December 14, 2021

Episode 17: Silver linings

“Every cloud has its silver lining.” Sounds so positive, so empowering, doesn’t it? Makes you want to swallow your tears, adjust your shirt and walk with confidence towards the future? Or, actually, it doesn’t. Trying to absolutely look at what’s good and ok in a tough situation is the best way to get stuck in unwanted feelings; today’s episode explains why.

What you will discover

  • What silver lining looks like in practice
  • The thought error at the base of silver linings
  • Why thinking positive thoughts actually reinforces the negative
  • The fail-safe way out of unpleasant feelings
  • Practical examples


Mixed and produced by Adrien Grenier

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Episode Transcript

Hi, welcome to the excellent writer podcast. I'm Mélanie, I'm a certified life coach and I specialize in helping people like you get things done, find ease and motivation again and get unstuck when it feels like you've lost your mojo.

As again, notice I'm not in my little closet anymore. I dropped my nice microphone and I broke it. And so for the time being I have to make do with the normal setup I use when I am recording videos. So I hope the sound will be ok . I think my sound engineer now he's screaming into a pillow, but we'll have to do with this anyway.

So what I want to talk to you about today is what a lot of my clients do, which is to look for silver linings. And that's basically when you're in a tough situation that you don't like, and you try to force yourself to look at what's good about it. And. I have nothing against trying to find the good sides of a situation, but when you don't believe it, like when you believe that the situation is actually bad and you force yourself to try it, why it's, what's good about it, or to only think positive thoughts about the situation you're heading for trouble.

And I'm going to explain to you why, and I'm going to explain to you what to do instead. So, this way of working, this way of thinking is when you believe that you should not think negative thoughts, that if you do it's wrong, it's not helping, it's creating a problem. And so whenever this happens, whenever you notice that you're thinking negative thoughts about a situation, you quickly try to think positive thoughts to make things right again, and to get back to feeling positive feelings.

It's a little bit like Brian on the cross in the movie "The Life of Brian", you know: "when you're chewing on life's gristle, don't grumble, give a whistle and this'll help things turn out for the best; always look on the bright side of life. Do do, do do"

okay. I'm not going to sing anymore. It's a disaster, but you understand what I mean. And I'll give you some more realistic example. So for example, if you're a manager and your team has a difficult assignment to carry out and it's not going well, your team is de-motivated and stressed out.

And you don't either believe that the situation is going well or that it can be solved, but since you're the manager, you tell yourself that it's up to you to cheer everyone up and to make sure that everyone is motivated to continue to do a good job anyway. So you try to keep a brave face and you tell everyone that it's going to work out, that things could be worse, that you're going to make it.

You try to convince yourself and others that the situation is going to be fine, that we should just focus on the positive and every single time you hear yourself describe the situation and say something that could be a little bit negative; you immediately correct yourself and say why it's okay, why it's going to work out.

You put a lot of effort in trying to stay positive. Another example, you're going for an important interview and you're terrified to fail and you know it doesn't help to think that way. So you try to think "right". You tell yourself that you're a great candidate, that you have great expertise, that you have everything on your side.

Or when for example you don't like your job so much, and you're not very motivated and you have no idea what you should be doing to tap into your potential and feel passionate about what you're doing. So honestly, your current job, it's a drag, but you remind yourself that you have a job and it's more than most people and that you should be grateful - and you are - for all the advantages that you have.

The problem with those three situations is that you don't actually really believe what you're saying. You're just trying to desperately cling to the positive and desperately focuse on what you would love to believe, which is that the situation is great. It's going to be all right. And that everything is fine and it's going to work out, but this doesn't work.

This is denying reality. It's like when you have a small child who is crying and you try to distract them by showing them a pigeon or a dog or something, because you would like them to stop feeling bad and to stop crying and to start to feel better. It doesn't work or at least not for more than a few seconds.

Anyway, it comes down to a very good intention. We think making ourselves or others see the positive will make us feel better and create some motivation. And we intuitively understand that dwelling in the negative doesn't really serve us longterm, but forcing ourselves to look at the positive doesn't work, because you already believe the opposite. What you actually believe is that the situation is not good, or you already believe something negative about the situation or yourself. So when you're trying to force yourself to think positive, you create cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is basically when your brain is trying to at the same time hold a thought and it's opposite for true. And that is not a very good thing for survival. When you're believing that something is and isn't that the same time, your brain is designed to reject that very, very strongly.

Imagine that a hundred thousand years ago, if you're in front of a mushroom and you believe at the same time, this mushroom is good and this mushroom is poisonous: this is not very good for your chances of survival. Because if the mushroom is good and you think it's bad, well, you're probably going to end up starving because you're not using all of the resources around you.

And if the mushroom is bad and you think it's good; well, you can imagine it's not a good thing to believe either. So the brain really doesn't like cognitive dissonance. And what happens is that whenever you try to make yourself believe something that is the opposite of something your brain already believes, what it does is that it does a quick check of how easy or difficult it is to believe each thought to think.

And it looks at how much friction thinking each thought creates, and it will only keep one thought and it will create the thought that creates the less friction, the one that takes the less energy to think.

So of course, when it does this, it notices that the old thought, which has this beautiful neuronal pathway already very well aligned for you to think it, that's easy to think. So it will keep it. And the new thought, which is a quite more difficult to think because you don't have already practiced to think this new thought.

It will notice that there is a bit more friction to think it, and so it will toss it out. But the problem is that as it has run this quick check of which thought is easier to think, it has rethought the old thought, the belief that you're trying to get rid of, the negative thought in that case. And it has made it even easier to believe.

You can imagine that the physical pathways in your brain to think a thought, it's a little bit like creating a little path in the forest or in the jungle. The first time you think something, you're only making barely a dent, you know, like a machete dent in the bushes. And if you go in the same way again and again, if you think the same thought again and again, after a little while it will become a path.

And after a little while, it will become a little bit more of a rough road and then it will become a well-established road and then it will become a highway. And once it's a highway, it's super easy and super fast, of course, to think. So the problem is that when you're thinking the two thoughts, the old thought, the negative one that you're trying to get rid of and the positive one that you would like to believe instead, what you do is that you confirm your old belief.

You've just made your old belief easier to think. And so you've just made it actually stronger. And the incorrect assumption that's at the basis of us trying to focus only on the positive is this idea that we should be happy all of the time. And that is not the way life works. Life is not about being happy all the time.

Not because I think it's okay that there is a suffering or whatever, but just because there are things that happen where you don't actually want to be happy. When you have a goal that's important for you and you miss it. You want to be disappointed. You don't want to be happy. Otherwise your goal is not really important.

It doesn't really matter. And it's because you're disappointed that as soon as you get out of your disappointment after a few hours or a few days, that will give you the extra kick that you need in order to try again, try harder, try differently, and eventually reach your goal. Same thing. If somebody that you love has an accident and breaks their leg, for example, you don't want to be happy.

You want to be sad for them or concerned or some form of compassionate expression of sympathy for their suffering, right? You don't want to be happy when something like this happens. The fact that you are unhappy sometimes, that life is uncomfortable sometimes, that also makes the moments that are happy even more valuable, even more enjoyable.

If you didn't have any point of reference, you would have noticed when you're happy or when you're excited, you would just think it's just like the air around me. It's just normal. When you're trying to desperately look at the positive side of a situation, you're actually basing yourself on this assumption that you should be happy all of the time. And that is not the case.

So what's really happening when you're doing that. When you're trying to focus immediately on what is positive, what is okay, what is working well, what you should be grateful for, et cetera, is that you're trying to avoid and resist your unpleasant feelings.

You're trying to ignore the fact that you're feeling an unpleasant feeling and desperately go back to feeling okay. But the only way to the other side of an unpleasant emotion is through.

There is no way to go above or below or to the sides. You have to go through it. You have to feel the negative emotion. And when you're not afraid of feeling the negative emotion, it goes away quite quickly. And if you want to know how to do that, you can just take the episode that's called the fire alarm.

And in which I explain exactly what does it mean to experience your feeling, process your feelings and go through them quickly to the other side. If your team is demotivated and stressed out and you are actually as the manager, you're feeling also demotivated, stressed out and maybe even powerless because you would like them to feel better and you would like to help them.

Maybe you're feeling defeated. Even that really sucks. That's really an unpleasant feeling. And so what you're trying to do when you're trying to keep up a brave face and stay positive is that you're actually resisting these feeling of powerlessness and defeat that you're experiencing.

When you're going for an important interview and you try to think "right" and convince yourself that you're a great candidate, you're also resisting your feelings. And perhaps the feelings that you're resisting is feeling inadequate or the fear of failure. And when you don't like your job and you tell yourself that you should be grateful that you have a job at all, what you're doing is that you're resisting the feelings of de-motivation, disappointment, confusion perhaps.

And the problem when you resist your feelings, is that "what you resist persists". So the feeling is blocked and so it's extending its stay like a unwelcome guest . What you can imagine is that a feeling, whether it's pleasant or unpleasant, but in this case, let's take an unpleasant feeling, it's like a little message from your brain. Your brain is trying to tell you that something is wrong according to it.

So you don't have to agree with the analysis of your brain, but you have to make sure that you read the message. Because otherwise what happens if your brain thinks that you're not hearing the messages it's sending you - and your brain is always sending you messages about things that it thinks have to do with your survival - if you're not listening to what your brain is saying, your brain will crank up the volume until you actually hear.

So if you're not paying attention to your feelings or even worse, if you're trying to resist your feelings and pretend they're not there and force yourself to focus on something positive, your brain will just increase the negative feelings until you get overwhelmed by it, right? And so when you really resisting your feelings and you're not paying attention to them, it's a little bit as if the messengers that your brain is sending you, you close the door and you put the music on, you try to not hear that they're knocking at the door, but they will just accumulate.

And your brain will send messenger after messenger after messenger, until at some point, the weight of the messengers on the other side of the door, it will just make the door, uh, force the door in and you will get an avalanche of feelings all in one go, which is why, when you're really trying to force yourself to see the positive all the time, from time to time, you watch a corny movie, a corny romantic movie, and you cry for four hours and you don't even understand why, because the movie was not that good anyway. But it's just this, all of these pent up feelings that you've been ignoring and blocking and pushing away that all of the sudden are expressing themselves.

Same thing. If you are driving a car and somebody does something not fantastic, but not so bad either. And you end up in a rage and you're super mad for like half an hour and you can't calm down. Same thing if at work, somebody says something that's maybe not optimal either and you just get completely, completely stressed out by whatever has been said.

And you understand yourself that your reaction is disproportionate compared to what actually happened. But the feeling is really there and the feeling is very intense and you feel that you're completely out of control. Well, that's exactly what happened is that it's just that over the past weeks and months, perhaps you've been resisting your feelings.

And so that situation that just happened, that was just a little, a straw that broke the proverbial camel's back. And that situation warranted just a drop of feeling, but that drop added up to the buckets and buckets and buckets of feelings that you've been pushing away. And so suddenly you're... All of them are falling on your head, right? So what to do instead? So, first of all, remember that the way it feels inside your body is not a valid indicator of whether the situation is going right or not. How many times have you felt stressed about something that ended up turning out completely or right?

And how many times have you had a good feelings about something that you ended up failing at? Right. The way you feel is due to the thoughts you have about the situation. It's not a crystal ball that predicts the future, and it's not either a objective evaluation of what the situation entails.

So stop making a bad feeling mean that doom is about to happen. It's just an indicator that your expectations and the reality of the situation don't seem to be aligned. That's all. And then learn how to process your feelings, welcome them in. Experience them with your body instead of trying to analyze them or avoid them with your brain so that they can just move through you and you can go back to feeling okay.

So go to episode nine, the fire alarm, and learn how to do that. And then instead of looking for the silver lining, acknowledge the difficulty and acknowledge how you feel about the difficulty. So if you're afraid, don't try to pretend that there is no reason to be afraid, acknowledge the fear and find a way to develop courage instead.

If you're ashamed, don't try to pretend that there's no reason to be ashamed or there's no reason to be embarrassed. Acknowledge your discomfort and find a way to do what needs to be done while feeling ashamed at the same time. So find a reason to take action towards your goal while feeling the way you feel.

It's okay to feel an unpleasant feeling and it doesn't prevent you from doing what you want to do. So for example, if your team is demotivated and stressed out and you're feeling powerless as their manager: call it out. You could, for example remind yourself and everyone in your team what your team stands for. You can discuss together what it will be like down the line, if you collectively fail and what you will want to have done right now, so that if you should fail, you have a clear conscious about it.

And you know that you've given your best shot at the problem. You can remind yourself that you've not been appointed manager of the team because you can do all the work that ever is to be done, but because you're very good at down-prioritizing what should not be done, et cetera, et cetera. If you're going for that important interview and you're feeling inadequate or afraid of failing, remind yourself that you're learning how to present yourself in a good light in spite of feeling afraid.

And that this is a skill that few people have, that you're being brave right now; that you are out of your comfort zone. And so of course, it's scary. It's like a roller coaster where you pay to be terrified.

You've actually applied to this job. So in a way you've paid to be terrified here too. And you're feeling very alive right here. Right? Or if you don't like your job and you don't know what you should do instead; acknowledge the unpleasant feelings that this creates for you and use this to fuel action, to explore what you could do.

I'll do an episode very soon on how you can find out what your potential is. What I want to say is whenever you feel this urge to go and look at the silver lining and to look at what's positive and try to focus on what's good about the situation: do exactly the opposite and embrace the feeling that you don't like.

Let it be there, feel it in your body and try to find a way to do whatever it is that you want to do in spite of feeling like that. But like keeping it under your elbow, noticing that it's there and finding the courage to do whatever it is that you need to do while feeling like this, this is a really important skill.

Because basically when you're trying to force yourself to shift to those positive or false positive thoughts, positive thoughts that you don't believe, basically you're in denial about what's happening and you're resisting what's happening.

So you're not at all actually cleaning up the wound and then dressing it. You're dressing a wound that is not clean. And so it's going to fester. I apologize for the unpleasant image, but that's basically what's going to happen. So if you want something to be done that's positive about the situation, first of all, embrace the unpleasant feelings. Deal with them, process them, face them, learn how to be familiar with them.

And once you've done that, and once again, you do that by following episode nine, the fire alarm, then you can look at in what way you can use the fact that the situation is unpleasant in order to grow, in order to be more brave, in order to do something that takes you closer to the person that you want to be.

So if you found this episode helpful, you can go to my website, That's Excellent Rider in one word dot com to get the episode notes. They're organized in a structured way that makes them easy to remember. And I added powerful questions and exercises to help you apply these concepts to your specific situation.

And if you want to help the podcast, the best ways to share it with other people, either by leaving a review or by tipping a friend. Thanks a lot for listening today. And remember that even when you cannot get yourself to do what you want, even when you're stuck in negative emotions and unpleasant thought loops.

And even when you don't believe it - especially when you don't believe it: you're not broken. You're not flawed. You're not jinxed. You're just learning how to become an excellent rider. There's no bad horses. Only untrained riders.

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