How to Avoid Toxic Positivity

Toxic positivity is holding the belief that everything will be alright, regardless of how dire or challenging life may become. Being too optimistic can further develop into other unhealthy behaviours, intentional or otherwise.

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How many times have you heard phrases like, 'practise makes perfect!' or, 'live every day like it's your last!'? Family, friends, work colleagues, and greater society all promote the idea that constantly being in a positive mindset will benefit you regarding work and study. While this is true to some extent, there is such a thing as being too optimistic and not properly focusing on your circumstances in life. This is known as toxic positivity. I will explain what this concept is and why always having a positive mindset will not help you as a student or graduate.

Toxic positivity is holding the belief that everything will be alright, regardless of how dire or challenging life may become. Approaching situations from a 'good vibes only' perspective is how toxic positivity begins. Being too optimistic can further develop into other unhealthy behaviours, intentional or otherwise.

Whether in school or applying for an internship, the attitude a person takes and their mindset in a particular situation can be a deciding factor in the situation's outcome.

Being a university student can have fun times. Still, the reality is it's also filled with stress, pressure, and a need to strive for excellence. Handing in quality assignments on time, studying for multiple courses, and keeping on top of all the tasks assigned to you by your lecturers is quite challenging. There will come a time when something won't go your way, and unlikely results might arise. A bad grade, an argument with another student, or too much stress to handle, are triggering points for students.
 
When things don't go your way, you need to reflect on them to learn from them. 

  • What led to the bad grade, and what can I do to avoid that in the future? 
  • What can I do in the future to better handle or mitigate stress? 

This reflection allows us to learn from our failures (and we all fail), to act better in the future. We let our failures become a learning experience, to find something genuinely positive when something hasn't gone our way. 

When things don't go our way, we can reflect in a good or bad way. Harmful reflection is berating ourselves or overly fixating or exaggerating (rumination) the downstream effects of the event. For example, thinking "I got a bad grade because I'm stupid" is not helpful or accurate. An accurate and valuable assessment would be, "I got a bad grade because I didn't attend class, I did not study enough or well, or outside circumstances which I cannot control hindered me."

Once we have finished this assessment, we take our learnings into the future: we schedule time to study, we identify more effective ways to study, we attend classes or tutorials, we accept that something outside of our control had an effect on our performance, that sucks, and there's nothing we can do about it now. Good reflection is necessary to learn from our failures so that we can improve in the future. It is also necessary to properly process and thus move negative emotions - we learn what we need to from the negative emotion, and we bid it farewell.

Toxic positivity is the opposite mindset to reflection. While getting up and moving on from such things can be helpful, it is more beneficial to take the time to reflect on the things that went wrong and assess what you have learned from this particular experience. 

Forrest Gump once famously said, "Life is like a box of chocolates," with him alluding to life being unpredictable and full of surprises. We never know what life has planned for us, but how we react to its curveballs will determine how good our quality of life will become. In saying that, I hope you can better equip yourself with some of the advice I have imparted and have a better understanding of what toxic positivity is and how best to beat it.

- Taylor Tutawa, Nxtstep Content Writer

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