“Look on the bright side"
"Find the silver lining"
"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade"
These are common saying we may use with ourselves and others to give us a "pep talk" or a "pick me up" when things aren't going our way. But the problem is, while we might all be able to appreciate these are helpful things to do…what if you simply don’t know how?? …and not only that, what if you don’t know what a “bright side” looks like? What if you don’t know what a “silver lining” actually is? What if you have no sugar and fizz for lemonade?
...and why do you even WANT or need lemonade anyway?
As a coach and trainer I'm always of the belief that you have the internal resources to be able to generate positivity or resilience to bring you through tough times, but I never lose sight of the fact that you may need guidance trying to access them...as well as the understanding that it is indeed resilience or inner strength that will pull you through in the first place - and that this is what takes time.
It’s not that you don’t want to…it’s sometimes that you don’t know how or why! (…and not knowing is frightening)
This difficulty - accessing those resources (and even why one might find it helpful) - is something that naturally positive people struggle with understanding in others. As such, it is also something which can be both invalidating and unhelpful especially when randomly offered as unsolicited advice eg "Oh, it'll be fine - look on the bright side..." no matter how well-meaning the intention.
Be aware, the principle is the same if you substitute “positive” for any skill. Someone trying to teach me something they have done for years may simply forget that I have no knowledge whatsoever and need to be taken through from the basics…as basic as “switch computer on” sometimes! …and you know what, that’s ok…it’s not what you know or don’t know, but that you want to learn that makes me happy!
Therefore learn to teach the WHY, WHAT and HOW
There is no point telling people THAT they must do something – which is often what all “top tips” do, if you don’t explain why you are teaching them, what they can try and how to try it!
Start with the blank canvas.
A helpful reminder comes from Linehan's (1993) approach to using Dialectical Behaviour Therapy for managing challenging emotions - "You need sugar to make lemonade, and sometimes people do not have much of that." When we - whether coaches, therapists, or friends - struggle to understand why we may seem to be able to get that lemonade flowing faster than someone else, it may go a lot deeper than simply the act of "being positive."
Positive people may have built up resilience over the years – they may have been taught, they may have taught themselves, they may have learned from experience. They may already have built a strong support network whom they trust and can go to for help at any time. They may have worked out their own goals and already know where the motivation needs to come from. Others may never have had that - or may not perceive what they have had as something that could potentially make them stronger. If you don’t recognise sweetness, fizz nor know the recipe, lemonade seems an impossible and even pointless task.
Perhaps a little patience is in order – and a little teaching.
The “Black monster” of depression (I am too fond of dogs)
I have a methodology which I apply to my coaching clients. Note that I am not a counsellor, and if I think a client needs greater intervention – such as a prescription or a deeper process than I can offer, I will always refer onwards. But, it is my belief that this “teaching” approach can be helpful if managing mental health issues, notably depression in it’s early stages or when it is at low level.
For years I have known that depression (according to BECK) presents with “Negative Automatic Thoughts” and it is the cognitive processes that tend to result in the person with depression behaving in certain ways which can sometimes alienate or upset others thus exacerbating the problem. Therefore therapies such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy or Dialectic Behaviour Therapy can be so helpful. But it is not enough to teach the techniques, it’s important for the client to understand WHY they may work.
For example – Could it help to think of “depression” more like a physical ailment?
What I find can be helpful to some of my clients is explaining “depression” as similar to a physical problem such as “cancer” – something which can unfortunately just “appear”. Also, like cancer, sometimes situations or actions can trigger it – eg trauma or abuse can bring about depression but sometimes it simply just happens because of a hormonal imbalance (eg. Through puberty or menopause or childbirth) or sometimes it just “turns up”.
So rather than telling a client (even in the most understanding way) – we need to challenge your thinking…I take one step further back and explain the WHY – eg. “Depression” may be causing your thinking to go in the way it’s going, therefore we have to fight the depression and one of the ways of doing this is challenging your thinking. This is because the brain is “dynamic” and we can teach it to supress or ignore the signals that the “Depression” is putting out.
Then I teach techniques, depending on how the client presents.
This may not work for everyone, but when my clients recognise “Depression” as outside themselves, they realise that all the techniques we then try are in order to fight it – not simply to “change their way of thinking”. This also helps place our sessions in the field of “You and I together on the field fighting the “enemy”” not “Me therapist” “You patient with something wrong”.
(Oh and a quick word on “battle terminology” – I like it, I use it and I don’t believe it implies that if you lose a fight you were too weak…one never goes into battle guaranteed of victory, your power is in standing up and walking to the fight in the first place.)
So back to making lemonade
Why, what and how are essential to behaviour. Why would you do anything if you don’t know how to do it, what to do, or why you should bother!?
This is the same with understanding the importance of building resilience.
You may never need it. You may “Bear a charmed life” – but for me, resilience is about knowing that somehow, I will be ok.
I may be ok because:
- I have true friends I can turn to
- I know my self worth
- I tackle my insecurities head on
- I look to build networks
- I engage with opportunities
- I’m not afraid of going back to the drawing board
- I look to create not just respond
- I have got through pain
…and so on – there are so, SO many more elements that can pull you through – such is the power of being human.
It is never too nearly nor too late to start. Every exercise, every tip, every article, training session, book paragraph or speech that I offer focuses on nurturing at least one aspect of the beauty and privilege that is our human consciousness – and through this you will recognise life’s sweetness, generate life’s fizz, and have numerous recipes for making lemonade…even Pink Lemonade if you desire. …and here’s one extra point for free – it’s ok if you choose to dismiss me completely, but please ask yourself – “Is it that I don’t want nor need to learn – or that learning scares me in some way?” Often we choose not to try because it’s better than no understanding. You never need to use anything I suggest, there may be coaches similar to me with whom you connect better, you may find one gem in thousands – but make sure you have the ingredients to do what you have to do at the time you need to do it!
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Learn more about her at www.draudreyt.com and follow her on twitter/IG @draudreyt
Her YouTube Channel The Wellness League https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxp27IQfzMESi9LrSxM1Twg encourages confidence building in children through learning, as well as presents the weekly Sunday afternoon show “Energy Top Up” packed with techniques to give you the “How to” of building resilience, inner strength and the confidence mindset.