August 31, 2010

[GRIEVE THE SHIT]

Grieve the Shit
Have the Courage to Get Motivated without the Straitjacket of Positive Thinking by Bill McLellan

Hi. My name is Bill McLellan, and I am a heretic. You see, I don’t believe in positive thinking. In my circles, the world of sales, entrepreneurship, and motivation, that’s heresy. I’m one of the few people you might ever meet who believes that the very opposite of positive thinking can be most motivational. And that’s what I want to do today: I want to motivate you. I want to motivate you to go out and make ten more sales, win ten more championships, walk down the path of personal transformation, and overcome the obstacles in your life. But I don’t want you to indulge for one minute the notion that positive thinking can help you down that road. It can’t. What, you might ask, do I mean when I say Positive Thinking? Positive thinking is a hodgepodge philosophy that essentially teaches that thinking positive thoughts and feeling positive emotions will bring you greater success in life, work, business, sports, etc. It generally has four characteristics I want to focus on. First, it teaches that thinking good thoughts will make good things happen, and vice versa. You’re essentially responsible for the things that happen to you because they happen as a result of the thoughts and feelings you indulge. (I say that’s baloney, but more critique later.) The second characteristic of positive thinking is the belief that what happens is not as important as how I think about what happens. The experiences of my life, however dreadful, don’t matter as much as what I think in response. That may or may not sound right to you, but it leads to the third characteristic, the maxim that the only thing you can control is your attitude, so you can decide to be happy no matter what. Happiness is a choice, positive thinking believes, and it’s a choice that can be made no matter what is happening. Finally, to bolster your ability to always make this choice to be happy, positive thinking gurus counsel you to surround yourself with positive people, read positive books, watch positive movies, and whatever you do, don’t watch the news.

August 31, 2010

[GRIEVE THE SHIT]

If you want success in life, you have to be happy all the time, and if you want to be happy all the time, you have to insulate yourself from all the negativity out there in the world. Remember I said that I believe the opposite of positive thinking is more motivational. The opposite of positive thinking is grief. The hard work of grieving has more power to motivate you and make you happy than all the talks and books on positive thinking you could ever ingest. So, why grieve? First some of the obvious answers: contrary to popular belief, sometimes life sucks. Every once-in-a-while, the shit hits the fan. Occasionally, people will die, and all too frequently, death creeps into life and makes everything seem meaningless. There is evil and injustice in the world. There is poverty and war and ecological disasters. Relationships break apart. Businesses fail. Dreams die. Still, with so much to cry about, we’re taught since we’re children that big girls and boys don’t cry. We’re taught to look the other way when things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be. We’re taught to keep a lid on our emotions. We’re taught that if we keep a positive attitude and a positive outlook on life, things will get better. But they won’t necessarily. Sometimes they get worse. In a world where things go wrong, here are ten reasons positive thinking will ruin your life: 1. “A Dry Eye Goes with a Dead Soul.” ~ Victor Hugo in Les Miserables 2. Positive thinking will make you look down on others who don’t “make it” in life, since they obviously didn’t think positively enough. 3. It will make you surprised and angry when real shit happens to you, even though you always kept a positive attitude. 4. It will give you the false illusion that the goings on of your brain can control the universe. You will be disillusioned. 5. It will make you a pain to be around when everyone else is grieving. 6. It will make you numb to the outside world and to your own inner emotions. 7. Grief leads to wisdom. 8. Positive thinking will blind you to the need for radical change—in the world and in your life. 9. Your pent up anger and frustration has got to come out sometime, and you won’t be able to control when. 10. Positive thinking will rob you of the chance to grieve the shit in your life. Squelched grief hurts. Sure, you say, positive thinking may be unhealthy, but doesn’t it motivate people better than grief? Let me introduce you to an ancient Greek concept known as catharsis. Today, especially among advocates of positive thinking, catharsis is a lost art form; but catharsis occurs when we let art provoke our darkest emotions and then purge us of those emotions, at least temporarily. Sad movies, sad books, sad music all enable us to

August 31, 2010

[GRIEVE THE SHIT]

experience our own dark emotions. They can prompt us to renew the process of grief we may have stifled because grieving was too difficult or we felt like being “tough.” By facing our dark emotions and going through the process of grief, we cleanse ourselves and make happiness possible again. The feelings don’t go away completely, but they become more and more manageable. Grief may be the path, but it isn’t the destination. I’m not here because I think anyone is too happy and needs to be knocked down a peg or two. I want you to be happy and feel a deep inner sense of motivation, but you won’t get there without walking the path of grief through catharsis, and finally ending up at courage. In my system of counter-intuitive motivation, courage is the cardinal virtue. You don’t need someone to tell you things are better than they are; you need someone to shoot straight with you and help you face an uncertain world. I like to say, if there’s shit there, and you pretend it’s not there, chances are you’re going to step in it. Courage is what we need, not positive thinking. Really feeling dark emotions takes courage many don’t have. You can begin the process of transformation in your life simply by owning up to your dark emotions and making the time to feel them. If you want real motivation in an uncertain world, if you want to give it your all with no guarantee of success, if you want to risk big on the chance that you might win or lose big, then you need courage. You don’t need positive thinking. Another thing most people need and deep down really want is change. They want better sales numbers, they want to be kinder to their spouse, they want to be cancer-free, or they want to start winning for a change. But positive thinking is totally inept at producing change, because it blinds us to the need for change. Real change requires us to recognize there is a problem with the status quo, and that takes courage, not positive thinking. With real courage, you can actually change in a world that makes change difficult. You can make change happen. You can conquer the shit. The shit is no match for you! (So why pretend it’s not there?) So while you’re overcoming the shit, here are ten best ways to grieve it: 1. Open yourself to being affected by the outside world. 2. Surround yourself with a variety of people, from those who have their poo in a straight line to those who don’t. 3. Read books that challenge you and expand your horizons. 4. Watch movies that evoke a wide range of emotions. 5. Look for things that need to change and apply your creativity to the situation. 6. Take time to feel sad about the bad things that have happened in your life. 7. Don’t be afraid of negative thoughts and feelings; they won’t hurt you. 8. Ponder the meaning of life and death.

August 31, 2010

[GRIEVE THE SHIT]

9. Pursue healing and transformation, and happiness will come. 10. Find the right time and place to let your emotions all hang out, and see if you are not better cleansed for a positive attitude next time you need one. During my third year of graduate school, in October of 2006, I started having severe migraines about two to three times per week. I went to several doctors, but they couldn’t help me. Nothing would make my migraines subside. They got so bad that I couldn’t complete my studies and had to get special permission to turn stuff in late. Eventually, it took me an extra year to finish, but in the end, I still graduated, in May 2009. What, I might ask you, did I need to hear from my friends and loved ones during those three years of suffering? Did I need to hear that things were going to be alright, that things would get better? Did I need to be told that if I only had a better attitude or wasn’t so pessimistic about getting the headaches, then maybe they wouldn’t come? No. That’s the kind of advice that well-meaning people are so ready to give, but what I needed was what a few very good friends told me, that migraines sucked. I needed to grieve. It wasn’t the end of the world by any stretch of the imagination, but I still needed to grieve, let myself reach catharsis, and then face my world with courage. You can feel happy—sometimes—in a world where shit happens. I say sometimes because it’s the great lie of positive thinking that we can be happy all the time no matter what happens. Another lie that positive thinking tells is that there can be no limit to our success or happiness. There are always limits. Fantasies of unlimited success are a sure recipe for unhappiness. If all I want is success without limits, then how am I to feel when I meet with real, hard, limited success? Recently, I’ve begun to do two things I never thought I would do. I’ve started my own consulting company, and I’m in the process of starting a new church, at the same time, with no major funding for either endeavor. I’m doing what they call bootstrapping it. So what motivates me when I get out of bed in the morning and go to the office, no supervisor breathing down my neck? Is it the false assurance that I’m bound to succeed and can’t possibly fail? Not one bit! The threat of failure drives me forward. Even though there is shit in my life and there are limits to what I can accomplish, I believe that being human is all about rising above the shit and pushing back our limits. The threat of failure motivates me. I get to do what some people said was foolish, what some people said could not be done. Some limits are still there, but it sure is fun to push them back. If you remember to grieve the shit in your life, you can push back the limits. You can rise above the shit. You can become a sultan of catharsis, a champion of courage, a conquistador of change!

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