PMA All Day!

Try this. Tomorrow when you wake up, (after coffee of course) look yourself in the mirror and say the following things: "I am smart, beautiful and talented. I can do anything I put my mind to. Today is going to be a fabulous day!"

If you are anything like me you are probably laughing right about now. I know that Self Help writers and psychotherapists have made millions off of the concept of affirmations and positive thinking but no one really does this. Do they? I am a realist. I am comfortably bitter and cynical.. I am from the generation that coined inspirational phrases such as Shit Happens and Life Sucks and then You Die. I do not say positive affirmations in my mirror like some kind of freak show!

It is true I do not talk to my reflection. But I have been known to mumble an affirmation under my breath when no one is listening. I have a few accomplishments in my life that I am damn proud of and I have no shame about parading them around in my head when I am feeling low. And yes, at one time in my life I did (gasp!) have a few sessions with a therapist. (I am from New York City after all.)

When you are an athlete, it is perfectly acceptable to ooze positive thinking. Gymnasts visualize perfect beam routines moments prior to saluting the judges. Runners imagine a successful race as they are lying in bed the night before the marathon. Athletes set extreme goals and map out how they are going to reach them. They surround themselves with coaches and trainers who are constantly pumping them up. Why do you think MMA fighters have such an entourage? To tell them how great they are! (Also to dump water on their face between rounds. Water is important.)

As a parent, it is not only ok to be positive, it is imperative. The Little Engine that Could made it up that hill because he "thought he could." We teach our children to try and try again, that "can't" is an unacceptable four letter word, that "anything your heart desires will come to you." When our kids are sad we tell them that everything is going to be ok, because it almost always is. I expend a whole lot of effort trying to teach Maya that she gets what she gives. If what you give is a positive, happy attitude, guess what? You will probably be happy.

As we get older, and bad stuff happens, we lose some of our optimism. If enough bad stuff happens we can lose all of it and become bitter, pessimistic and grumpy. What happens then? We get sick more. We have less energy. We fail to give ourselves credit for accomplishments or celebrate the good because we are always waiting for the other shoe to drop.  And we start to feel really really old. Also, for some reason we New Yorkers like to make fun of optimistic adults, talk about a "child like enthusiasm" as if it is a bad thing, as if happy people are stupid. True, some may be in denial,  avoiding dealing with adversity by simply reciting a mindless mantra of "it will all work out." But the others are smart, capable people who just aren't completely jaded yet.

The thing is, this positive mental attitude thing actually works, and not just in sports. Sure it's hokey but so is Glee and everyone loves Glee! If you approach all areas of your life in an upbeat manner you will have a better life. Period.

Why does prayer work? Some people of course believe it is because God is listening. Perhaps he is but unfortunately we have no way of knowing this for sure. However, we have plenty of proof that when people have faith that things will improve, they often do. (So long as they are not the type to just sit there and wait for the Almighly to solve everything for them.) The act of "talking to God" gives them strength and comfort to get through hard times. It enables them to do more. Why? Perhaps when you think you are talking to God, you are really just talking to yourself. No mirror necessary.

(For a great read on the powers of prayer and the placebo effect I highly recommend "Miracle Cures: Saints, Pilgrimage, and the Healing Powers of Belief" by Robert Scott. And it is not just because he is Matthew's uncle. This is really a great book.)

I am far from an expert on positive thinking. When I can't reach Matthew on the phone I assume he is lying dead somewhere and whenever anyone is in the hospital I immediately think cancer. Over the course of these four years of being Maya's mother I have slowly learned that all bad things are a phase, that this too shall pass. But that does not mean the first time she hit me I didn't think, "Oh crap, my child is one of those. There goes the next 15 years!" 

But I try.

Recently I said to someone, "Just because it is the thing you are most afraid of does not have any bearing on whether or not it is going to happen." Fear makes the worst case scenario seem more possible, even if it is highly unlikely. On the contrary, a positive outlook can turn a negative situation into an opportunity. The mind is an incredibly powerful tool You can use it to beat yourself down, make yourself sick. Or you can choose to be healthier. You can choose to be happier. It is not easy, especially not for those of us from the angry land of NYC. But it is possible. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.  I CAN!

By the way, I am an atheist, living proof that although it definitely helps, you do not have to believe in God to believe in yourself.