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How to be a Positive Thinker: Without the Unicorns & Rainbows

How to be a Positive Thinker: Without the Unicorns & Rainbows

Wait…What Did I Just Think?

I woke up feeling like crap. One of those depressive days that arrive unannounced, bringing joint aches and other chronic pain friends along with it. “Today is a bad day”, was the very first thought that surfaced in my mind. Quite the positive thinker, as you can tell.

And then, I paused to think about what I had just thought about without even thinking about it. You know, a subconscious reflexive thought that we often accept as truth without even questioning it.

I Hate to be a ‘Positive Thinker’

To clarify, I hate unicorn rainbow thinking that ignores root causes, covering problems up rather than dealing with them. It is a form of escapism and idealism to me. I guess these days they call it ‘toxic positivity’.

It’s worse when other people use it as an “I don’t want to hear anymore of your boring topic, let’s end it” catch-all phrase. (P.s. This also applies to situations where they cut you off mid-sentence to say, “let’s pray”. A post for another time.)

That is not to say you aren’t allowed to be a positive thinker in this manner. If it helps you deal with your situation, then that’s a good thing.

What nourishes one type of personality is destructive to another. And I believe that the definition of how to be a positive thinker and what it entails is different for us all.

The Struggle Between Mind, Body & ‘Truth’

This leads to a frequent battle between my mind and body. “Today is a bad day.” I lie in bed feeling awful, then I start to feel guilty about all the tasks on my todo list that I won’t be able to accomplish, and feel even more miserable.

It is a silly and vicious cycle, because it isn’t my fault, and beating myself up about it is only going to turn the bad day into a worse one.

It also sets up the framework of how I will be approaching the rest of my day, whether I’m aware of it or not. I will probably end up sick on the sofa, feeling useless and frustrated. Then I might reach out to junk food for lunch, and contribute to the neverending pile of household chores.

I don’t want to force myself to be a positive thinker and go, “Today is a good day! Yay!”, because it feels self-deceptive and shallow. (Once again, if it actually motivates you – go for it. I am just sharing my thoughts and personal methods of coping here.)

So what ends up happening is that I allow “today is a bad day” to be the bad day that I had assumed it would be. I know, I’m so ‘real’ and ‘human’ 😉

How to be a Positive Thinker by Looking at Things from a Different Perspective

So here’s a little trick I’ve learned over the years whilst living with chronic pain and chronic illness. I can take that sentence and turn it into another truth, simply by changing my perspective on it.

I can take “today is a bad day” and look at it as “today is a good day for resting”.

Or “today is a good day for reading that book I keep neglecting as I always want to ‘do’ stuff”.

Or “today is a good day to have a party in bed”.

Or even “today is a great day to do nothing. Sometimes that’s good for the soul, right?”.

Once I reframe my thought, I immediately feel lighter. The weight of guilt, frustration, anger and blame lifts. I set myself free from the trappings of my own thoughts. It is another complimentary, if unasked for, practice session on genuine positive thinking.

Positive in the sense of addition, a plus, an accumulation. Not to run from a problem, but to rise above it. To exercise our ability to adapt, which is after all, how human beings have survived since the beginning of time.

*Note: This article is meant for educational purposes and is based on the author’s personal experiences. It is not to be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your own doctor before changing or adding any new treatment protocols.

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I can take that sentence and turn it into another truth, simply by changing my perspective on it. I can take 'today is a bad day' and look at it as 'today is a good day for resting'.

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  • Avatar of Kathy

    I like your approach of “Today is a good day to ____.”

  • Avatar of Sravanya

    Very well presented article thanks for sharing the post.

  • Avatar of Caz / InvisiblyMe

    It reminds me of reframing thoughts with CBT and what I learned during my psych degree many moons ago. I’ve seen lots of self-help style books that push the unicorn fantasy, and it’s just not me. I can get behind inspirational quotes and motivational messages for a quick pick me up, but in reality the faux positivity doesn’t help me in practice in the day to day. I’ve found the need to adapt my way of seeing things continually since living with chronic illness, and I’ve come to really value the importance of perspective. Excellent post, Sheryl ❤

    • Avatar of Sheryl Chan

      Thanks Caz! I had no idea about the CBT bit…it was just a random thought that popped into my head and I decided to share it in a post haha. Now I learned that there actually is a term for it, and I can go read up more about it! 🙂 Thanks for sharing and I so agree on the positivity self-help books that are primarily catered for a modern, get-go American type reader.

  • Avatar of Katie Clark

    I thank you for explaining that you can be REAL and POSITIVE. Losing hope is what ends life. However, ignoring our pain, just makes it cry out harder. This is the way to manage and live life FULLY.

    • Avatar of Sheryl Chan

      Thanks Katie. Yes often many of us feel like we’re faking positivity for others, but truly, there can be authenticity within it if we choose to reframe our perspectives in a way that’s beneficial for our wellbeing.

  • Avatar of Nancy Sexton

    Thank you for this…
    My 12 year old daughter was struck by chronic pain 16 months ago on a plane flight to London. I struggle daily to help her have a sense of hope. We are changing much of life to try to find comfort. Thank you for the words…Today is a good day for….This phase can help me take my lead from her and what her needs are daily.
    Blessings to you.

    • Avatar of Sheryl Chan

      Thanks so much for leaving a comment, Nancy, and how this post has helped you. It really does motivate me to continue writing and blogging and sharing and also to learn from others. Sending you and your daughter much love.

  • Avatar of Shruti Chopra

    It’s such a simple change in sentence that we can tell ourselves and suddenly our mental and physical approach changes. Loved it – and great timing for me. I’m having “a good day to rest” day today 🙂

    • Avatar of Sheryl Chan

      Haha I’m glad you’re changing your perspective for today, Shruti, especially if you’re not feeling well! I was semi-productive, but anxious and achy myself. So…a semi-productive day is enough. Thanks for reminding me by reading your comment lol. I shall switch off and just relax with some Netflix now 😉

  • Avatar of Chronic Mom

    I love this. I found a chart once on toxic positivity and it showed how a lot of positivity can be harmful, and then gave an example of what to say instead.

    • Avatar of Sheryl Chan

      That sounds like a very useful chart! Yes I think toxic positivity is so harmful and so many healthy people especially aren’t even aware of such a thing!

  • Avatar of Claire

    I love the ‘without unicorns and rainbows’ bit!! Re-framing is such a good move and I need to get back into the habit of it. Especially when it comes to resting more.

    • Avatar of Sheryl Chan

      Yes I realised after writing this article that there was a psychological term for it called ‘reframing’! It really is such a helpful tool!

  • Avatar of Sigrid Chu, Life Notes to File

    Hello Sheryl,

    I currently practice “positive-thinking with a twist”. I’ve come to realize that acknowledging the negatives are important for us to be able to think positively about our unfortunate situations. And I don’t mind complaining too if it’s helpful. The most important thing is to rise from the ashes.

    Thank you for this post.


    • Avatar of Sheryl Chan

      Hi Sigrid, thanks for stopping by! Yes positive thinking with a twist sounds about right 😉 It is indeed important to acknowledge all the emotions we feel in order to heal and to grow.

  • Avatar of Tessa G

    This really resonates with me. I can’t tell you how often I sarcastically say ‘oh yeah, it’s all unicorns and rainbows today!’ This is the kind of thinking I try to use, but sometimes I get caught up in the gosh-I’m-so-lazy thinking, and then a whole new negative thought process begins. Good to have a reminder to keep things in perspective!

    • Avatar of Sheryl Chan

      Hi Tessa, I’m equally as guilty of doing what you do despite having written this as well 😉 I suppose often such emotions can override logic even, especially when you’re in a bad state in every which way possible! Sending you good thoughts and strength for the week!

  • Avatar of Jana

    I love the way you think! This is a great way to turn negative thoughts into something positive without feeling fake about it or like you are trying to fool yourself, because that never works! I will definitely be using this from now on. I love this shift in mindset!

    • Avatar of Sheryl Chan

      Hi Jana,

      Thank you, I’m really glad it works for you! 🙂 Yes I never liked the whole ‘just think positive’ concept, so this was my method of ‘being positive’ ;P

  • Avatar of Melitta Campbell

    I love your way of reframing a bad day – I’m definitely going to be using that one, thanks!

  • Avatar of Nicole | The Professional Mom Project

    Love this perspective thank you. Sometimes it’s all about re-framing matters in our own minds and do the best we can with what we’ve got.

  • Avatar of Gloria

    I like this way of thinking. You’re right, there’s no point ignoring our problems and living in cuckoo land by pretending everything is wonderful. Smile yes, and think positive but deal with the problems that are the cause of the bad days!
    However, sometimes I’m having a bad day & I don’t always know why! Then I just blame the hormones ?
    ‘Today is a good day to be hormonal.’
    Might try that!

  • Avatar of Anindya Rakshit

    Yes, it got me thinking…..I like your perspective…..nicely written…

  • Avatar of Rosie Amber

    I like you ideas for turning around a negative thought.

  • Avatar of Danielle Faith

    Finding the silver lining and being optimistic is key for conquering chronic illnesses. As always you are spot on.

    • Avatar of Sheryl Chan

      Hi Danielle,

      Yes, it can be difficult to find that silver lining 🙂 For me, it’s being honest in that positivity. Hope you are having a good weekend! x

  • Avatar of Claire

    It has been one of those days today, Sheryl! Made it to the sofa but it is now 7pm and only just managed clean PJs and teeth clean!! Used day to catch up on Netflix and all my lovely chronic pals blog posts. Still struggle tho with the fact that everyone else in the house seems to think that when I have a bad day nothing needs doing – huge debate just now about if anyone is cooking whilst my shoulder out of socket and fngers navy. C xxx

    • Avatar of Sheryl Chan

      Hi Claire,

      How are you now? I hope tomorrow will be a much better day 🙁 Yea I totally get what you mean. A similar example would be, if I were to sit down on a crowded public transport, start fiddling with my phone for pain distraction, and not giving up my seat. From an outsider perspective, it seems like we’re selfish and lazy. In any case, take it day by day! Wishing you a good day soon x

  • Avatar of Sarah

    Thanks for sharing your insight and perspective. Such a simple and easy change to make in our thinking, which can be so valuable to those of us with chronic illnesses.

    • Avatar of Sheryl Chan

      Hi Sarah! Thanks for reading, I hope it helps 🙂 Yes I tend to be a little too serious when it comes to ‘being real’ but it’s always a matter of perspective! Hope you have a lovely week ahead!

  • Avatar of Kat

    This is a great post. Balance is so important when it comes to positivity when chronically ill, I think–although as you said, if Pollyanna positivity helps people, go for it. But I’ve found for most, a more honest approach is the most helpful: allowing room to complain and accept that the hand we are dealt is /hard/, but also to find the hidden benefit within it. Today is a good day to rest. Today is a good excuse to watch three seasons of that show I haven’t gotten to see. My upcoming surgery means I get to rewatch The Lord of the Rings surgery. Whatever. Find those silver linings, but they don’t have to be /all/ unicorns and manure.

    • Avatar of Sheryl Chan

      Hi Kat,

      Exactly! And yes…some days can be totally shit, too, and that’s fine. But more often than not, there’s a different perspective that is more helpful for ourselves out there 🙂

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