As a client was walking out of my office, she reported “you know some people think positive statements are just Pollyanna”. I knew what she meant, which lead to a good discussion on productive positive statements vs unproductive ones (which I’ll talk more about later). The discussion lead to me question what did we mean when we say someone or something is “Pollyanna”?
Turns out, Pollyanna was originally a character in a novel, then later a movie, about an orphan with the gift of an optimistic spirit. She was able to cheer up even the grumpiest of townspeople. In the story she has to overcome her own personal obstacles and she does so by finding a way to create a positive perspective in difficult situations. Today I don’t think it’s used in that way, today we use it as a negative term. In fact, in several on line dictionaries Pollyanna is defined as “unreasonably or illogically optimistic”. I think this is what my client was referring to. Unproductive positive statements go against reality and ignore what our circumstances are.
As some of you may know, I recently had a really yucky summer cold. It’s only the second time in three years I’ve closed my office due to being ill (the other time it was food poisoning). It would have been silly for me to be thankful for being sick. It’s not a good thing that I was sick. It made me miss appointments, miss fun weekend plans, and took time away from my son. It would have been totally unproductive for me to think “I’m glad I’m sick” or “Even though I’m running fever, I’m not sick”. Instead, what I kept telling myself is “It’s inconvenient that I’m sick but whatever challenges it presents, I’ll find a way to meet them”. In other words, I’ll re-schedule appointments, catch up on work when I can, and not worry about things out of my control (like being sick). I don’t have to be thankful for being sick to frame my thoughts so it’s not so stressful. This is productive positive thinking about a circumstance.
You know the saying “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. It doesn’t say, “If life gives you lemons, you have to eat lemons” (and enjoy them). In other words, accept the circumstances for what they are but work to make the best of them. In my case, I caught up on several seasons of trash TV that has been sitting in my queue for months that I hadn’t had a chance to watch. While I would have rather been feeling well, the reality was I was sick and there wasn’t anything I could do to change that. Giving me productive positive statements about my ability to catch up on work and to overcome challenges made missing work and being ill less worrying.
Good news is that I’m now feeling better and resuming my normal routine. Next time you face a challenging circumstance, I hope you you’ll remember to keep your thoughts positive AND productive. I’ll have some difficulty using the term “Pollyanna” in a negative way now that I know the “real” Pollyanna was a great role model for positive thinking!