When faced with challenges: positivity vs rooted in reality

When faced with a difficult situation, what do we do?

We can do something about the situation, and put our attention and energy there.

We can talk about it with others, which can provide solutions and support.

We can distract ourselves from what we feel and think, or set it aside, or even pretend it’s not there.

We can look on the positive side of the situation, which can be more or less realistic.

And we can, if we are lucky enough, root ourselves in reality.

Of these, I want to look at the two last ones.

Versions of positivity

Positivity can be understood in different ways, and it can take healthy and less healthy forms.

What we call positivity can go into the realm of denial and wishful thinking. Although it can function as a band-aid at the moment, it’s not so helpful over time.

Healthy positivity means optimism that’s close to reality. We are going through something difficult, and know – from experience – that it will change. It will get easier again. We’ll have good days again. We know we’ll get through the difficulties because we have in the past. We can take one step at a time. We have the support of friends and relatives. We have a lot to be grateful for – friends, family, shelter, food, and so on. There is no need to worry about the future since we don’t know what will happen, and all we need and can do is to focus on what’s here and now and the next step. It’s about being realistically constructive.

Rooted in reality

And what about being rooted in reality?

This can happen in a conventional way, through inquiry, and through noticing what we are.

The conventional way is what I outlined above. It’s ordinary human wisdom.

Inquiry can help us go a little further. We can identify and examine stressful beliefs and underlying assumptions and find what’s more true for us. (Which is, in my experience, inevitably more kind.) We can see how our mind creates its experience, and we can see through stressful creations. Here, we go beyond conventional wisdom into what’s more true.

We can also notice what we are. We can find ourselves as capacity for the world as it appears to us, as what our experience happens within and as.


Conventional and practical wisdom can be found in all the usual places, although we need some discernment. We can (hopefully) find it among friends and family, in some books (fiction, self-help, psychology, philosophy), in spiritual traditions, and in variations of cognitive psychology.

Inquiry can be free-flowing, but it’s often helpful with the guidance and discipline created by structured forms of inquiry. It can support us in looking more closely and be more honest with ourselves.

I have written about these approaches in many other posts and will mention them briefly here too.

To inquire into beliefs and how our mind creates our experience, The Work of Byron Katie and the Living Inquiries are helpful. And to find what we are, the Big Mind process and the Headless experiments are reasonably simple and straightforward.

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