Have you ever been told to “think positive?” Not too long ago, I might’ve been one of the people who said that very phrase to you. I’ve since learned that positive thinking isn’t always the right tool to tackle my life with. This isn’t to say that positivity isn’t useful. I’d say that it’s definitely better than being negative. If I’m honest, I’ve gotten a ton of value out of positive thinking, and would describe myself as more of an optimist than a pessimist.
With that said, my problem with “positive thinking” is that it takes a one sided stance on life. There are plenty of times when everything just sucks and, from experience, being told to “look at the bright side” often doesn’t do anything to help you get out of the crap.
This past fall, I fell into a depression for roughly two months. It was a difficult time. I would hit snooze for 2-3 hours after my alarm rang because the idea of facing the day ahead was so overwhelming. I stopped taking care of myself – stopped training, ate like crap, started *ahem* “self medicating” a lot (which, by the way, just made it worse). I lost interest in everything that I was passionate about. Nothing was fun. Nothing was satisfying. It was like I had this gaping hole inside of me that kept sucking the joy out of everything. No matter what I did, I couldn’t fill the hole.
Before this, I’d always been a “glass half-full” kind of guy. I still kinda am. Much owed to my mom, I’d learned from a young age to look for the good in any given situation. It was second nature to me. Looking back, I’m ashamed to admit that I used to think that people who had depression just needed to “toughen up” and “look at things differently.”
But now that I was depressed myself, no matter how much I tried to “think positive,” I couldn’t think my way out of the hole I was in. While it sucked at the time, the experience taught me that I really didn’t know anything about how to navigate through difficult times. My depression got worse as I realized I didn’t have a solution.
So how did I get out?
I was lucky. I had help. Lots and lots of help from others. I was fortunate to be surrounded by amazing people who supported me (with or without their knowledge) as I inched my way out of depression. All the support from disparate areas of my life combined to help address a couple key issues.
Below, I’ve included a short list of my personal key issues. Yours may be different, and this is by no means a prescription for getting out of depression. I just want to highlight that a positive mindset is not always the best tool, nor is it the only one. In my case, the things that made the biggest difference involved taking action.
Small goals, slow progression. Like eating some vegetables everyday opposed to a complete dietary overhaul
2) Daily exercise
Not necessarily strenuous. I found doing anything at all helped me a lot
I started by doing two, five minute sessions a day. Don’t judge yourself.
4) Being grateful
This might have been the single most important thing. Instead of trying to see the good in a crappy situation, I thought of something small that I could be thankful for.
Example: A bed not to get out of, hot showers, people who would tolerate my moping.
5) Taking a shower everyday
Kind of funny, I know, but for me, just feeling clean made a huge difference in my day.
Life is hard. Sometimes things just suck. While I believe that we should always avoid adding negativity to a situation, that doesn’t mean being positive is the solution. In the end, optimism is merely a mindset.
Ralph Waldo Emerson is known for saying:
Sow a thought, reap an action;
Sow an act, reap a habit;
Sow a habit, reap a character;
Sow a character; reap a destiny.
I love this quote. I have it taped above my desk. But while there’s definitely a lot of truth in his words, in my opinion, thoughts and actions must often come in inverse order. Sometimes our thoughts rebel against us, feeding us self-doubt, self-hate, and negativity. In these cases, we have to make our bodies act like how we want them to feel.
No matter how much you think about running a marathon, it won’t get done unless you start putting one foot in front of the other. Thoughts are powerful, but often they are useless unless we act. Only by taking action can we move from the place we’re at, to the place we want to be.
Til’ Next Time.