I am impatient with motivational speeches, especially the expensive ones. (Are there cheap motivational speeches?) I am also weary of self-help type/hype, with “I am worth it,” or, “I am special…I can do it” chanting. After all that pumping, we are lucky to get a little bubble of satisfaction that might last a day. So, I resonated with what Oliver Burkeman, journalist/author, said in his NPR interview: Positive thinking can actually be counterproductive. The more one wants to avoid negative images, the more one goes there. Forced positive words are contrite and become obstacles instead. The interview was about his book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking. Indeed, positive thinking is not equal to happiness, though they maybe highly correlated.
I thoroughly enjoy www.despair.com‘s irreverent anti-motivational sayings, always under awesome poster images. For example, “Believe in Yourself because the rest of us think you are an idiot,” is placed under the poster image of a lone kayak, in frothy water, about to go over the edge of a huge waterfall. Under a picture of molten lava devouring a highway, “Obstacles: Some things cannot be overcome with determination and a positive attitude.” Or, “If a pretty poster and a cute saying are all it takes to motivate you…” against a beautiful image of sunset by a pebbled beach with trees and rocks.
So, how does such an attitude square with my advocacy for Appreciate Inquiry (AI) in which one focuses on positive stories and uses them as the foundation to build…an organization, a personal career, a stronger relationship, etc.? The key lies in “stories,” which are based on past activities and realities. However skewed our memories might be, there was still a general outline, process, or principle by which we accomplished something. While we cannot recreate the last success, we can build on that. As I have repeatedly mentioned in this blog, AI isn’t the Pollyanna make-believe where failures or shortcomings aren’t allowed; it is not wishful thinking. The “I am great; I can do it; I am special” positive mantra is, just that, words. Appreciative Inquiry is based on actions, and the thinking is in abundancy mode.
I actually have personally experienced a few self-discovery/help workshops, usually resisting every step of the way, till I found my own path and voice. However, I have had enough sociology and psychology to recognize principles and lessons that would benefit me. The key always lies in the process of my own journey, if and when I was willing. The journey was never created by the facilitator’s words nor mine; I had to walk through it. So, once again, it’s about our own experience and action, and therefore our own story. There are no shortcuts. Yet, inevitably, at most such workshops, there are moments when the facilitator gets people all roused up with mantras. (This was my cue to go to the loo if I could escape; most likely though, I wasn’t allowed to. So, I did my low-voice perfunctory rah-rah.)
While I embrace Appreciative Inquiry principles and generally prefer approaching work and life from abundancy mode rather than deficit mode, this does not mean that I don’t allow “failure” or “impossible” in my vocabulary. There are valuable lessons from “failures;” without them, we may never learn the next steps, understand humility, or grasp the depth of our resilience. I do use “impossible” sparingly; the word tends to kill off all future dialogue. On the fifth hand, I’ve known people who would silently take “impossible” as an opening for challenge. The person saying “impossible” is in deficit mode while the person taking it as a challenge is in abundancy frame.
What’s your modus operandi?
Till the next time,
Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.
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- Oliver Burkeman: “In order to be truly happy… we might actually need to be willing to experience more negative emotions – or, at the very least, to stop running quite so hard from them.” (metafilter.com)
- “Positive Thinking Isn’t Enough” by Julianne Lockhart (luxuriousideasfromroom109.wordpress.com)