at this stage in my son’s life as a huge step in his development and if that means I miss out on some sleep then so be it. Short term pain, long term gain and for now he needs me to be positive, supportive and happy far more than I need a solid eight hours.
It’s so easy to look for the faults and the unfortunate aspects of any situation; you could almost argue that critics make a living out of doing it; what’s harder and more rewarding though, is looking for the good stuff. It’s not something that comes easy for many people, especially if you’ve spent the better part of your life looking at things in a certain way. My husband, for example, was one of those people. He wasn’t exactly a negative person but there were more times than not that he spoke of things in a less than agreeable way. I remember one conversation in particular where we spoke of his time working in Karratha in the northern part of Western Australia. The Pilbara region is notorious for its blazing heat, dusty planes and its unforgiving land. My husband had spent quite a bit of time working up there, running rods and doing an unbelievable amount of manual labour on a mining rig back before everything went to computers and machinery. He always said he enjoyed working with the guys but the work itself was horrific. As such he spoke of the land as if it were out to get him personally, referring to that aspect of his experiences in no uncertain terms as “an absolute c**t of a place.” I made the mistake of saying that I wanted to visit Karratha one day; when asked why, I explained I wanted to see it. I wanted to see the vast landscape that stretches as far as the eye can see; I wanted to experience the cold nights, the stars blazing without the interruption of city lights. I wanted to see red dirt and arid wastelands, the steadfast flora and the hardened fauna. I wanted to experience the magic that that part of our country has to offer. At the time, his reaction was to tell me I was crazy, that I didn’t ‘understand’ the lifestyle up there and that it was a romanticised view of an otherwise totally crappy place. He was right in saying that it was a romanticised view of the place, but I can’t help that my creativity takes over pretty much every aspect of my life. I’m pleased to say in the years gone by he has actually come around to a similar way of thinking. We’ve looked at photographs of the landscapes up there and the wildlife that thrives in those arid conditions and he’s gone from being Mr You’ve-Got-To-Be-Kidding-Me to being Mr What-An-Amazing-Place-To-Visit. It took time (nearly four years) but he did start to see it differently. He went from talking about it in such a negative way to sharing stories of seeing some of the most awe-inspiring country, seeing the most incredible wildlife he’s ever witnessed and getting to do things he’d never even dreamed of doing in the city. We’ve spoken about this shift in his thinking a number of times and he himself even says that it’s made a huge difference to his lifestyle and the quality of the experiences he’s had and is yet to have.
For me, hearing my mother telling me to “not be so negative” has changed my entire life. I owe her, to some degree, for the happiness I have managed to find in every situation. I’m lucky enough to have not had any really heinously terrible things happen in my short time on this planet, but it’s my outlook that has allowed me to see even the most heartbreaking of experiences in a positive way. Someone once asked me how I could possibly find the good in everything that happens and the only answer I could think to give was that it wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. It took me a while, it was a very active shift in thinking for me, it’s not as if something would happen and I’d immediately think “oh good, I’m going to learn something really valuable out of this.” Things would happen and when I thought back on them later I’d make a conscious effort to think of something good. For every negative thought, I’d try my best to come up with something positive. Sometimes it would be something so small and simple like; I got to see someone I hadn’t seen in years despite being at a funeral. Over time it became like second nature to me, every time I’d look back on the more challenging moments in my life I’d find myself thinking about the positive things that came out of it.
In the end, it’s all about perspectives. It’s always going to be easier to look at the negative side of things, to play the martyr or to be the victim. Where the real challenge and, in my eyes, the real strength comes from is seeing the good in amongst all that. Being positive when everyone around you is being negative, seeing what so many other people seem to miss because they’re too busy being self-indulgent. Seeing the positive side of things isn’t a walk in the park, but once you know how, it’ll make that walk a whole lot prettier.
And finally, this little vibe:
We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are. – J.K. Rowling