Why You Can’t Just “Think Positive” to Feel Better – Episode 10

Why You Can't Just Think Positive to Feel Better - Episode 10

This important episode highlights and contrasts Friendly Mind with other methods, identifying similarities yet making the valuable differences clear. Friendly Mind clarifies how affirmations, positive thinking, “fixing” feelings, self-judgment, and the more conventional expression of “I’m fine” all fall short of true healing. They miss the critical element of responding as simultaneously as possible with awareness of life’s challenges and the value of guiding ourselves toward well-being and healing. These distinctions help us understand the subtlety of Friendly Mind.

Resources related to this episode
Robert Strock Website
Robert’s Book, Awareness that Heals
Free Downloadable Introspective Guides

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Announcer: (00:00)
Awareness That Heals Episode 10.

Robert Strock: (00:03)
Understanding these deeper subtleties of looking at the truth and looking at what you need to do and not being one dimensional, it will give you more respect that friendly mind doesn’t put frosting on garbage.

Announcer: (00:20)
Awareness That Heals is a podcast that helps its listeners become more at peace with all states of their mind. Your host, Robert Strock has practiced psychotherapy for more than 45 years. He’s coined the term Awareness That Heals to help you develop self-caring and the capacity to respond in an effective way to life’s challenges. Especially at times when you’re most prone to be critical or to withdraw together, we’ll explore how to become caringly aware of our challenging feelings and how we can use our friendly mind to respond and help care for these difficult feelings to live a better, more inspiring life.

Robert Strock: (00:58)
Welcome again, to a continuation of friendly mind. And we’re making a transition from our unreachable standards that we carry, that we burden ourselves with to looking at similar approaches, to friendly mind, but in understanding how they’re not the same approach, it will help us really be able to use friendly mind and a much more effective way. So we’re going to look at a number of different ways that are different, different approaches that are similar to friendly mind, which include positive thinking, conventional thinking, negative thinking and being the fixer. But we’re going to start out today with positive thinking and it’s helpful to really understand what does positive thinking really sound like. So I’m going to do my best to give you a feel for what the tone of it is. It’s something like, well, I know I can find love if I just trust myself, I’m going to manifest money.

Robert Strock: (02:10)
All I need to do is just stay focused. Fears aren’t real as long as I really stay centered, fears aren’t going to disturb me. I love myself unconditionally and I deserve it. Or I can do anything if I put my mind to it. Now, all those statements you’ll notice are one dimensional. They’re a bit grandiose. They have this structural kind of sweetness and abundance and positivity. And they’re not dealing with the complexity of life. Yeah, they are at least focused on the positives. So there’s some benefit to us. It’s just that it doesn’t allow us to see important grays of life, which friendly mind definitely does.

Speaker 1: (03:06)
So it avoids necessary levels of development, which is to realize there are very few things in life that are black and white. And the vast majority of things, and you’ll notice I’m not saying all of them, the vast majority of things in life are gray. And I’m going to say that again, the vast majority of things in life are gray, which means there are two or more dimensions to them. And when we find ourselves making a simplistic conclusion, we can pretty well assume that most of the time we’re unconscious and we have some questions to ask ourselves. So one of the things to look at in, in this positive thinking is to see that it’s based on generalizations and abstractions. And this one dimensional thinking feels good, makes us feel like we’ve arrived somewhere, but friendly mind has a tendency to see things more in bits of time and recognizes that a curve ball can come up three yards down the line. So it might help us. It will help us in the present and near future, but there’s no guarantee it’s going to help us tomorrow. Unless we’re executing. It’s kind of like playing a sport. Now you can learn how to do a layup, but if you’re just doing a lap and thinking it’s nothing, you’re going to hit a clunker, you know, you’re, you’re not going to be able to do it the way, the way you did it before, it requires practice, requires focus, requires presence.

Robert Strock: (04:58)
So it’s not Harry Potter. It’s not like you just have a little wand and you whip the wand and it just magically transformed, which is part of what positive thinking, promises us. It’s not robotic. And it does distract us from the shadow side of our life, from the side of our life that isn’t together. And many of us are satisfied with this kind of one dimensional positivity, because consciously it makes us feel good, but friendly mind reminds us that we need to look at the truth. We must see reality. We want to see reality so that we cannot only see the part that’s good, but we can look at the part that needs a little bit of attention or a lot of attention and some work or dedication or some new, fresh awareness, and also guide us how to respond. How are we really going to take this?

Robert Strock: (06:09)
Let’s say issue of . . . money. Oh, I have abundance. And abundance is coming. It’s going to be raining out of the clouds, you know, and just money. I can just see it. I’m visualizing. And if I really can visualize it, then it’s going to happen. But friendly mind would say, you know what might be a good idea, to make a plan? Yeah. It might be a good idea to make this next phone call, maybe read our bank statements. Or, uh, if we don’t read our bank statements, look up, look up how much money we have under the pillow, but be practical and to deal with a fullness of reality. Friendly mind requires us, wants us. We want it. When we become friendly mind, it’s really we, rather than it, we want to make our best efforts always and aren’t satisfied with vague, positive images without facing the fullness of what we’re dealing with.

David Knapp: (07:14)
So question for you, and this is Dave, and it’s great to be here. Is there a place for positive thinking? There are so many different circumstances in life. So many different opportunities for saying, okay, in this moment, uh, I’m going to take a jump. Maybe I’ve never taken off a diving board. That’s maybe the 10 footer in a swimming pool. I’m going to do a Cannonball. I want to think positive that I’m going to survive jumping off into a swimming pool. Yeah, that’s a very simplistic one, but is there nowhere for positive thinking?

Robert Strock: (07:55)
No, it’s a great question. I’m glad you asked it. There absolutely is a place for positive thinking, but it’s usually for simpler issues like you’re describing. It’s not for the deeper issues of life. Like, like I’m going to stay healthy. You know, it’s not going to deal with health. It’s, it’s generally not going to deal with wealth it’s not going to deal with, uh, love. It’s going to deal with, I want to move toward faith while I’m in this surgery. Yes. That’s, that’s a place where absolutely it’s valuable. Or if we’re facing a situation where a friend is in trouble, I want to keep a positive attitude. So I can, when I meet with them, I can help them with their energy. There’s a lot of places where it’s of benefit, but it’s, it’s probably the 50% thinner parts of life and the, and the deeper thicker parts of life that are multi-dimensional, really require friendly mind.

David Knapp: (08:58)
Thank you for that. I appreciate it.

Robert Strock: (09:00)
So the next area that, that is a parallel approach is conventional thinking. And if you ask somebody, how are you doing? Well, guess what the standard answer is, I’m fine. End of story, I’m good. And even when challenges are happening, that’s the standard response that we get in society. And if we look a little bit deeper, we see that there’s a rationalization. It’s no big deal that I feel a little depressed or a little anxious or nervous or angry, not a problem. Now I can deal with it myself. I don’t really want to burden anybody else with my problems. Now I hate it when people are constantly talking about themselves and they’re, you know, they’re bleeding in front of you. It’s like, no, I take care of myself. I’m a self-sufficient person. So I’m just going to say, I’m fine. I’m good. Now, if that really worked, you were a master at taking care of yourself, which there aren’t too many, then that would be fine.

Robert Strock: (10:14)
But what about all the times when you’re hurting or you’re scared and you could have a friend that actually would be able to help you, or maybe a therapist or some other kind of a guide. So in that place, friendly mind is going to come up to you. I’m not sure if it’s going to come up to you, but it’s going to come from inside you. And it’s going to say, how are you really? And how do I best take care of you, which is going to be a pretty standard question for friendly mind to ask. And that’s kind of, be that ongoing dialogue that we’re talking about. And it might say, well, I’m feeling a little depressed that the mind’s going to ask, well, what’s making you depressed. It might say, well, I felt rejected by this relationship. Well, how do you need to take care of yourself? Do you need to let it go? Or do you, can you reapproach, and on and on and on. And so when we have these kinds of conventional thinkings, that’s kind of a one dimensional, I’m fine. We want to look at that in a Pavlovian sort of way and go, am I really, am I really, really fine? Or am I just fine enough? Is that just the beginning? Or is that really the end?

David Knapp: (11:32)
I do want to say one thing here and different relationships call for different kinds of approaches. Uh, for example, if I’m in a business meeting and I’m going up to somebody, who’s there for a certain purpose, uh, and I ask them how they are and they, they say, they’re fine. That’s kind of what I would expect. And, and that’s okay with me if I’m talking to a friend and I asked that question and they say, they’re fine. And I press a little bit more. That’s kind of the end of the conversation. And potentially if it stays that way, it’s really probably the end of the relationship. And so different context has different . . . I don’t know if the word appropriate is right or fitting of the circumstances, right, but there is a, there is a place for, uh, just getting along in society, so to speak that’s different than the more personal and meaningful. By the way, I’ve gotten in trouble on the other end, when people ask me the question and I’m unloading stuff that they, that they’re saying, Whoa, that, wasn’t what I was really asking. I don’t, I don’t want to hear it. Like you were saying before, you know, your life story is not really what I’m asking about here.

Robert Strock: (12:52)
Sure, sure. 50% of the time it’s or more is fine to say it’s, I’m fine. No matter, even if you’re in hell, because people aren’t really asking the question. So it’s very important. The question and the distinction you’re making, we’re talking about relationships, dominantly, where they’re close friends, that your lover, the family members that you feel close to because oftentimes with families as well, I’m fine is the right answer. So if this is meant really for relationships where this potential to go a little deeper and that’s more relationships than people think. There may be many listeners out there that think, no, I’m fine with being fine. I’m really fine. But if they take a closer look and they realized, you know what, that actually does isolate me and this person does have the potential to be helpful. And so maybe I want to say, I’m fine.

Robert Strock: (13:52)
I got a little something going on, but it’s not a big deal. And then if they come back enough to ask you, well, what is what’s going on then? You know, they want, want to know more. And if they don’t, they, they act like you’re fine, fine. Then, you know, they’re not the right people to continue to do that. You might give them a few chances, but your point is extremely well-taken and crucial for everyone to understand. So another approach that could seem sort of similar to friendly mind, but it’s probably the most different, is negative thinking. Now I would consider that to be the most harmful of the four approaches that we’re going to talk about, where it’s similar in the sense that many people think, well, I’m just teaching you about life. Or I’m just telling myself the cold, hard, honest truth.

Robert Strock: (14:46)
I don’t like these people who are so positive. I like teasing little kids, you know, you know, to teach them how to grow up so that they don’t end up so hypersensitive to, you know, to the world that they can’t function in the world. So I like to just tell people the truth and I don’t like filtering myself and you know it, and it sounds like I can’t believe you still have this problem. I hate it when you feel this way, let it go. I wish I could be more like someone else and this way or that way, there’s something wrong with me. Why can’t I find love? You know, we think we’re telling ourselves, imploring ourselves, by being negative. That man, we’re going to really kick ourselves into gear and wake up. Do you think you’re the only one with a problem, it’s embarrassing. You should be doing this and that you have to work harder.

Robert Strock: (15:44)
You know, you create your own problems. So these kinds of thoughts, if you look carefully, you could probably hear yourself saying that some of the time, maybe a lot of the time and friendly mind comes in and says, you know what? The message isn’t that bad. The words aren’t that bad, that your tone sucks. I mean, your tone really is difficult. And when I say suck, I’m trying to be neutral. When I say it sucks, I’m not saying your tone sucks, which would be negative thinking, but friendly mind would be neutral, would say, you know, your tone really doesn’t cut it. And, and so friendly mind is never overtly negative and critical. It might criticize you, but it’s always in a way that’s leading you to be more motivated, so authentic, and it’s encouraging you to face reality and it’s designed to make you stronger. So as you really let this in, can you hear any places where you normally would be critical with yourself and you don’t get the joke? Yeah. If I hate myself enough, then I’m sure I’ll find lots. If I hate myself enough, I’m sure I’ll find confidence. I hate myself enough, I’m sure I’ll find mercy.

David Knapp: (17:20)
I have a question and as well as a statement here, the word in my life, I’ve seen myself do this, uh, which is be pessimistic. Uh, be pessimistic as, as a means, really to lower the expectations so far that I avoid the pain and the disappointment, if I don’t succeed. And can you, can you talk about pessimism and negative thinking and compare and contrast or identify how they’re similar or overlapping.

Robert Strock: (18:00)
With friendly mind?

David Knapp: (18:00)
With negative thinking and pessimism .

Robert Strock: (18:06)
They’re similar. Um, but pessimism is clearly a defense against the fear of failure. And so pessimism is designed to make you feel safe, make you delusional. We believe you’ve done your best when you haven’t done your best. And it also may be somewhat close to a character disorder because you can be pessimistic about the whole world, the whole world, the whole world sucks. And that means you don’t have to do anything because there’s no point in doing anything because it’s so screwed up that why even try. Whereas negative thinking, generally speaking is a little bit more in the realm of having some effort to wake yourself up. It’s not doing any of the riot means, but pessimism is strictly a defense. Whereas negative thinking is not quite as ironically negative. It really is a matter of degree. And if I had to choose between pessimistic thinking and negative thinking, I definitely want to be negative thinking. Um, and of course I don’t want to get into a semantic battle. Somebody might have an exact opposite in meaning of the semantics. So this isn’t a semantic battle. I’m, I’m really saying that I’m making the assumption from my life experience when somebody is really pessimistic. That means they’re committed to the negatives. That that means they’re solid. That means they’re God-like in their certainty that they’re right. Whereas negative thinking has a little bit of relativity left in it and a little bit of motivation, but it’s tarnished with some negativity.

David Knapp: (19:52)
And I, I think, are you also saying that that can be selective? It doesn’t have to be a broad brush. It might be, uh, I’m I’m thinking for myself when I’m competing in athletics and I look at something and I say, there’s no way I can compete with that. I remember thinking after being pretty good in high school football and then going to a school like USC and walking in, you know, thinking I’m going to walk on and going in the locker room and you know, I’m alignment, I’m a schlub. Um, what, you know, 180 pounds and 6 feet 2. And, and these people are 6. I mean, people, I mean, these giants are 6’4″, 6’6″, 240. And you know, I just turned around and walked out.

Robert Strock: (20:44)
I, I don’t, I think that’s halfway between negative thinking and friendly mind. It’s not only, it’s not in, but even in between pessimism and negative thinking because friendly mind would say, you know, and it would probably be, it’d probably be at least even, if not get the joke. Yeah. I think that’d be, I’m going to be a mashed meatball if I go in here and I’m smart enough to discern this. So I want to be protective of my body and I’m, I’m glad I’m sensible.

David Knapp: (21:15)
And I would say to you, even at the time, I’m, I’m pretty proud of myself. I walked out laughing, saying to myself, I don’t think I want to die.

Robert Strock: (21:26)
Exactly, exactly.

Shelley Pearce: (21:29)
Robert, I have a question as it relates to, um, depression and, you know, the, the pessimistic attitude, the negative thinking that is inherent with depression. And, you know, I mean, they’ve, they’ve done studies where it’s like depressed people with clinical depression actually optically see more gray. Their hippocampus is smaller. I mean, it’s that negative bias is so strong. And so, so what would you say to that as it relates to, I mean, it’s not so easy to have a friendly mind when you’re, you’re very neurology is actually, you know, it is depressed.

Robert Strock: (22:11)
Yeah. That is such a great question. And, and so important for anyone who has ever suffered from depression or, or will suffer from depression because it highlights the fact that there needs to be the ability to have the mind go in one direction and the energetic or emotional experience of depression going to a different direction. So you’re reframing things, not Pollyanna-like, but realistic wise. And you’re relating to yourself as you are. So you’re a witness. So for example, you’d be saying to yourself, you know, you are depressed, but you’re not saying you are depressed. What’s wrong with you saying you are depressed. So now we have to figure out, now we want to figure out how can we think in a way that’s going to be the most helpful, possible, even though that’s so hard to do while you feel depressed. And it’s very similar to cognitive behavioral therapy where you really are replacing the thought with the normal negative thoughts that go on top of the depression, but it doesn’t have the illusion that you can change the feelings, but it has the deep trust, especially after time that I’m feeling depressed.

Robert Strock: (23:49)
And it’s okay that I’m feeling depressed. Not as okay, like, yeah, it’s okay. But more like I tolerate it and what can I realistically do while I’m depressed? Can I still have this conversation? Can I still do my work? Can I exercise? Can I eat right? Can I think in a way that has some wisdom, even though I feel depressed and even though I don’t feel better, even though it doesn’t help my feeling at all. And can I learn to trust that friendly mind is enough, even when I’m depressed, especially if I’ve explored all the options, like, you know, medications therapy and you know what I’ve tried medications, I’ve tried therapy, I’m still depressed. It’s is really hard. And the mind is saying, this is really hard, who wouldn’t this be hard for? Show me the person that could have this depression where it wouldn’t be hard.

Robert Strock: (24:58)
And there is no one. Everyone would find it hard. And if you can get to a depressed person and convey that to them, you know what if I had to go into your depression, it’s not you, it’s your chemistry, or it’s a trauma, or it’s your hormones. And you are not your depression. You are more your response to the depression, which is friendly mind and friendly mind requires incredible will intention to heal in the mind because you can’t heal the chemistry. If you’ve tried all the alternative chemistries and to be able to pull that off, I frame to friends, clients, myself, because as I made clear in earlier episodes, I had six years where I was dominantly intermittently depressed on a regular basis, through lack of sleep, through medications for my kidney transplant. And what I was saying to myself is you are depressed. You can’t do anything about it on, on a taking away the feeling level, but you can follow your friendly mind.

Robert Strock: (26:18)
You can ask the questions. How can I be friendly in thought toward the depression, which has . . . we’ll get into in future episodes about it? It doesn’t mean that we can change the feeling we have about the depression, but it means we can change the thought. We can’t change the thought, the feelings of depression, but we can still function. We can still guide ourselves and we deserve even more credit. That’s the key line. We deserve more credit to find friendly mind when we’re deeply depressed or deeply anxious. Then when we do, when we find friendly mind, when we’re feeling good? It’s easy to think, good, and even find friendly mind much easier than when we’re, when we’re depressed or anxious. So it’s a crucial question that can help an enormous amount of people. I want to thank you for that.

David Knapp: (27:17)
That is such . . . and thank you for asking it that way, Shelley, um, in, in my life, some sometimes I frame it, especially being a person that has a past trauma anxiety and seeing, okay, I need to do this, but those feelings make me want to curl up. Or those feelings make me want to withdraw or those feelings, uh, th the, the, the suffering, whatever word would it be for me at that moment. And as the friendly mind in me says, okay, I’m going to hold these feelings by the hand, if I can. And I’m going to move forward, holding these feelings by the hand. And I’m going to let my friendly mind guide me as best I can while I hold these feelings by the hand alongside of me. And it doesn’t always work. Sometimes it takes time. Sometime as I, as I said, maybe I think earlier it takes, it could take weeks. It could take months, but it depends on the circumstance, but that’s how I relate to it. And I think everybody may have their own relationship to how they look at it. That’s really . . .

Robert Strock: (28:29)
Yeah. And I want to focus on your use of the word work. It doesn’t always work from, from my vantage point with friendly mind, if the mind is guiding you and you can’t yet follow that works, it doesn’t work to another level of manifestation, but at least you have your mind straight. So you’re pregnant. Yeah. Whereas you’re not even pregnant when you, when you don’t have a friendly mind. So I think it’s very important to value. Being able to have the right kind of thought, even if your feelings don’t change, your actions don’t change, but you stay centered. Now that doesn’t mean it work works because, of course, we want to try to be able to exercise if we need to exercise or eat right, if we need to eat right. But at least we would say to ourself, you know what, it’s not work working yet double working, but as single working, and I want to ask myself, what’s it going to take for me to help make a double work?

Robert Strock: (29:36)
And then you go into that inquiry. So sometimes friendly mind comes up a completely different question. It leads you to the next question that helps you get to work work. So the last similar look alike to friendly mind is the fixer. It’s probably the most simple one to understand. And it’s most commonly used by men. And it’s where the best way I can just demonstrate it is my favorite cartoon, or at least one of my very favorite cartoons, where it’s a cartoon with a therapist and a client. And the therapist is slapping the client and is calling it the next caption. It says single session therapy. But basically it’s saying snap out of it, stop feeling it, you know, simplistic solutions. I’m just going to fix it like slapping you into well-being. And the fixer, again most commonly a man is going to say, why are you going to that therapist?

Robert Strock: (30:45)
You know, all they do is teach you how to do feelings. I can give you the answer. You know, all you have to do is this X, Y, or Z, or take a few deep breaths and you’ll feel better. You know, it’s, it has the right intention, but it’s very naive. And underneath, if you look closely at the fixer, usually the fixer feels impatient and intolerant, and this misguided by a sense of grandiosity that they can fix you with just a few words, no problem. Don’t be sad, cheer up, get over your anger, your frustration, let it go. Now, all you have to do is let it go and you’ll be better. And it’s again, it’s a very simplistic, uh, grandiose idea that you can fix it just through a few words, you know, the mind can solve any problem. If you just look at it from any angle or a different angle, you’ll be able to get over it.

Robert Strock: (31:44)
And usually the fixer has a little bit of pejorativeness and, and, and you really do make the pain a little bit worse by trying to fix it. So the friendly mind would say, you know what? I wish you worked, but it’s not quite that simple. I know you’re doing it with the best of intentions, but I think we need to look at the fact that what you’re trying to fix is very difficult. Sometimes as depression or anxiety or money or popularity, and know that requires 10,000 little steps, you can’t just fix it or a mood, any kind of a mood you’re you’re on you have PMS and you’re, and you’re, you’re feeling depressed or you’re crying and says, come on you, you know, you’re just having PMS snap out of it. Yeah. You want to smack the guy in the, in the face, you know, and say shut up, you know, but friendly mind realizes, okay.

Robert Strock: (32:48)
We want to try to accept the fact that we feel this way and how can I best take care of myself? So the fixer can cause temporary relief sometimes, but in the long run, it’s going to create injury because the person’s going to have to suppress the deeper battle if they listen to it. And usually they only listen to it because they feel intimidated. So hopefully with these understandings of the lookalikes to friendly mind, it makes it clearer. That friendly mind always is looking at the full reality. It’s always trying to create support. It’s always open to another reality underneath feeling fine. It’s never going to be just negative in its attitude. And so understanding these deeper subtleties of looking at the truth and looking at what you need to do and not being one dimensional, it will give you more respect that friendly mind doesn’t put frosting on garbage. It’s going to require us to really look at and address how can I best take care of myself given that I’m suffering. So I thank you for your attention. I hope that you’ll take these elements of friendly mind with you and practice it with those that you love. And maybe even those that you don’t love. Thanks again.

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