When Positive Thinking Doesn’t Help

Sad girl

“The best way out is always through.” ~Robert Frost

Earlier this year my partner, our son, and I all moved to Santa Barbara from Oregon. People move all the time, but for us it was a huge step.

My partner had a new exciting dream job, and we were eager to experience the sunshine of California. But our son was only six months old at the time, and we were leaving both our families and all of our friends. On top of that, I was leaving my successful private practice in Chinese Medicine to become a stay-at-home-mom.

I knew it was going to be hard, but I was determined to turn the move into a positive new opportunity for myself. It was a chance to renew my commitment to blogging, perhaps work on that book I’ve been talking about writing, maybe start a coaching practice?

We arrived in January, excited to find sunny skies and mild weather, while our friends and family were complaining about the rain. We both started a cleanse, determined to start the New Year off to a healthy start. We walked more, took our son out for strolls.

My partner went off to work, and I was determined to dive into re-inventing my business. All I needed was determination, the right attitude, and everything would just come flowing my way, right?

Friends would call and ask me how I was: “GREAT!” I would answer, determined to keep a smile on my face.But it wasn’t great. Nothing was working. In the few spare minutes I had between chasing a six-month-old, I would try and write. But I was stuck and I couldn’t figure out why.

I even hired a life coach, thinking all I needed was someone to point me in the right direction. The first thing she said was “You are back at square one, it’s not time to be making plans.” I burst into tears.

She explained how I had to take the time to grieve my old life. I had to grieve the loss of my career, my identity, friends, family, even the loss of my favorite grocery store if that is what it took.

No wonder nothing was working! I was so determined to think positively about my new transition I didn’t even take time to feel sad.

It was like I hadn’t even landed in my new home; I was just walking around about a foot off the ground in a bubble of “everything is fine,” when really, I wasn’t fine; I was sad.

I took her advice and it made all the difference. Here is what I learned about when positive thinking can actually slow you down:

Feel your feelings; just don’t attach meaning to them.

I was so afraid to feel sad because I thought I would be blocking myself from positive experiences. The trick was letting myself feel the sadness without attaching a story to it. Like, “I will never find friends” or “I will never get my practice started.” It was the negative stories that weren’t helpful, not my feelings.

Feelings are just like the weather; they can’t be controlled and they are always changing. I found that if I just let myself be in the sadness, it passed so much quicker.

Take the time you need for yourself.

Shortly after this realization I took some time just for myself. I quit blogging, quit planning, quit putting so much pressure on myself, and just let myself be sad. I cried. I napped when my son napped.

Planning and being busy were just another way for me to avoid how I was feeling. I needed time to turn inward, not expand outward.

Even in grief there is room for gratitude.

This was a hard one because I wanted to blame my unhappiness on our new home. But as hard as I tried, the beauty and charm of our new home won me over.

As I took time for myself, I made sure to be grateful that we had landed in such a beautiful spot. Having something to be grateful for really helped me keep my head above water.

The time for dreaming will come again.

At one point I thought it was never going to shift, but then it did. Little by little, I began being excited by life here. I stopped feeling like I was missing something so much. With that shift came new friendships, new business opportunities, even a renewed sense of fun and adventure in my relationship.

This was the magic I was looking for; it had to come from a place of true, grounded joy, not hollow optimism that I thought I had to fake.

There is nothing wrong with trying to keep a positive attitude, but it can’t come at the expense of your true feelings.

Only by allowing yourself to be present with more difficult emotions can you begin to move through them and create space for a new experience. Real happiness comes only when the positive thoughts in your head are aligned with the true joy in your heart.

Man under raincloud image via Shutterstock

About Allison Carr

Allison Carr is a writer, healer, coach and mother. She helps people find more magic, meaning and passion in their lives through writing, teaching and private sessions. She lives in Santa Barbara with her partner and their son. She can be found at

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