September 16, 2018

How to stay positive when things are not so good?


You may have heard the advice to ‘never give up’.

It’s good in some situations and not so good in others. If you are banging your head against a wall trying to make a hole in it, persistence is the least of your problems.

However, maintaining a positive state of mind when confronted with bad news is always of value. You are much more likely to go look for a drill if you look at the whole wall hitting thing as a funny little adventure. Not so much if you get depressed and decide that there’s no point in trying.

How then can you stay positive when it looks like you’ve hit a wall?

There are a few tricks that can help.

  • If you’ve ever watched boxing, you may have noticed that some boxers give their opponents a free shot by dropping their arms. Most of them will then dodge a punch, but some won’t. Of course, it’s a stupid move. Why do they do it then? They do it to show to the opponent, and to themselves, that the other guy can’t hurt themYou can use this warped thinking when dealing with your own life. When you get hit with a setback, imagine that you are a boxer with an iron chin. Ask life, ‘is that all you got?’ and smile.
  • People often worry about things that are very unlikely to happen. Such as terrorist attacks and plane crashes. Checking the odds and telling yourself that you are safer in a plane than in a taxi to the airport doesn’t always help. Now there’s a crazy idea – how about you start thinking of all the advantages of dying in a rare event? Who cares if you get run over by a car or have a fatal heart attack? Only the people who knew you closely. On the other hand, if you are lucky enough to die in a terror attack, your name may hit national news. People you knew in passing would be mentioning your name to each other. Strangers will mourn you. The government may offer a nice compensation deal to your family. Since the alternative is not so bad after all, perhaps there’s no reason to fear it as much?
  • We often get upset when we are treated unfairly, harshly and aggressively by other people in our lives. Usually these are not the people we like or respect. It helps to imagine that these people are in cages in a zoo, and you are a visitor. Or that you are a psychiatrist, and the person being aggressive is your patient. These tricks manage to do two things at once. They distance you from the person you don’t like. And they quietly tell you that the person who’s irritating you doesn’t really have a choice.
  • As we get older, more and more of the people we know start leaving this world. If you are in your mid to late 70s and in good health, things can become pretty depressing. It’s only a matter of time before you start feeling like a prisoner on a death row. You see the people around you taken away, and do not  know when your turn is going to come. But there’s another way of looking at this. What if you imagine that we are all playing a game and the person who lives the longest wins? In that case every person who dies before you is not a sign that your own death is near. That person is actually getting you closer to the prize, as you managed to outlive him and are still staying on course.

I fully understand that the last tip is going to offend some people. In most societies death is a cause for mourning and sadness. We even expect public displays of grief from the people who learn about the death of others. Why? People who passed away do not need our grief. Torturing ourselves mentally to honour another person’s memory is not helping anyone.

Yes, the solutions I listed are a bit strange. You can even argue that they are untrue. No point in pretending life can’t hurt you. Nothing lucky about dying in a terror attack. No prize for the people who live longer than others.

But that’s not the point. The point is that they work.

Since our feelings are not objective, the concepts that modify them don’t have to be objective either. You can fool yourself whichever way you wish. It will be your own little secret – a game you play with yourself.

As long as it works.

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