Staying Positive

Most of us have heard of the phrase the power of positive thinking, which came from Norman Vincent Peale’s bestseller. It can be hard to see the good in situations that have stalled or plainly failed, and making lemonade when life hands you lemons is only temporary refreshment.

I once read a definition of the human body as being essentially a chemical factory, which is controlled through electrical impulses that are fired from the brain. What and how we think affects how we feel about our own selves and the world itself.

Colin Wilson has an anecdote about becoming aware of the power of shifting how he saw things in his autobiography Dreaming to Some Purpose. Wilson sprung to fame in 1956, with his examination of various outsider artists called The Outsider. He made a lot of money very quickly and was taken seriously as a thinker. His writing never reached such heights again, and though he studied and produced books on a huge variety of subjects, many of which sold well, he was also critically savaged.

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He called himself, almost dismissively, a writing machine, and though he brushed aside the criticism he also suffered from panic attacks and bouts of despair. He was trying to fight off a panic attack as he was about to embark on a train journey to visit his publisher but had the insight that he was at his lowest ebb at that point, so was unlikely to be seeing things clearly. What if he flipped things around, and instead of panicking about the upcoming meeting being dreadful, look on it as being a wonderful opportunity for suggesting a new writing project? He immediately felt a surge of relief, which perked up his thoughts and boosted his physical being.

Colin Wilson went on to write about this process, which he saw as mastering his emotions. He was essentially trying to get away from feeling helpless, something which American psychologist Martin Seligman expanded upon. He believes in positive psychology and favours something called Learned Optimism, which is done by consciously challenging any negative self-talk.

Doubt is something that affects writers a lot, and it’s not helped by the amount of time that we spend alone. I find that it helps to view doubt as simply a shadow, an insubstantial sign that the solid and good story which I created actually exists.

As author George W Pacaud observed :

Why inflict pain on oneself, when so many others are ready to save us the trouble?’

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George Eliot

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