Positive, Negative, and Ground
Hope for the worst, prepare for the best… wait, that’s not right. Well, you get the idea.
In my experience, no one is as pessimistic and simultaneously optimistic as a farmer. Ask one. If the sun is shining, it’s too hot. If it’s raining, it’s too wet and all the crops will drown. Or maybe it’s just a Midwest thing, I don’t know. At the same time, these same people in overalls with Eeyore complexes have to be some of the most optimistic people around. We plant seeds every year in hopes they will grow. We breed livestock in expectation of profit. Either we’re secretly optimists or else have the worst gambling addiction in history, relying on Mother Nature for our good fortune instead of Lady Luck.
Regardless of being an optimist or a pessimist, negative thinking traps are just that: traps. While it’s been important for humans in the past to focus on the bad in order to learn from their mistakes and survive, in more recent times it causes more harm than good. Negative thinking makes you more than just a bore at the neighborhood barbeque; it affects your physical and mental health, making for increased anxiety, depression, irritability, and stress. The physical effects of negativity includes less ability to resist disease, poor self-image and eating disorders, a general malaise, obesity, heart disease, decreased life span, and just being an all-around bummer to hang out with.
By positive thinking, I’m not talking about Polyanna-esque insane cheerleader cheerfulness, but actual practical optimism. The glass is only half full if the glass is actually half full, telling yourself the glass is half full when it’s broken and shattered against the wall really doesn’t do anybody any good. Especially if that anybody is walking around the house barefoot. Being positive and being practical go hand in hand. Instead of thinking of all the negative outcomes, such as the weather is too hot/ cool/ volatile and the garden won’t do worth a darn and the canning will all go to crap due to the humidity, think about how maybe the tomatoes didn’t do so well, but the cayenne peppers kicked butt and you won’t have to dry peppers for at least two years. This is what I like to call practical thinking. It doesn’t focus on the negatives (“My tomatoes suck! I’m a horrible gardener!”) and is optimistic rather than illogically cheerful (“Those are some nice hot peppers… how many peppers can Peter Piper pick?”).
Readers and writers tend toward Dickensian moodiness when it comes to literature. (“This is the best book ever!” to “This is the worst piece of trash this f*&%ing writer ever produced!”) Where farmers can be pessimistic optimists, bibliophiles are more bipolar in their leanings, a book being either good, bad, or “eh” (shrug), which, granted, is the kiss of death. Both groups can benefit from positive thinking, by first recognizing negative thinking, such as filtering all thoughts so they are negative (“It’s raining so the crops will fail.”), personalizing bad things and blaming yourself (“I bought a book I already have, I’m such an idiot. No more browsing for me. I’m strictly Oprah’s picks from now on. I can’t be trusted with a sandwich, let alone choosing a novel.”) Polarizing, where you see all things as black or white, you have to be perfect or you’re a failure. And, my personal favorite, catastrophizing. This little gem of negative thinking is characterized by always assuming the worst. The crops will fail, get eaten by locusts, the cow will have two-headed dead twins, the combine will break down and the parts store will be closed, and dinner will burn. At the same time. On a Sunday. Before a major holiday. And the power will go out with your in-laws staying with you. When your wife announces she’s having twins. NOW!
While your wife going into labor unexpectedly might send you to the fridge for a cold beer, the odds of the rest occurring simultaneously are pretty slim. You might as well start making a list of all the unlikely good things that could happen as well. You might win the lottery while making love to a supermodel and your agent calls with a book deal that makes the Harry Potter franchise look like peanuts. Each scenario is equally unlikely. Check your thinking, that you’re not too pessimistic or overly optimistic, several times throughout the day. Find your trouble spots, pitfalls in your thinking, and work on improving those areas you want to change to more positive outlooks. Be open to humor and live an active, healthy lifestyle. Be positive and surround yourself with people who are positive. Be nice to yourself. You wouldn’t tell a friend who was down that they’re a bad person, so don’t reiterate that to yourself. Be the friend to yourself that you would have others be to you. And lastly, be grateful. The universe doesn’t have to give you good things. So be grateful for the good things, big or small, and set aside some time each day to appreciate the good things in your life. This attitude of gratitude may sound corny, but your old grandma was right when she said what goes around comes around. What you put out there, comes right back to you. If you’re mean, you’ll get meanness. If you’re grateful, you’ll get gratitude. Be appreciative and be mindful.
To develop a more positive mindset, instead of turning to anti-depressants or mood-altering substances like alcohol or illegal drugs, try this exercise. Dr. Martin Seligman, the so-called father of Positive Psychology, suggests finding three blessings, or three good things, in your day, every day, and writing them down as well as reflecting on them. It helps change your mindset from one focusing on all the negatives to one that admires the positives. For more information on positive thinking and positive psychology, or the three blessings in general, try
And, last but not least on this soapbox jumble, to really find the positive and ditch the negative thinking, tune out the haters. If you feel driven and positive about the choices you’re making and are getting positive results and are happy in those choices, don’t let anyone tell you that you’re wrong, that your partner is wrong for you, that your job choices are wrong or that your life choices leave a bit to be desired. Don’t let your boss tell you that you’re a disappointment to him. If you know in the core and heart of you that you’re doing the right thing, with the right person, or following the right career path, whether it’s seeking a career in a circus or milking goats, do it. It’s your life, and no one can tell you that you’re doing it wrong unless you let them.
Axie Barclay, is a Michigan writer with a cow-habit. Having discovered the joys and potential for growth in alternative agriculture, she quests ever longer and harder for ways to combine farming and writing into a business. When not milking cows, making disgruntled noises at the latest disgusting thing the heeler dogs dredge up, riding horses, or keeping the fence up around her small beef herd, she’s holed up reading an eclectic array of books or tapping out pages. When not working, she enjoys kicking back with her honey, family, and friends at a bonfire with some beers. Chat her up on Twitter and Facebook, /axieb, or http://barclayfarmsandlit.blogspot.com where she delves into literature and agriculture with a relish… and occasionally ketchup. Soon to be homemade.