February Book Club: How to Harness the Power of Positive Thinking (Without Glossing Over Tough Times)
This is the first in our new series Book Club, where we bring you monthly recommendations for new books by our favorite authors.
A confession: When I hear wellness-world talk about “the power of positive thinking,” I feel incredibly annoyed and somewhat ashamed. The annoyance comes first. It sets in when it’s insinuated that all I have to do to have an Instagram-filtered life is be positive! think good thoughts! put good vibes into the Universe! Then comes the mild shame—am I doing something wrong because I still have pain? Because things aren’t picture perfect all the time? Because I have days when I wake up angry or frustrated or overwhelmed?
Those are the kinds of traps that author, keynote speaker and truth-teller Cyndie Spiegel is trying to diffuse in her new book of daily inspirations and reminders, A Year of Positive Thinking: Daily Inspiration, Wisdom and Courage. “We have to understand that there’s both darkness and light in the world,” she tells me. “It’s not all rainbows and blue skies and butterflies. That’s colorful, but it feels like bullsh*t to me.”
Counteracting Our Brains’ Default
And with that statement, she immediately dispels my fears about what a daily inspirational book on positive thinking could be. Her book (which she didn’t even choose the title or format of—”I don’t read anything ‘daily,'” she says) is more of a lesson in training your brain to stop defaulting to the negative. “Our brains are so smart, but they’re trained to protect us,” Cyndie says. “We have a negativity bias that keeps our brains asking, ‘what could go wrong?’ instead of focusing on what could go right.”
To counteract that, she says, we have to consciously think about what’s right and good. “Negative and positive thoughts have different weights,” she tells me. “One negative thought is equal to three positive thoughts, a concept that comes from [research that resulted in the book Positivity] by Barbara Fredrickson, so we have a lot of work to do to counter that negativity bias.”
The good news is that once we’re aware of our negativity bias, it’s much easier to shift. “We can start doing things that constantly remind us of positivity,” says Cyndie. “And we need these reminders! We need to create consistency to our positivity, and put ourselves in environments with other people who are also positive.”
Who Your Surround Yourself With Matters
Which brings us to another key component to real positive thinking: Our peers matter. “They rub off on us,” says Cyndie. “We rub off on each other. If you wake up every day and read my book, but then you go and hang out with a group of people that is constantly cynical, it won’t work. We can’t separate ourselves from our peers and our environment.”
Cyndie knows firsthand how environment can impact positivity. Having grown up poor in New Jersey, she says her default was “just getting by and surviving, not positive thinking.” She was a realist, she says. “I didn’t believe in what I couldn’t see. When you’re poor, no one teaches you how to look beyond your current circumstances.”
But, she says, her transition to positive thinking slowly began when she went from a kid growing up in poverty to getting an education, landing a corporate fashion job and traveling the world. Cyndie began to realize there were other perspectives than the one she’d been shown.
And then, she started yoga teacher training. “That’s what really changed me,” she says. “It helped me think differently about how I think and perceive the world.”
Embracing Grief and Pain in Positive Thinking
Changing her perspective on the world and embracing the idea of positivity didn’t mean Cyndie shoved her “bad” feelings away. “You have to have both this and that,” she says. “You have to understand and sit into the full spectrum of human emotions in order to experience them all—if you deny yourself the negative, that means you can’t feel empathy for others.”
The only real way to find joy, Cyndie continues, is to engage with the full gamut of feelings. “You have to make it to the bottom to appreciate how it feels at the top,” she tells me.
The lesson? Don’t deny what you’re feeling, whatever it is. “Open the door to pain, but open the door to extreme joy too,” Cyndie says. But remember that because of our brain’s default to the negative, it’s wired to sit in the pain and grief—sometimes for too long. “It’s about knowing that, and then being able to pull ourselves out of the pain when it’s time,” she says. “It isn’t a default in our brains that will kick on and pull us out. We have to be aware, give ourselves the space to grieve, but also know when it’s time to move forward.”
Positive Thinking for Today
Cyndie says her book isn’t about waking up every day and feeling like sunshine. Instead, it’s a reminder that there will be happiness and sadness, joy and grief. She wants us to embrace all our emotions, wherever we are. “And when where you are doesn’t feel good, know that it won’t always be that way,” she says.
On that note, we asked Cyndie to share an excerpt from A Year of Positive Thinking: Daily Inspiration, Wisdom and Courage, so we could get a taste of her kind of positivity.
February 1: You Are the One You Are Waiting For
Love begins with you.
There is no one who can make you more whole thank you already are, even in your perceived brokenness. You cannot expect others to be perfect and you cannot expect yourself to be perfect, either. If the love of another is what you seek, it’s damn near impossible to ask someone else to give you what you are unable to give yourself first.
You are the one you’ve been waiting for. The love you hope for begins with you; it always has.
How do you love yourself? What parts of yourself perhaps need more love from you? What can you do as a part of a daily routine to maintain a loving relationship with yourself?
Looking for more inspiration? Check out these tips for creating a daily ritual for health and happiness.