Positive Psychology: How to Not Struggle

I want to ask you how you think I got here. To this place called “Thriving”. I used to think that all the successful people in the world had great luck or that they came from more evolved families. I thought that to start a business I needed money and since my family had no money I was destined to a life of ordinariness.

If all you know of me are the episodes that precede this you will know that I am goal oriented and that I ascribe to being original. I don’t want to compare myself to others and I don’t want to be ordinary. You know that I crowdfunded a bunch of money to start a wallpaper company. That I’m an artist and a single mom. But, somewhere lurks a hunch that you have about me since I’m bold or courageous enough to do this thing called starting a podcast or a business, or hell, to write a book. But, what I’d like to impress upon you is that it does not require any superhuman powers to do such things. It just requires a lot of EFFORT and even more WORK on the mindset. 

When I asked my Facebook friends, who are mostly artists, what they thought was the number one thing holding artists back from success the answers varied. They stated things I mentioned above: problems with motivation and self-worth. They corroborated with one another using memes of crying chicks, the text below reads “It’s just hard.” I know that the struggle is ever present and feels more real each and every day. We lost jobs due to the pandemic, juggled our personal lives, and lost our social connections. We feel anxiety about the future and fear for our health and the wellbeing of those we love. 

Still, I believe we hold tight to the notion that an artist has no place in this world, nowhere that values him/her/them. The alternative is to address a more dismal truth. You are struggling or starving because of YOU. What if the only thing that is holding you back from being a wealthy, healthy, and vibrant version of yourself are your excuses, your shitty mindset, and the seventeen people you know who are also in the same boat? The solution then isn’t governmental support of The Arts or more accountable educational systems or the destruction of capitalism! Those things will not happen. Not in my lifetime and not in yours. What are you doing today to better yourself, support yourself, and create a micro-economy for one? 

I’m sure you can tell that I oscillate back and forth, as a writer and as a friend, between wanting to wrap you in a warm embrace and listen to your sob story of why “the struggle is real” and commanding the attitude of my lacrosse coach from college. She was a stout, redheaded, Italian woman with a whistle and a big attitude. She commanded respect. If you failed to meet her expectation she made you run laps or sat you on the bench to dwell in your misery while you watched your teammates scoring goals. I want to at once let you know that I support you, and truthfully, I have been where you are. Meandering your way through life or career or creative pursuits. But, the Coach in me wants to tell you to suck it up and get your butt back on the field and try harder. 

I’m studying something right now called Positive Psychology. I’m not going back to school for my PhD, nope I’m interested in a scholar named Martin Seligman who has developed some specific ways to study human success, positive thinking and put an end to learned helplessness. I’m taking his course online. I paid a few bucks to know more and I’m midway through his course, but I’ve included an awesome diagram in my book about Positive psychology, also below:

The characteristics of positive people are simple. 

You’d think they have DNA laced with optimism, but it’s not true. They’re operating with the same idiotic, 10,000 year old human brain as you are. The lizard brain. The one that’s trying to avoid being squashed and so lives it’s life in fear of death. 

When we say the struggle is real, as artists what do we mean? 

We mean that we are helpless to the fact that the world operates on capitalism, that artists historically haven’t been millionaires, and that our lifestyles are not currently set up to provide us with things that we desire. Isn’t that right? We work for the man. Or we slave away in our studios. And no one has ever appreciated us. We’ll never amount to anything. We’ll never be rich, so why try?…

I could so easily collude with you about those negative outlooks. I could. But I won’t. 

If you’re interested in alleviating your mind from that torture, listen on. Success as an artist can be achieved. Happiness and Wealth can be yours. And you won’t even have to sell your soul or stand on a street corner in fishnets. Boys and girls, you have to train your brain first. That’s the whole point of this entire podcast is that I could tell you how to run a business and make money, but if we don’t first condition our minds to see that as a possibility you will encounter road block after road block after road block. Most of them will be made up in your head.

Suffering, struggle and helplessness come from an idea that it won’t get better, no matter how hard we try. Artists are stopped every day by these attitudes. We think that the only solution is to work in a day job that will pay us enough to get by, and hopefully at the end of the day there will be enough time and leftover energy to do something for ourselves, like self care or creativity. 

This type of thinking needs to end if you want to improve your life. Here’s what Seligman has taught me. He first studied dogs. He was using sound and shock to basically torture the dogs and later allowed them a way out of the situation by giving them an exit from the place they’d been punished in the past. Most dogs would just lay there and wait for the shock. They wouldn’t try to get out of there because they knew what was coming. They hadn’t always had a way out and so they were conditioned to believe that they’d have to just stay and suffer. 

When applying these principles to humans, what he discovered is that two thirds of humans did the same thing. What made that one third of the people avoid helplessness? Personality. Some people are prone to depression, some have an optimistic outlook. But, there are skills that can be taught, especially to children before they hit puberty, on how to stay optimistic. Here are the two key factors that we tend to grasp onto when it comes to trauma and unfortunate life events. 1) we think that the pain or suffering will last forever. This is especially pertinent to the times that we are facing right now, no? The virus has tipped our lives over and spilled it onto the floor like a soggy bowl of Lucky Charms. It’s a goddam mess right now. The second way that we begin to conceptualize pain and struggle is 2) thinking that it’s universal. Like when a client says no to a wallpaper that I sent them, I could easily think that this wallpaper is not on trend. It isn’t well designed. The colors are off. No one will ever order it. Rather than to think that it was the designer who didn’t know what was good for her! Or that she had found something better suited to her powder room project and good for her. There’s always next time. 

Positivity relies on really challenging bad situations and events by not blaming ourselves. And,,,,,,, here’s the kicker,,,,, there’s something I can do about this situation. 

I am in control. I can change course. I can make this right. I can find new clients or new friends or a new partner or a new therapist or I can read a book about it, or I can find some help….  Struggle can be said then to be caused by either an emotional “giving up” when things get hard or scary or it can be seen as a concrete lack of effort in the direction of a new, better goal or solution. 

What I pose is an exercise for you between now and next week when I come back with more content for the podcast. Try this. Every day when you are about to go to bed, write down in a notebook or journal three things that you did well today. It could be simple, like “I drank enough water.” or it could be huge like “I paid off my medical bills that have been sitting on my desk for a month.” You don’t have to outwardly celebrate each thing, but try to think up something you did which you can be proud of. If you do this every day for a week, you may begin to experience a subtle shift. In Seligman’s study, those who did this began to feel more optimistic. It also becomes addictive.  You prove to yourself that you really are valuable, capable and trying hard. You might just see yourself getting more ambitious so that you can record what you did! 

When you practice the art of seeing the good. Like a garden, we all have weeds and flowers. The weeds come back even when we try to pluck them out. So, why spend all of our time focused on the negative, without taking a moment each night to see the flowers? Try to spend a week measuring your successes. Did you participate in healthy relationships which were rewarding and heartwarming? Did you fulfill some part of your higher purpose by helping a client or student? Did you create something beautiful? Did you engage in an exercise routine and time the workout? These are types of ways that you can measure success. You may value the positive emotions you had over some monumental achievement of a goal. I know that some days my biggest success to celebrate was that my kids and I went a whole day without anyone losing their shit. I’m constantly trying to keep calm and carry on. See if you can identify at the end of the week where your attention is going. What types of successes are you most excited to celebrate. It doesn’t have to be money, making art or publicity, fame, conquering big huge goals, kicking ass and taking names. You could just celebrate the small stuff like keeping your house clean and meditating for ten minutes. Smaller the success, doesn’t mean smaller the impact.

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