MISCONCEPTIONS OF A POSITIVE MINDSET- Knowing the Difference Between Practical Optimism and Toxic Positivity



In a culture where toxic positivity is confused with confidence, optimism and resilience, the concept of having a positive mindset was something I had to challenge before I got on board. 

One of the most destructive things we can do is to gloss over the very real feelings and challenges we face in life. But, on the other hand, one of the most empowering things we can do is to believe in something better. 

So, today I want to hash out the difference between practical optimism and toxic positivity, so we can process our emotions and move through our challenges in a healthier, more beneficial way.



When I first heard about the concept having a positive or growth mindset, I was hesitant with my embrace, because it provoked the same cringy feelings I used to get when people referred to their life as their journey, or when they'd address one another with a softly spoken namaste, or when they'd wear their good vibes only t-shirts. 

Now, if this is how you roll, good on you. I'm not here to judge. In fact, I find these lifestyle choices rather refreshing over, say, those of the "good ol' boys"- if you know what I mean. But this kind of language and approach to life wasn't exactly on brand for me. 

See, I grew up with sarcasm being my first language. I was taught the art of speaking with a sharp tongue and quick wit. I come from a long line of hard working, blue collar Yankees on the coast of Maine, whose language has a different ring to it. So, saying things like, good vibes only, felt like putting on an ill-fitted shoe. 

But after challenging my bias, I actually realized it wasn't necessarily the choice of words that wasn't sitting well with me, but rather, the absoluteness of them.

Good vibes ONLY.

You know, I'm not sure everyone or everything deserves my love and light. I can appreciate that hurt people hurt people, and I want to hold compassion in my heart for those who've learned a destructive path. BUT, I think it's totally normal (and probably a good thing), when we're outraged by things like capitalism, genocide, and human rights being revoked.

I think it's healthy to feel scared when we've been threatened.
I think it's okay to be sad when we experience loss. 
And it's absolutely fucking FINE to be frustrated, overwhelmed, annoyed or pissed off, even if we don't understand why.

See, our feelings are actually valuable resources that can help us better understand our needs. It's IMPORTANT that we acknowledge and experience ALL of our emotions. Being a Positive Pollyanna all the time is kind of like gaslighting yourself, and bullshitting everyone else. 

It's the breeding ground for toxic positivity. 



Toxic positivity dismisses or minimizes the very real and valid negative emotions that you may experience. It creates pressure to suppress your emotions by putting on a facade of happiness or stoicism, even when you're struggling. It can be quite harmful to your health and wellbeing. And it's something that we project onto ourselves and to each other. 

Common things we may think or say are:

  • It could be worse
  • Everything happens for a reason
  • Look on the bright side
  • Focus on the positive
  • When life gives you lemons, make lemonade
  • Cheer up
  • God/the universe only gives you what you can handle
  • At least you have your health 
  • Don't worry, be happy
  • Things always work out for the best
  • But you have so much to be grateful for
  • Just relax
  • Manifest your best
  • Just stop thinking about it
  • Stop stressing
  • What doesn't kill you makes you stronger
  • Happiness is a choice  


Masking your feelings with this nonsense doesn't make them go away. In fact, it's probably just going to amplify them and cause a bunch of other problems.

For instance, we might end up feeling ashamed of ourselves because we perceive ourselves to be too weak or stupid to get ourselves out of our funk. We might feel guilty because we presume we're letting other people down because we can't rally with a good attitude. It can add to our stress levels because we've learned to mistrust our emotions, or burn ourselves out because we're working too hard at appearing okay, when we're definitely not. We risk feeling incompetent, hopeless, or like we're a failure. 

Fuck that, man.

Avoiding our feelings, or pretending they don't exist is going to stunt our emotional growth.

We need to pay attention to our feelings because they're trying to tell us something important about ourselves, our circumstances or situations. And it's OUR responsibility to figure out what those messages are. And when we do THIS, when we pay attention, we're going to learn some super awesome life skills like critical thinking, problem solving and honest-to-goodness resilience.

Trust me, I know this from personal experience. And if you wanna hear that story, you can visit me over at Patreon or Substack. 

But yeah, toxic positivity just makes it harder for us to build confidence, face challenges, and live a full life. 

And you deserve those those things.


Alright, let's talk about what practical optimism is. 

Practical optimism is a two-headed creature. The first head understands and accepts that humans experience a wide range of emotions, oftentimes all at once. And the second head recognizes that there are multiple ways of looking at ourselves, our circumstances or our situations. Because we have the power of creative consciousness, we have the ability to see the positive, the negative, and the in-between in most things...if we look for it

Practical optimism doesn't subscribe to a false sense of positivity. We're not trying to pretend everything is okay when it isn't. An honest positive outlook is rooted in TRUTH, backed by facts, and steeped in real possibility. And the reason we access this skill is so that we can get ourselves through challenging times, despite our feelings

It's not about turning a switch off in our brains so we can be happy. It's about throwing ourselves a lifeline of hope, encouragement, or motivation so we keep going. 

You can feel sad, angry, anxious, or any other way and STILL have a positive mindset. You're allowed to exist as a whole, complex human, who experiences a wide range of emotions.  



Alright. Let's talk about this MINDSET thing. 

Your mindset is kind of like the the filter in which you see yourself and the world around you. On one of the spectrum, your filter can be grey and murky, making it harder to see the potential and possibilities in life. Or, on the other end, it can be clean and clear, making it easier to see opportunities and alternatives. And guess what, this filter is going to ebb and flow between these two extremes depending on your circumstances and your belief systems.

You might be super open-minded about some things, but a rigid, black-and-white thinker about others. And neither of these mindsets are bad or good. It's just whether or not they're serving you well. And if they're not, or if you're unsure, it might be time for a mindset makeover

Speaking of which, let's try a little tweaking while I have your attention...




The first thing we can do is to let go of the belief that we're SUPPOSED to feel any sort of way other than how we're ACTUALLY feeling. There isn't a rule book for emotions. You're allowed to feel whatever you feel, even if it doesn't make sense.

The second thing we can do is accept that a lot of times we're going to feel lots of different emotions all at once. It can feel a little crazy at times when we're flooded with emotions. A loss might make us feel both sad and relieved. A promotion could feel exciting and terrifying. There's room for all of your feelings. So, let them in.

The third thing we can do is trust that our feelings are NOT going to A: last forever, or B: kill us.

Our biggest downfall is not WANTING to feel those uncomfortable feelings. Sadness, loneliness, rejection, fear...they SUCK. In fact, that's one of the reasons end up getting addicted to things like food, booze, or even our phones. We want to numb, suppress or distract ourselves from our feelings. But when we do this our emotions can get distorted or amplified. And I don't want that for you. What I want for you, is for you to feel confident enough to hang out with your feelings and explore their meaning and messages. 

Now, that's not to say you have to subject yourself to full exposure of your feelings 24/7. Yikes, no. But you do need to show up and check in from time to time. And if you're feelings are super big and scary, it might be a good idea to have someone sit with you while you sort them out. I'm talking about getting a therapist, or at the very least, finding a support group. 

The fourth thing we can do is to meet our feelings with honesty, curiosity and compassion. 

Something I have found interesting is that it's a lot harder for me to process my emotions if I don't know what the heck they are. It's actually quite common for people to not know how they're feeling. They've spent so much time bullshitting themselves about their feelings, or ignoring them altogether, that they're actually kind of clueless. I was one of those people. But the truth is, getting really clear about what your emotions are is going to help you process them a lot more effectively and efficiently. And because I know how hard it can be to identify your feelings, I created a handy dandy Feelings Identifier you can download for free. 

Anyway, once you get clear about how you're feeling, it'll be easier to determine why you're feeling that way. And when you have this information, finding creative ways to solve your problems, or move through these times, will be a bit simpler.

It's hard to fix something if you don't know what the problem is. Not that you need fixing. I hope you get what I'm saying here. It's just that the more information we have about something, the better able we are at taking care for it. Your mindset is no exception. 

And the fifth thing we can do is to trade in our toxic positivity with something more productive. Instead of bitch-slapping your negative feelings with minimizing fluff, call out your emotions, and challenge them. Sure, you might be having all sorts of negative feelings, but what else? Where can you find your power? Where can you find the possibilities? What else is true, yet positive, in this moment? 

This is kind of like playing devil's advocate. "Yes, I feel this way, but despite these feelings, I also feel... Or, I'm capable of..." You get to define your strength and explore your solutions without downplaying your challenges. 




Alright. I've got a few more things to say.

If you are the person who's wanting to help someone else during their hard times, please refrain from telling them what to do (especially if it's from that toxic positivity list). Instead, try asking them what they need from you. Do they need you to simply listen, or do they want you to help them brain storm solutions? This is THEIR moment to work through. Your job is to simply offer support in a way that's welcomed or invited by them. 

I get the allure of being a helper, or a cheerleader. I truly do. I'm personally a recovering people pleaser who used to feel the need to swoop in and solve everyone's problems. But no more. I'm actually a professional mentor now, so if you are looking for support while you build your confidence with this Creative Self Care stuff, I'm your girl. Seriously, I've got a couple of spots open.

I also have a Mindset Makeover digital download that you can score for a few bucks. Or if you're a Patreon Member you can get that and a bunch of other self care tools and support at no extra charge. 

Anyway, a lot of this positive mindset stuff all boils down to whether or not you believe in yourself and your abilities.

Listen, you're wicked smart. I mean, you're here, RIGHT NOW, learning the difference between practical optimism and toxic positivity. And you're probably learning this because you want to make decisions that support your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. You probably want to reveal the bullshit so you can live a more empowered and fulfilling life. That's fucking brilliant. 

And recognizing your brilliance is how you begin to build a positive mindset. 

Your brilliance looks like SHOWNG UP when life feels like a shit-show. It's accepting that you've got challenges to face, and that those challenges come with all the feelings. And it's trusting that you can get through these times because you're a capable, creative human being. 

I believe in you. And I know in my bones that you can find optimism and positivity in your life without gaslighting yourself. It's gonna take practice, but you can do it. 

If you appreciate the work I'm doing here at CMC, and would like a more personal experience, and want to help make my work more sustainable, you can become a Patreon member, or get a paid subscription at Substack. 

I love you. 
I appreciate you. 
Thank you so much for showing up. 
I'll see you soon. 



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