People who view the world through rose-colored glasses are wonderfully optimistic and seem to harness the power of positive thinking. This often helps them; even spurs them on to great success. Unfortunately, their look-only-at-the-positive attitude sometimes sets them up for painful failure; especially when they meet up with very real limits to their abilities, resources, or opportunities. When this happens, they often feel crest-fallen and view themselves harshly.
A better way of using positive thinking is to focus on yourself - not your abilities or accomplishments - and to work toward an appreciation of you for just being who you are. By valuing your inherent worth, your sense of yourself is not greatly affected by your performance in any given activity. Success will make you feel good, but won't inflate your self-worth. And, though failures or personal weaknesses may still be distressing, they won't make you feel any worse about you as a person. In other words, you will love yourself the same through it all.
What naturally follows from such self-love is an inherent drive to grow and succeed, and to have compassion for your struggles. You do what you can to soothe any emotional pain. While you might accept defeat in a particular area, you won't see yourself as a failure. As a result, you can choose to try again - learning from your unsuccessful attempts. Or, you can regroup and decide to move in another positive direction. But in either case, you can find a way to cheer yourself on.
Even when you believe in the importance of self-acceptance and self-love, they often do not come easily. If you struggle with achieving them, but know someone who seems to have mastered them, pay attention to how they handle successes and failures in life - you may learn some very important lessons. Also, make an effort to take in love when others show it to you; really let yourself feel it.
Most importantly, work on developing compassionate self-awareness (a combination of self-awareness and self-compassion) by doing the following: Pay attention to, and become aware of, your thoughts and feelings. Choose to view yourself with acceptance and love when you can. At times when you criticize yourself, do NOT shut that out. Instead, really listen and try to understand that perspective, too - but without agreeing with it. Relate to, and empathize with, the emotional pain. With practice, this will likely leave you feeling self-compassion, wanting to ease that pain. From this place, you will find it easier to encourage yourself as you would a friend, being supportive without the self-criticism.
With time, you will no longer need to use successes to artificially bolster your self-esteem. Instead, you will simply know that you have value as a whole person, including your weaknesses and flaws. With such full self-acceptance and self-love, you will relate positively toward yourself through the ups and downs of life; remain on the path of self-improvement; and take on the challenges of life with a deeply grounded can-do-it attitude. This is the power of positive thinking at its best!
Dr. Leslie Becker-Phelps is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, NJ. She also writes a blog for WebMD (The Art of Relationships) and is the relationship expert on WebMD's Relationships and Coping Community.
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