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We hear a lot about positive thinking but what does it mean? Are we supposed to close our eyes and stuff our fingers in our ears when we encounter anything unpleasant?

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Photo by Reza Heydar on Unsplash

See no evil?

Some people take a see no evil-hear no evil approach to positive thinking and refuse to engage with anything that they find uncomfortable, awkward, or painful. Instead of facing problems, they look the other way and call it “positive thinking”.

An example

A see-no-evil positive thinker runs into difficulties in a relationship. He or she chooses to ignore them, pretending to not notice the other person’s moods or the strained interaction. If the other person tries to raise the issue they brush it off, refusing to acknowledge anything “negative.” Ultimately, the avoidance causes a rupture.

Realism with a positive twist

Simply avoiding difficult realities doesn’t make them go away — or make for long-term happiness. This brings us to another definition of positive thinking: realistic consideration of the circumstances that chooses to see them in the best possible light. 

An example

A realistic positive thinker encounters the same relationship problem. Instead of ignoring them, s/he spends time in self-reflection, trying to identify the source of the problem. Then s/he talks about it with the partner, being honest about uncomfortable feelings, but with emphasising the love and value they place on the relationship. This leads to a conversation where they are able to address the issue in a way that strengthens rather than harms their bond.

Keeping it real — and positive

You could easily come up with examples from work, family life, yoga practice — any area of our daily lives and experience are ripe with opportunities for either ignoring problems, or addressing them with realistic positive thinking.

When we choose realistic positive thinking, we actually empower ourselves far more than if we try to pretend problems don’t exist. If something doesn’t exist, we cannot do anything to improve it. Reality, though, we can influence with our actions and attitude.

Ultimately, accepting and facing the hard things in life is a victory, not a defeat. The world is never going to be perfect and flawless, nor are we. By embracing this truth and working to grow within it, through yoga, mindfulness, self-care and meaningful relationships, we actually have a chance to make a difference.

Read more: Making Positive Mistakes, Mindfulness for the Greater Good