I hate to admit it, but I've never been a glass-half-full kind of gal. My personal mantra used to be "prepare for the worst." I thought being negative was smart, and hunkering down for the worst possible scenario was proactive. Positive people, to me, always seemed too peppy, too optimistic. Believing everything could go your way could get you into trouble, I thought. Better to be cool, dark and never too excited about anything.
I was attempting to embody April Ludgate when I now realize I should've aimed for Leslie Knope.
It wasn't until I started working with a life coach that I realized how my negative thinking impacted my relationships, my personal self-worth, and my professional life. It doesn't always have to be sunshine and rainbows, but positive thinking helped fuel my happiness and create sustainable habits that I'm sure will extend beyond my twenties.
If you don't believe me, Boston-based positive psychology coach Stephanie Read explains that unlocking the key to a happier self is realizing what really makes you happy: "It's not the haircut or the promotion — that will only keep you happy for a few weeks. Unless you make some powerful shifts in how you spend your time, you're not going to feel happier."
Working with a coach, I realized that, for me, happiness always meant one more thing. Maybe if I got some cooler sneakers, worked out more, or dyed my hair, I could be happy. My new sneakers are pretty amazing, but the novelty of them faded within weeks. And while setting goals is important, I started to realize that finding positivity in the moment can lead to true happiness.
I'm glad to realize I'm not alone in this. For a time, Read's office was graced with, as she puts it, "a sea of women. They had to be some of the coolest young women on the block, but they all had this feeling of something missing. It's almost an epidemic."
Whether recent grads or 20-somethings looking for a career change, Read worked with each of the women to not only find next steps in their lives but also reveal what actually makes them happy. And happiness — spoiler alert — was a part of me the whole time.
With my coach, I realized I was earmarking my happiness not by internal signifiers, but by social standards and expectations. Finding my positive self meant letting my freak flag fly, letting myself do things that would make me happy. This led to a brief dabbling with improv, and buying a loud orange dress I would've never envisioned myself in.
For someone else, this might mean forgoing the seemingly perfect job offer for a chance to backpack across the world, or pursuing a writing career because it makes you happy. Instead of making choices that others would approve of, you've got to do you.
I know this may be obvious to some, but it was hard to catch on for me. This also became a learning experience for self-care. We're all our own worst critics. Reflection is good, but when I found myself start ripping apart an email I wrote to a client until 2 a.m., I realized I'd gone too far.
It took me so long to realize that this kind of reaction wasn't natural, healthy, or honest. I started my professional career thinking I was already behind, that I had to be extra-tough on myself to get ahead. Instead of shooting straight to the top, I ended up burning myself out with self-imposed stress. Instead of being afraid that I'm not critical enough, I gave myself permission to consider how freeing being less critical could be. Learning the practice of self-compassion allows for more space — more space for bravery, taking risks, and being honest with what I really want.
The moment I stopped stressing about email exchanges or taking lunch away from my desk, the more my creativity at work opened up. I felt courageous and ready to throw out ideas at a team meeting instead of silently shooting them down in my head.
It's not like this all happened overnight, and I'm still reminding myself when negative thinking creeps in, but I find the day weighs on me less. I feel lighter, brighter when I punch the clock at the end of the day. But, work is still work — and I mean that as both the 9-to-5 and personal growth.
This revelation is going to sound incredibly naive to some, but it took me a while to realize you don't just wake up one morning suddenly grown-up. There's no "this tall to ride" sign when it comes to adulting.
Positivity can mean setting goals to grow, being conscious of your personal growth. Being positive isn't about sugar-coating experiences, or just being a cheerleader — it's about recognizing challenges, and rising to meet them instead of accepting defeat or self-criticism.
"Accountability is very real. We can't pretend that things are great if the client isn't moving forward and completing tasks we've set out together," explains Read.
For me, change is small. It's journaling, networking, and taking a bit of me-time, but setting goals and meeting them has helped me grow into a more positive person.
Positive thinking doesn't mean smiles all the time or no bad days. Rather, it's a tool to turn your thinking around and question your thought process. For the positive-thinking inclined, I can't imagine this is groundbreaking. But, for someone who thought the that negative thinking was a way of life, working with a life coach helped changed my monologue.