How To Harness Positivity When Everything Feels Like A Dumpster Fire

How To Harness Positivity When Everything Feels Like A Dumpster Fire

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(…and the dumpster was filled with rancid milk and rotting broccoli and dog poop bags.)

 

WHEN I WAS IN HIGH SCHOOL, my theater teacher used to tell us that instead of saying we were nervous before a show, we should tell ourselves that we were actually excited. Both nervous and excited are “aroused emotions,” meaning they trigger a response in the body that prepares you for action. They’re two words for the same sensation.

But sometimes, there are no substitute feel-alike words for what you’re experiencing. Flipping the shittiness feels saccharine and silly at best, tone deaf and demeaning at worst. You might be feeling exhausted, defeated, enraged, lonely, confused, or some kind of special cocktail of all the above ingredients. “Positive self-talk” probably feels pretty empty, and pretty hokey.

It does to me, too.

Because the thing is that positive self-talk doesn’t always work.

 


THE NOT SO GREAT POWER OF POSITIVITY

Studies have shown that if you don’t believe what you’re telling yourself, and you don’t already have high self-esteem, your brain knows you’re telling yourself lies. The University of Waterloo published a study in the Journal of Psychological Science concluding that “repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, such as individuals with high self-esteem, but backfire for the very people who need them the most.” And what’s more, you start to feel ashamed of the fact that you AREN’T that person you’re trying to tell yourself you are.

What’s even more interesting to me is that the aforementioned study also said that when asked to list both negative and positive thoughts about themselves, the people who had lower self-esteem actually felt BETTER when they were allowed to say the negative thoughts about themselves. The so-called positive feelings that were being generated came directly from their so-called negativity. It’s no wonder we stay in negative self-talk loops – we stay where we believe we belong.

 

PROACTIVE, NOT REACTIVE.

Positive self-talk isn’t necessarily empty and it most certainly isn’t bad. But jumping straight to the “talk” part of “positive self-talk” is skipping the vital step of determining what it means to actually be positive in the first place.

If there is ONE message I hope you internalize about harnessing positivity during the toughest of times, it’s this:

Positivity isn’t inherently feel-good, happy, or rainbows in the sky.

Positivity is NOT about uplifting mantras and affirmations.

Positivity is about being proactive, not reactive.

Positivity is about being proactive, not reactive. Click To Tweet

Positivity is about recognizing the full spectrum of a situation – the highs, the lows, the lights, the darks, and everything in between – and making a proactive choice to move forward.

By this logic, positivity won’t always feel good. It might feel uncomfortable, you might feel angry, there might be sadness lingering in the background or dread pushing its way through to the front of the line. Your problems won’t disappear and you won’t be handed solutions on a silver platter. And so you might feel discouraged or like you’re doing things “wrong.”

But as long as you’re being proactive, not reactive, I can assure you – THAT is positivity in motion.

 

HOW CAN I BE PROACTIVE RIGHT NOW?

Some words are easily flipped. And while maybe you can’t flip the stinky dumpster fire of dog-shit and turn it into a babbling brook filled with glistening pebbles…maybe, just maybe, you can flip what positivity actually means to you.

Nervousness to excitement. Positive to proactive.

The words we choose to use hold so much weight. It’s vital we dissect what they mean to us before we decide what we do with them.

Instead of asking yourself, “How can I be positive right now?”, try asking yourself “How can I be proactive right now?”

Report back in the comments. I’d love to hear where your proactive choices take you.

 

 

Transitions, Turning Points, Seasons, and Google Cal.

Transitions, Turning Points, Seasons, and Google Cal.

Community Most Popular Posts Motivation + Inspiration

I’ve always loved transitions – especially the ones that happen in September. I’d turn another year older, my favorite TV shows would start back up (no more Summer reruns!), and school would finally, finally be in session again.

New grade!

New teachers!

New books!

New projects!

HOMEWORK!!!!


No? Just me? Wouldn’t be surprised.

Unlike most kids, I always looked forward to the first day of school. Maybe it was my naiveté, maybe it was my upbringing, maybe it was just my Type A- personality pumped for the structure. But there was something about backpack shopping, picking out my outfits, and pouring over the introductory paperwork all the students at my schools were sent pre- Day One that made my heart so very happy.

The impending challenges of a new grade – or in some cases, a new school altogether – never really entered my head. Back To School season was the BEST season of the year.

 

Back To The Grind

It doesn’t matter how old you are or how long it’s been since you held a No. 2 pencil in your hand: for most former-kids, September will forever be synonymous with “Back To School.” The seasonal shift from Summer to Pre-Autumn to full-on-FALL signals that something new’s afoot – new friends, new challenges, new tests, and new teachers. We prepare for a new start, hope for positive change, and cross our fingers that we’ll be able to handle what life dishes out in the coming months.

Without Summer vacations and required reading, though, it can be hard as an adult to draw the line between where Summer ends and Fall begins. Because although we’d love to have an endless summer…and although the first day of Autumn isn’t technically until September 22nd…we can all feel a shift happen the moment Labor Day weekend comes to a close. It’s “back to the grind” – even though most of us have been grinding all year long.

And of course, 2020 has been a whole transition and grind of its own. Thank god for the seasons, that know no pandemics or furloughs. Thank goodness for the trees below my apartment window, that layer on the leaves right on cue and shed their layers as we pile on ours. Seasons and Google Cal. My 2020  touchstones. They remind me not only of the actual date but remind me that time goes on…even if I’ve lost all sense of time, days, weeks, and months (the amount of times I’ve woken up not knowing what day it was has been sitcom-worthy, except without any laugh tracks or plot twists tied up in 30 minutes or less).

And so it can just seem like more of the same – like we lost track of time, and the Summer months so associated with taking a breather completely passed us by. Couple this with a built-in programming from childhood to register this time of year as transitional, and it’s easy to feel a little bummed out once September hits.

At this point in 2020, you might be ready to Rip-Van-Winkle it and nap your way into the future. Or at least 2021. But even though there’s been so many struggles, so much sadness, and so many Groundhogs Day-esque weeks and months, I urge you – please do not opt out of the challenge right before the change arrives.

 

The New January

While January usually gets all the attention when it comes to resolutions, I’d like to argue that September holds just as much promise as the 01/01 mark.

Pre-Autumn and Fall is the perfect time to evaluate where you’ve been, where you’re at, and where you’re going. It’s a time to bring back that childlike enthusiasm, relentless joy, and maybe even those first-day jitters you had as a kid (because all worthwhile and exciting changes in life bring up first-day jitters, really). And Fall 2020 just might just be the turning point you’ve been waiting for and working toward.

But you’ll never know if you don’t show up.

At this point in the year, you might be feeling defeated. I get it. Another new start and transition is exactly what I DON’T need right now. Has ‘normalcy’ ever felt like such a valuable commodity? Normal seasonal shifts feels like it would be such a luxury to experience. It’s tough to get excited for Fall or take advantage of the Dog Days Of Summer when you’re still mourning the loss of Spring.

This should feel easier, you might think. This should feel natural. If anything should feel normal, it should be the seasonal shift. A transition I’ve done so many times before.

Except not.

At all.

Starting anything - a new job, a new relationship, a new habit, a new season - is hard. The harder part, though, is to keep going and see what happens next.

 

It’s Not About Easy, It’s About Right

Starting anything – a new job, a new relationship, a new habit, a new season – is hard. It is really really hard. In 2020 or otherwise. No matter how exciting it reads or how major it feels or how much promise it holds or how many time you’ve ever started fresh. Hardness and newness will always be the best of friends.

The harder part, though, is to keep going and see what happens next. 

Because it doesn’t get easier, it just morphs along the way. And when you keep going, and keep committing yourself to being proactive and not reactive, you learn to let go of what you feel should be. You start to work intimately with what already is toward what can be.

Maybe you learn to like the tough of it – and even if you don’t like it, maybe you even learn to love it with that type of unconditional love that’s more about appreciation than approval – and you let go of what doesn’t serve you and you stick with the rest (which is hard to do, too). Or maybe it all morphs altogether, and you end up starting down a whole new tough path you never even intended on going down.

And the starting doesn’t stop and the hardness doesn’t stop, but you learn you can take it, you can handle it, and the toughest stuff is ultimately what becomes the fabric of who you are and why you’re here.

And then you maybe realize that all this time, it was never about easy or hard at all. It was just about what’s right. For you.

 

Your Own Personal Season

This month – and this Fall in general – I encourage you to look at what’s worked, what hasn’t, and what’s right for you. Evaluate what you’ve learned, how you’ve grown, or what you’ve accomplished in 2020 so far, and how you want to feel by the time the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, 2021. So much of what we learn, how we grow, what we accomplish, and how we want to feel depends on the decisions we make, not the places we go (or don’t) or things we buy (or don’t) or titles we hold (or don’t).

It’s called “Fall” for a reason: just like the leaves fall away from their branches so the tree can begin its process of renewal, nature encourages us to let our old energy-suckers fall off our backs to make way for this new season of growth.

We’ve got four whole months. A THIRD of the year left. You have so much time. It’s all about what you do with it.

There will be challenges in the coming months, of course, and the newness of Fall and Winter will bring all kinds of highs and lows we could never have predicted. But if we shift our perspective to refocus our minds, refresh our hearts, and renew our commitments, there’s no telling what kind of miracles the rest of this year has in store.

New people.

New books.

New projects.

New homework.

Pick out your outfit and grab your backpack.

Class is in session.

Don’t ditch this one.

Subscribe to The (Good) Word + join the WANT movement:

 

Taking Your Self Off The Sidelines: Why Shifting Your Self-Talk Matters.

Taking Your Self Off The Sidelines: Why Shifting Your Self-Talk Matters.

Most Popular Posts Motivation + Inspiration

I first conceived of WANT: Women Against Negative Talk back in 2007. It was born out of my own personal pain, and my own simultaneous a-ha moments that a) conscious and unconscious negative self-talk was what held so many women back from the life they longed to lead, and b) people needed a place to go to empower themselves to shift their self-talk in a real, lasting way that went beyond momentary feel-good affirmations and mantras.

I wanted to create a multi-faceted platform that addressed all kinds of negative self-talk – self-talk related to body image, relationships, work, community, self-worth, the narratives that are passed down to us by the people before us, and the narratives that are passed around to us by the people who stand beside us today.

WANT has come a long way since 2007. It’s a movement. It’s an editorial platform, a podcast, workshops, toolkits, and a vibrant community on both social media and IRL. It’s let go of podcast sponsorships in favor of spotlighting and amplifying organizations doing work on the community and global level to advocate for change – both change in policy and change in paradigms. WANT has never been my passion project – it’s always been my purpose project. And with time, that purpose has only gotten clearer and stronger. Not only the purpose…but the urgency behind it.

For anyone new here, I wanted to write this primer on why shifting your self-talk matters. For anyone who’s been here for a while, I wanted to post this as a reminder of what we – all of us – stand for, and why the work we do is so, so worth it.

~

Over the last few years, I’ve rejected the idea that shifting your self-talk is a ‘self-help’ issue. Sure, there’s overlap. But shifting your self-talk, to me, is the very opposite of the good-vibe-ness that self-help and wellness have become notorious for in so much of mainstream self-help/wellness conversations.

Shifting your self-talk is so, so much more urgent than that.

 

The work of shifting your self-talk – which is really the work of finding, being, and staying your Self – isn’t just about changing your life, in the long run.

It’s about changing life. Period.


Shifting your self-talk is about facing your shame, guilt, doubt, fear, frustration, and blind spots head-on and being proactive, not reactive. What does that mean? It means using critical thinking skills to listen, learn, and act even (especially!) when the stakes are high and you might fuck up. Because as Maya Angelou said, when you know better, you do better…but if you aren’t putting yourself in a position to know better, you will never, ever do better.

Shifting your self-talk is about finding, using, and owning your own voice whether people are watching or not – so that when you get feedback from the world, explicitly (like via words) or otherwise (like via emotions), you’re able to grow, learn, and be better in a way that’s sustainable.

We need major policy changes and systemic paradigm shifts. We need police and criminal justice reform, we need legislation passed that protects Black communities, POC, LGBTQ+, women and girls, people with disabilities, and allows equity to everyone.

And.

We also need radical personal changes.

It’s not an either-or situation.

It’s an at-the-same-time one.

We need both simultaneously, because there is no way that fighting for and creating the proverbial “change we wish to see in the world” will ever be sustainable if we’re constantly offloading our ‘hard’ emotions off on others by using hateful words or inflicting harm (side note, it’s really easy to sit back and convince yourself you’re doing something to change when in fact all you’re doing is criticizing the ‘people in the arena’ actually taking those steps forward. See: entire premise of Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly), or shaming ourselves into silence because we’re overwhelmed or too afraid to make a mistake.

We think a future version of our Self will know better. Be stronger. Speak louder. Or that one day, we’ll be successful or self-actualized ‘enough’ to say what we truly mean instead of what we think checks all the right boxes. The stakes are too high right now, we convince ourselves. I don’t know enough yet. Like once we achieve a very specific self-dictated level of success or expertise, the conversational doors will fly open. When that happens, we say, we’ll use our voice. We’ll talk about the things that matter. Systemic racism. Gender disparities. Wage gaps. Mental health. When, when, when.

 

Yet each time we say when, we not only put our Self on the sidelines, we delay the very progress we desire to contribute to. Each time we say when, we reinforce the narrative in our mind that the ‘right’ time is far off in the distance.


Imagine if everyone in the world waited until their own self-determined ‘day whens.’ We would never have any change or progress. We would spend our years waiting around and call that a life.

The world needs your voice, and the world needs your growth. It all stems from the story you tell yourself, about your Self. Click To Tweet

Society would love for you to keep telling yourself the story of your shame, your guilt, your self-doubt and your defeat.

Society would love for you to stay silent and small. It would love to keep steering you far from who you are and discouraging your growth.

But the world needs your voice, and the world needs your growth. It all stems from the story you tell yourself, about your Self.

Will shifting your self-talk alone change the world? Of course not. But we must treat it like the vital puzzle piece of change that it is. We must practice using our voice so that when the chance comes to make a change, we speak up and out instead of shying away. And because what we say on the outside is a direct reflection of what we say on the inside – we must practice diving in, digging deep, and changing our internal AND external world simultaneously.

Shifting your self-talk is an essential piece of fighting for the world you actually want to live in, for yourself and for others.

The when is now. The right time is now.

Take your Self off the sidelines. You are so ready to get into the arena.

 

Cultivating Real-Deal Positivity

Cultivating Real-Deal Positivity

Community Most Popular Posts Motivation + Inspiration

My amusement park ride of choice as a highly sensitive kid was the carousel. No big drops. No unexpected moves. No aggressive sounds or strobe light effects. Just an expected gallop in the round. I could get on my favorite horse and, for three whole minutes (or more), escape from everyone and everything around me (or more).

I’m a Libra, and true to my astrological nature, I appreciate aesthetic. So of course, part of the appeal was that I loved how pretty carousels are. Anyone who has ever visited an amusement park or fairground knows: carousels are very, very pretty. Porcelain hollow horses and spherical moulding on loop.

Most carousels cost mere quarters to ride, so it’s easy to just stay on and go around in circles ad nauseam. A tactic I vividly remember employing on one particular trip to the Santa Monica Pier when the roller coasters and target-shooting games felt too overwhelming to even walk around. Those were scary. The carousel made me smile. So I stayed on.

But the thing about rides is that they need to end at some point. At SOME point, the carousel needs to stop. You get off your literal high-horse, and you’re faced with the world beyond the beautiful lights and porcelain fairytale creatures. And if you’ve stayed on too long, there’s a good chance you’ll stumble off a bit more than wobbly.


Our culture has a negativity problem and a cynicism problem – but it also has an optimism problem.

To be clear: Living with an optimistic outlook on life is a strength. No doubts there. Living optimistically usually means you’re forward-thinking and naturally see what could be. You find the beauty in the seemingly possible, instead of the darkness in the seemingly inevitable. No, optimism (lower-case-o, neutral tone) by itself isn’t bad at all.

HOWEVER. Just like anything, there’s a necessary energetic balance that makes optimism actually work.

If you pay very close attention, you’ll feel the disconnect when optimism starts to go downhill. When it happens, that once-proactive optimism will start to shut out the realities of life as a means of avoidance, and chalk it up to “looking on the sunny side of life” or a “glass-half-full” mentality.

How does this happen? How can something so inherently good betray us?

 

I call it Blind Optimism.

 

Blind Optimism is what happens when you rely on your positive outlook to ignore, shut out, fabricate and gloss over your life. It can minimize experiences and eat you alive – just like Casual Negativity, cynicism, auto-pilot pessimism, and projection. It can gnaw away at your spirit, your relationships, and roll a haze of oblivion over your existence.

Blind optimism makes me dizzy – just like carousels. Blind Optimism turns me away from facts and reality in favor of the shiny, pretty thing around the corner. I get onboard and go in circles over and over and over and over until I get dizzy and lose my bearings.


When you find yourself caught in a nonstop-carousel-ride moment of Blind Optimism, one of two things starts to happen:

a) The carousel stops being fun and eventually breaks down. There’s only so much you can give. There’s always a breaking point when it comes to extremes. Always.

b) The carousel becomes annoying, saccharine, and dismissable; something other people tire of and don’t want to go near. It’s cheesy and trite at best, ignorant and entitled at worst. You become a part of a fairy tale world playing on loop – one that’s in no way a reflection of real life. You find yourself alone, on a ride going nowhere.

We love fullest and deepest when we love others FOR their strengths and weaknesses, similarities and differences – not in spite of them. Click To Tweet

I’m known for being able to see the good in things. One of my friends calls me “aggressively optimistic.” And when we’re all stuck in the collective doldrums together, I’m often asked how I stay so optimistic.

The funny thing is – I don’t view myself as a glass-half-full Optimist. Pollyanna was admirable, but always bugged me for some reason (which made me feel guilty, of course – sorry Hayley Mills). I always loved the brilliantly crafted songs and rad penguin dance parties in Mary Poppins, but the Practically Perfect nanny was never relatable to me.

When asked for my “secret,” I reveal that I’m not really a bona fide Optimist (capital O, chipper voice).


My brand of positivity isn’t about what’s GOOD or BAD, it’s about what’s pragmatic and proactive instead of unrealistic and reactive.


Life’s ups and downs are inevitable, and some moments will seem more hope-filled than others. So what can you do about it?

You can see the facts in front of you and the projected outcomes ahead of you, and you can root for the positive while still recognizing the negative. It’s not about putting on blinders and ignoring that things aren’t perfectly in place or might go awry – or maybe already have in a major way. It’s about taking in the world as is, seeing the full spectrum of its experience and existence, and choosing to proactively fight for an outcome that uplifts us collectively.

It’s like true love: we love fullest and deepest when we love others FOR their strengths and weaknesses, similarities and differences – not in spite of them.

optimism


To break away from Blind Optimism and into Pragmatic, Proactive Positivity, our love of life and love of self MUST transcend those pitfalls and darkness.
It starts by moving forward through things instead of around them. It starts with granting ourselves permission to let our Self-Like to ebb and flow (because it’s normal and because we’re human) and by viewing Self-Love as the kind of unconditional, unbreakable love that no high-high or low -ow can affect.

To break away from Blind Optimism and into Pragmatic, Proactive Positivity, we must let go of rushing into the search for how good things CAN be in the future (or not), and instead sit with how good things are right NOW (or not). We must begin to look at the glass not as half empty or half full, but as a glass that’s being sipped from every moment.

Easy but nuanced. Simple yet scary. It’s not easy work, but it’s right work. And it’s the work that’ll lead us to finding our genuine smiles, without the help of the ceramic ponies and the carousel leading nowhere.

blind optimism and real positivity

Look at the glass not as half empty or half full, but as a glass that's being sipped from every moment. Click To Tweet

 

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Opportunity Seizing (or, Consistency Is A Trap.)

Opportunity Seizing (or, Consistency Is A Trap.)

Community Most Popular Posts Motivation + Inspiration Work

Are you sick of the end-of-year scare tactics yet? I sure am.

You know the ones. Even if you don’t KNOW you know the ones…you know them.

“Make this last month of the DECADE count!”

“Only a few more weeks left in the YEAR!”

“Don’t waste the last few days of 2019!”

If seeing and hearing these phrases stress you out, congrats. They’re meant to stress you out.

I was talking to a friend yesterday who confided in me that she’s going through it. That “IT” so many of us are going through this time of year, that’s compounded and magnified by the stressy “MAKE THE LAST DAYS OF THE DECADE COUNT” memes. 

She doesn’t feel inspired, she feels ungrounded, her routines are all over the place. She’s feeling guilty and rushed, like she’s lost her magic spark and might not ever get it back again. She hasn’t kept up with a few business things and hasn’t figured out her winter self-care. She feels all over the place and scared she won’t find herself again after this storm settles…IF it settles.

And so I texted her this:

“Consistency” can be great. It can also be a trap. Time is a construct. Time was created to give us measurements and structure – which make us feel a sense of order in an otherwise chaotic world.

But if we rely on structure TOO heavily, we start to lose our sense of independence. If we rely on timing, consistency, schedule, and routines to keep us in control, what happens when LIFE happens – when those things are upended?

A question:

If I told you that the new year/decade actually began YESTERDAY instead of today, would that change how you did things?

If I told you that you actually had 28 months instead of 28 DAYS left in 2019, how would you spend your time?

The choices you make today won’t be remembered in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 years from now as the choices you made to “make the most of the end of the year.”

The choices you make today – if they’re important and brave enough choices, which can range from sending that tough email to taking a FULL rest day (not hour! day!) to FULLY reset – will be choices you remember as seized opportunities.

Because here’s the thing.

When you ask the universe for patience, strength, bravery, or fearlessness, it doesn’t give you patience, strength, bravery, or fearlessness.

It gives you OPPORTUNITIES to be patient, strong, brave, and fearless.

When you ask the universe for patience, strength, bravery, or fearlessness, it doesn’t give you patience, strength, bravery, or fearlessness. It gives you OPPORTUNITIES to be patient, strong, brave, and fearless. Click To Tweet

When we’re caught up in timelines and structure and routines, we run the risk of missing those opportunities. We start to act out of fear of “losing ourselves,” when in reality it usually takes a break in routine and consistency for us to really find ourselves.

As this year/decade comes to a close, I challenge you to look at each day as its own experience. It’s not simply “the X-to-last day of the year.” It’s its own living, breathing, morphing organism. It lives on its own AND as a mini-chapter in the macro-story around you.

Screw marrying yourself to a timeline or consistency for consistency’s sake. There are opportunities every single day for you to seize to help you be the you you know you’re meant to be. They might live inside your routine or timelines…they might not. 

All that matters is that you stay on the lookout.

 

How To Listen To Your Body.

How To Listen To Your Body.

Body

Q: Katie, how do I listen to my body?

 

A:

To listen to your body, you must get INTO your body.

Like slipping on the noise-proof earbuds you got last Christmas.

From the outside it’s wires and plastic – from the inside, a cacophony. Only you can hear the music, does that make it any less real?

Slip inside your skin and drop into your heart instead of your brain. Why has it taken so long for you to try them out?

To listen to your body, you must get INTO your body. Click To Tweet

To listen to your body, to really listen, you MUST interact with it first.

Whether you run or box or bike or bridge-pose, you must feel the way your body moves, and navigate it in space, over and over and over again.

You must take a step, then another, then another, then realize you’re walking. You must twist, you must bend, you must use the range of motion biology handed you and if you’re unable to you must simply breathe.

Feel the rise and fall of your chest, over and over. See how far it can expand and how it melts when you push the air out. Feel the wonder that is the jigsaw puzzle of your Personhood.

 

To listen to your body, to TRULY listen, you must acknowledge its nuance. You must notice the way your joints glide, the way your shoulders tighten, the way you do that thing with your wrists every time you feel anxious. You must listen with your limbs, your lungs, your organs, your nails. You must listen with the things that cannot hear but can work together to decode the tiniest sighs of joy and biggest cries for help and all the other stuff in between.


So no, you can’t learn to listen to your body by THINKING about how the plate you ate made you mentally feel.
You can’t learn to listen to your body by THINKING about your perfect form or precise protocols or even by measuring the sweat pools under your gym machine of choice.

Nope – to listen to your body, you must be IN your body first. When we move our muscles, we manage our mindset. When we workout our bodies, we work out our roadblocks.

We ask how to listen. It’s no wonder we’re met with silence.

Because you can’t truly hear your body’s voice without acknowledging where that voice is coming from.