Some people cling to their relentless negative focus in the name of “realism.”
They feel that if they are not focusing on the most negative aspect of a situation, they are somehow in denial.
In their world, emphasizing the negative is the only reliable way of “keeping it real.”
If you’re a follower of my work, you know that I have strong feelings about the connection between reality orientation and self-esteem. I absolutely believe that self-esteem and self-respect are damaged when we don’t acknowledge reality. Lying to ourselves and others makes it impossible to respect or esteem ourselves.
That said: “negative” does not automatically mean “realistic.”
The truth of the matter is, just like we can unrealistically inflate the positive aspects of a situation and arrive at a fantasy of everything being great, we can also inflate the negative aspects of a situation and arrive at an equally false fantasy of everything being terrible.
What we focus on absolutely impacts our mood. It’s the MAIN thing that impacts our mood, for that matter.
It’s true that we need to be careful in how we perceive and examine the world. There are many occasions when we’re going to be tempted to block certain things from our awareness to maintain our own comfort. Denial is absolutely destructive to our ability to function effectively in the real world.
But we need to acknowledge that, just because we’re “seeing” things we’d rather not see, doesn’t mean we need to obsess over those things to the point of anxiety and depression.
A solid, reality-oriented view of the world is gong to acknowledge both things we like, and things we don’t like.
Real life is rarely as black and white as “everything sucks” or “everything’s great.”
If we really want to build a life in which we feel good and function well, we need to scan our environment not just for things that are wrong or need to be improved; we need to consciously, intentionally look for things that are going well, things we approve of, things we like.
Finding things around us that we need to correct or fix is important. But it’s also important to find things that are functioning well, because we can build on those successes.
The street on which I live in Chicago is notorious for terrible potholes.
(A lot of streets are in Chicago, actually. I’ve twice blown tires on the streets around here.)
Chicago is a huge, vibrant, complex city full of a mass of vibrant, complex people. But if I only focus on the potholes on my street in the north side of Chicago, I’m going to have an impression of Chicago that is entirely about frustration, inconvenience, and danger.
The most realistic worldview acknowledges both: there are awesome people, places, and things in Chicago that can enhance my life; and there are also canyon-sized potholes on some streets that I need to be careful of.
Life is exactly like this.
If we only focus on the potholes, we will walk around with attitudes that suck and moods that do not support us in our goals.
If we only focus on the awesomeness, we will drive too fast and be unprepared for the potholes when they jump out in front of our cars.
Remember that “reality” is not about getting positive or seeing he negative. It’s about acknowledging and accepting what your senses and experience are telling you about reality— without demanding that it be different.
Acceptance of reality is tougher than it sounds.
We don’t like to accept what we don’t like.
Sometimes we don’t even like to accept what we DO like, because it can make us anxious— we get all up in our heads about, what if what we DO like goes away?
Look at your life; look at your circumstances; look at your resources.
See them for what they are.
Note the potholes.
But also note the amazing city around the potholes…and all the opportunities that it offers you.
Life’s not all potholes. It only feels that way when we blow a tire.
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