I just finished the phenomenal The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd. It tells the story of Ana, a Middle Eastern woman from 2,000 years ago with a voice, a vision, and a powerful drive inside her to live her own life and story. There are many pieces of the book that are going to sit and resonate with me for a while, but this particular exchange between Ana and her aunt really struck me:

“‘Your vision means what you want it to mean. It will mean what you make it to mean.’ I stared at her, baffled, perturbed. ‘Why would God send me a vision if it has no meaning other than what I give to it?’ ‘What if the point of his sending it is to make you search yourself for the answer?'”

Sue Monk Kidd, The Book of Longings

Inner knowing, inner wisdom, manifesting. The whole concept of positive thinking, in my opinion, is equal parts woo-woo and legitimate. While I certainly think it sounds privileged and naïve to think that we can simply “think ourselves” into success, comfort, and happiness, I do believe that there is power to our intention.

Imagine really wanting a certain job or promotion, thinking yourself the perfect fit and highly qualified. You want the job so much you can taste it. Likely you will stride into that interview with a straight back, clear eyes, and with the utmost confidence and excitement. That energy comes through to the interviewer and you get the job. Or say there’s a new person who you feel drawn to and really want to befriend. You may fire up the charm and be extra witty when first talking to them to help solidify a connection.

And on the flip side, feeling insecure, unsure or lackadaisical about a job or relationship will also translate in your attitude, voice, posture and demeaner and will decrease the likelihood of success.

In my professional world, in the case of pain, often times people hurt simply because they expect to hurt. There’s a story of a construction worker who jumped down onto a plank and had a nail go right through his boot. Screaming in agony, he was taken to the ER and sedated. The doctors were shocked that, after removing his boot, the nail had not even scratched his skin. It went cleanly between his toes. He felt real, physical pain because he expected to feel pain, thinking a nail had gone through his foot, when in fact he was completely uninjured.

The woo-woo part that I think is dangerous in this line of thinking is the idea that all it takes is belief to make a dream come true. Positive thinking or good intentions doesn’t highlight the need for hard work, effort and commitment. That’s why I love the quote above – “What if the point of his sending it is to make you search yourself for the answer?”

Having a dream, a goal, a desire can light a fire in a person. It can overtake their thoughts, direct their actions, and influence their choices. And with an optimistic outlook, a sense of confidence, a firm belief in the success of the outcome, the chances of success seem bound to improve. There is some real science and data to back up the benefits of optimism, both in health and in financial/career success. Being optimistic about one’s future can predict success, and in the case of failure, helps us bounce back and redirect more quickly.

I don’t think there are any guarantees about anything in life. Unforeseen situations are bound to arise. But if you belief strongly enough, you can be flexible and adaptable, get creative and inventive and keep trying to work things to your advantage. The dream might shift, the goals may morph and the direction may change to go with the curveballs. And you learn that you set the definition for success yourself. “Success” is whatever you decide it to be. You are not bound by the current world’s definition of success. Your dream, your fulfilling, abundant, full life is unique to you.

So search yourself, dig deep for what drives you, set your sites on a goal, and be optimistic about achieving it! All while knowing that no matter how things work out, you can learn to be satisfied with your life as it is when you are living true to your self.

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