Positivity versus Negativity

Last week I saw an obituary in the New York Times online and a blog post by a fellow dressage rider that rang a loud bell in my head about the positivity vs negativity balance.

THE OBITUARY

The  obituary was for Dr. Jimmie Holland who had died at the age of 89. I had never actually heard of this woman but when I read the obit I knew I agreed with her stance on “positivity” in illness. Dr. Holland established a division of psychiatry at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan in the 1970s.  She was the first woman to head a clinical department there. Dr. Holland spoke against what she described as: “the tyranny of positive thinking.” She felt that a good attitude was a good thing but when a patient had cancer the treatment was bad enough without pressure to be “positive”.

“When all of your family and friends are saying that you have to be positive and you have to fight this thing and the patient is exhausted and beaten up by the treatments —it seemed to me that adding that burden to be positive was just ridiculous.” She told Medscape.com in 2015. She urged doctors to screen for emotional distress as well as physical vital signs and to give physiological symptoms treatment as well as just treating the body.

I am a cancer survivor myself and I am often told it was because of my positive attitude. I tried to be as positive as I could because it made me feel better but  perhaps I was just in denial. Perhaps that was my loophole.  If I had not survived would I have been accused of not being positive enough or being too weak? I am in agreement with Dr. Holland . There can be a negative affect from too much emphasis on “positivity” in illness.

DRESSAGE

Dressage is an equestrian discipline that offers innumerable opportunities for negativity.  From the lowest levels up to the international levels of the FEI (International Equestrian Federation)  there is a quest for perfection in the execution of the movements that requires exacting, detailed focus and persistence. There is no ‘flying on the seat of your pants’ with dressage.

The same day that I read the obituary for Dr. Holland I also saw a blog post from a fellow dressage rider.  It was about how hard it is to look at pictures or videos of oneself riding and not despair at the less than perfect position or execution of the riding. Don’t laugh! Dressage riders beat themselves up on a regular basis; even the best of them do it. I have heard Olympians say things like:  “Oh…look at my right hand! What is it doing up there? Why do I do that?” There were a number of comments on the blog post with each comment admitting, confessing or despairing about some detail of their position  or their effectiveness as riders.  Self criticism and negativity aplenty.

Competition dressage, at all levels, focuses on what is wrong or needs improvement and to a lesser extent on what is correct or  good.  After you have finished your test ride you collect your test from the show office and look at what the judge has given you for marks for each movement and what their comments are about each movement. The judge’s job is to explain in the comments the reason for the mark given. These marks range from 0 (not performed at all) to 10 ( this is an exceptional mark rarely awarded and although it should mean “perfect’ it actually means “excellent”. A 5 is “satisfactory”, 7 “fairly good” an 8 “good” and a 9 “very good”.  So as you can see it is hardly a “Whooo-hooooo! Yaaaaaay!” even for a very good test.  The judges final comments can have some helpful suggestions of what to work on for better marks next time and sometimes a nice comment about the horse and rider partnership. Over my years of dressage competition I have learned to talk with my coach and go over the test comments before I decide to put my head in a gas oven.  That always brings perspective to the test, the marks and the comments.

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Even for those who stay at home and train without entering into the fray of competition it can be hard to remain positive. This is why having a coach that can push you and correct you in a positive way is essential. I’m sorry to say there are many coaches out there who take out their own frustrations on their students and those students are demoralized and certainly in a negative headspace.   My advice would be to leave those coaches and find one who can give you the training you want and also give you confidence as a rider. They do exist. I have two of them; Belinda Trussell at home in Canada and in Florida during the winter season Luis Reteguiz Denizard.  They push me to my limits and do it in a way that makes me believe I can do it.

 

Maintaining a positive attitude is not easy in dressage and quite possibly in the other equestrian disciplines as well.  The reason positivity it is so important is that a positive attitude forms the base of confidence. Without confidence it is not possible to ride well or to even enjoy riding.

The day I saw the obituary and the blog post I saw this on the wall at the gym.

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It seemed like “positivity” was the theme of the day. My conclusion was that it is nice to think we can “always” be positive but there are times when it is not possible. Severe illness may be one of those times. That may be a time when we need extra help and support and not have everyone just telling us to “be positive”.

As a dressage rider I know it is very  important to have a positive attitude. But I also need some help in the feedback I get from my coaches and also by looking  back to a year ago and reminding myself of  how much my horse and I have improved.  And finally I would like to say that I think that the root of “positivity” lies in “persistence”.

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 What do you think about positivity versus negativity in illness, life, sport or your work?  Leave me a comment I’d love to know your thoughts. 

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62 Comments Add yours

  1. I agree. Positivity is a work in progress a lot of the time. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s harder but persistence really is key. The constant will to be positive and pull yourself back to positivity even if you’re going through a tough time. I also agree that too much pressure to be positive can have the opposite effect. I think that being easier on ourselves and accepting that we don’t always feel positive sometimes is a very important part in positivity itself. The kind of yin and yang. Great explanation, I loved it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      I agree that persistence is so important. Thanks for commenting and I’m glad you got something from this post.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Avery says:

    Interesting post. As you know, I am generally a positivity at all times kind of gal. I do not have any first hand experience with illness in that way, but I would think that even still, the negativity would be even more exhausting and lead to situational depression.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      I know what you mean. I think that the doctor who spoke of the “tryanny of positivity” was referring to all the people around the sick person who keep on pushing positivity. That pushing can get exhausting and leads to the patient feeling like they have failed if they cannot be super positive or if the illness takes a turn for the worst. I also think that some illness leads to depression as part of theillness and cannot be rectified by the patient trying to be positive. In those cases extra help through therapy or medication may be necessary. When I was ill I could remain positive and I was able to turn it over ( to the Higher Power) and it helped me to be positive but I can understand that for others it is just overwhelming.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Avery says:

        ❤ yes, I get that.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Nancy says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed you article. Being a longtime dressage rider and survivor of a serious riding accident suffering a traumatic brain injury I totally get it!!!! Persistence is key, positivity will follow.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thank you for this comment Nancy. And Bravo for persistence in your own life to carry on through a very difficult time. All the best to you going forward!

      Like

  4. Love your ideas on positivity! What a fascinating post on attitude and persistance. A truly inspiring read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      I am glad you found something in it Michele. Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Jeff Rab says:

    Good post! Sometimes to get it together, we have to fall apart first. And sometimes, a season of tears, despair and grief can wash away negative thoughts, allowing positive ones to flourish and dominate! You are a wise person, Anne!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thank you. I take that as a big compliment Jeff. It is true that sometimes we have to go through a “vale of tears” before we can emerge triumphant.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I do believe that looking for the positives and the gifts or teachings in challenging situations can be very beneficial as long as it is real and honest xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      I agree. Sometimes the disappointments or the mistakes can be opportunities to learn a great deal. Not easy at the time but true. The trick is , as you say, to be honest and truthful with oneself. Thank you for this very good comment.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My pleasure Anne, it is a very interesting post! :o) xxx

        Liked by 1 person

  7. (HorseLover4Ever) Elizabeth says:

    Thanks for this post, Anne. ❤ That is one reason why I love your blog–you are positive, and even though we all have things to work on and things that aren't going well, you are positive!!! And I think us usually-negative humans are always attracted to positive people, like you!!! (: ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thank you Elizabeth. I try to take appositive approach. I have my moments like everyone else but I have learned over the years to not be too hard on myself and accept the results when I do the best I can. Progress not perfection!

      Like

  8. Great post Anne! I agree with you. I think it’s really important to be positive but it’s sometimes not always possible to be. There’s been days when I’ve felt really down and worried and then I would start getting cross at myself for not being positive! But I am realising that it’s ok to not always be and not to turn it into an added pressure in life. 🙂 xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Good! I think this is the right approach. For those with serious illness and chronic illness it is just not so easy to be “positive” all the time. Sometimes those dealing with illness need to give themselves a break. that is what appealed to me about the doctor talking about the tyranny of positivity. I think you do a great job of being positive and delighting all of us with Dizzy and if you feel you need breaks from being all smiles then that’s just fine!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I try to stay positive. It is really hard when life is rough. I agree….we do the best we can, sometimes we just cry and simply breathe and hang on until the tide turns and we can get back up again. Life tends to have ebbs and flows. I need to remember in times of trouble that “This too shall pass”. Also, I try to trust in God….He is what I cling to in times of trouble (although…even that is hard when depression, fear and worry strike hard).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thank you for this wonderful comment. This is life: ups , downs and in-betweens. I also rely on “this too shall pass”. I really appreciate you comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Wonderfully encouraging words on positivity. I agree with you. Always be positive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      thank you for commenting.

      Like

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thank you Katrin.

      Like

  11. geekkat says:

    The thing about positivity is that it is not always real. A lot of the time we put a front up with a happy, smiling face and make everyone believe it is great. That is probably the worse thing anyone can do. Goodness knows I have done it and anyone who says they haven’t would be lying…lol!! I think a little negativity helps us keep things in perspective and our feet on the ground 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  12. aghisla says:

    Thanks for your post! You have put into words the difference between healthy positivity and denial, that I find very important. The remark about being positive so that others feel better is another point I’ll keep in mind.

    All the best to you, Biasini and your loved ones!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thank you for Your kind and thoughtful comment.

      Like

  13. Ben Aqiba says:

    Hi Anne,

    thank you for this post.Yes, I believe in that deeply.Always be positive should be the only attitude in life !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thank you Ben! I appreciate your comment.

      Like

  14. Emma Cownie says:

    Positity vs negativity is a tricky thing in the creative process…I like to challenge myself and find new areas and if I feel that I have “pulled it off” I will be quietly satisfied, but I am always moving on to my next project. My next painting. For me its about the process. I am always painting, painting (or thinking about my next painting). Somedays, I just dont feel like patining and I go for walks (rare days). If the painting isn’t working, I am not afraid to scrub it out. I’d rather scrubbed canvas I can use again than a painting that didn’t work! Oh yeah. The positivity I rely on is my husband’s. So long as he says encouraging, positive things about my work or ideas, then I am motivated. I trust his opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thank you for this comment. It gives me insight into your process and how nice that you have a trusting relationship with your husband . Wonderful!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I think there is a balance that needs to be found somewhere between positivity and negativity. Forced positivity is draining likewise is negatively….. if that makes sense.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      It does make sense….absolutely! Thanks for contributing to this post with your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Cyranny says:

    Great post Anne 🙂 The burdening positivity part really talks to me. I too think that it is the ideal to look ahead with a positive attitude, in life. But, when enough is enough, and you have to put a knee down, I think people should be supportive of that and not expect that you’ll just wipe your nose and smile again.

    “Forced” positivity is just bitterness with a mask. And I think it is even worse than just taking some time to feel the negative in our lives….

    If that even makes sense for you? 😉 *Hugs*

    Like

  17. eventerinprogress says:

    I once heard dressage described as “the pursuit of perfection by the obsessively imperfect” and thought nothing has ever fit so well.

    I love dressage, especially the pros at the top level. Nothing looks so fluid, so harmonious and so beautiful.

    But for someone like me, a chronic over thinker, I find only doing dressage is too stressful because there is no perfect, no end, no stopping and it can wear me down. I can be very hard on myself and the absence of perfection can drive me insane.

    Showjumping and XC is so much simpler. It may not be “pretty” or “perfect” but clear and under time is clear and under time, so it stops me beating myself up if my form wasn’t 100% or my striding was a bit out.

    I will always love practising my dressage, as I believe it is SO IMPORTANT for all riders. I just don’t think it will ever be the ONLY discipline I can do, my mind can’t stand it!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. anne leueen says:

      YES! I absolutely agree with you. As a kid and teenager I used to jump and spent a couple of years eventing in California as well. I loved it! When I am at home in Canada I have a young woman who takes Biasini over a few jumps and takes him out into the forest to jump over a few fallen logs. I even did that myself one day last summer. Galloped him across a grass field, onto a narrow trail going up a hill in the forest, over a log and cantering away up the hill. I threw my arms in the air and let put a whoop. It took me back to being 16 again. But that was it. I have had both hips replaced and I am 68 years old so no more jumping for me. So enjoy your eventing. Dressage is rewarding but in a different way. I love your quote and I’ll use that one if I may! Thanks so much for your comment. Ride on!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. eventerinprogress says:

        Use it as much as you want! I love dressage, the problem with it for me, is my own mind, not the sport. It takes a level of patience and wisdom I do not yet posses – but maybe one day!

        Liked by 1 person

  18. Abbey simbrow says:

    This was brilliant! As a rider I complemtly relate and agree! Not only lucky to have a wonderful coach but fellow riderfriends too 😉! Miss you and BB xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thank you Abbey! I often think about you and Anton and Rosa and wonder how you are getting on. I hope maybe you will be down here for a visit!

      Like

  19. Firstly I love what u wrote here. Raw and real , good for you.

    My mother passed from cancer and my sister survived it. Was it because my sister was more positive as my mother was a little negative? I don’t know. Was it because of my mums cancer that my sister and I have regular screening and my sisters was therefore caught early? I don’t know.
    All I know is that if u haven’t had the illness demanding a sick person to be positive seems to be for your own benefit not theirs.

    Will I be positive if I get it. Bet your ass I will, but I think it would be too much pressure to have to keep someone else happy and go through treatment after seeing what it’s like.

    I see people say things all the time, ah my hands. Ah my seat, ah my weight, ah my horse and I just wanna scream be thankful you are healthy cos without that you have nothing; positive or not

    Love u Anne, and love this post

    Mel x

    Liked by 3 people

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thank you so much Mel.. We are lucky to be alive and healthy and able to ride. Thanks for this comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  20. I love this article Anne! Sometimes in illness or injury positivity blends along with acceptance. Your love for life and horses is so positive in your writing. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      You are most welcome. thank you for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Robyn says:

    I agree, Anne – positivity in life is so important. I love to read and I am always enamored by the character that has had such a hard way of things smiling, happy – moved on to enjoy life. I take things from those characters and try to apply their mentality in my own life. I agree with you, not of the woman whose onituary you read – positivity helps. And how you applied to dressage and the negativity we tend to see in ourselves. And to choose positivity. Positivity lies in persistence – that is great!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Robyn you are someone who has met adversity and trials with a positive attitude. Maybe on your own and in private you have moments and that would be normal but you have held a family together through some real challenges. Thanks so much for this comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. I love the comment that positivity lies in persistence. You can probably also say that positivity lies in perseverance! I’m going to remember that!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      It’s a good one!

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Judy says:

    I was punished for not being positive… yeah… that didn’t confuse me at all (heavy on the sarcasm). Like you said, it’s impossible to be positive all the time. Demanding positivity tends to lead to refusing to allow grieving and a host of other healthy emotions. For me, being grateful makes a bigger difference more than being positive, and I’m still allowed to have all my other emotions.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. anne leueen says:

      Gratitude is so important. It helps me to keep things in perspective. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  24. Bare List of Words says:

    “The root of positivity is found in persistence.” I adore that. I think our bodies and minds are healthier when we do not allow the negative to take over, but I do know many “positive” people that unfortunately did not survive their cancer battles. While I don’t think that positive mental attitude always mean the difference in survival, that persistence and positivity almost always makes the journey more enjoyable, no matter how undesirable that journey may be.

    Congratulations on being a survivor! You’ve fought a heck of a battle.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. anne leueen says:

      Yes! A totally agree that positivity and persistence make the difficult journey bearable. Thank you for this very articulate comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  25. I think positivity can move mountains, but just like you say, sometimes be a burden when we are met with unsurmountable things, such as extreme stress or illness… In long distance running, both training and competition, I remain positive, challenged. In dressage, hmm, I tend to succumb to the “never really good enough” 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Dressage lends itself to that never good enough. But we have to give ourselves a pat on the back sometimes as well. And I think, from what I see in your blog posts that despite your quest for perfection you are also able to recognize the good moments and the improvements.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, and I think part of the key to this, is being able to truly recognize the tiny tiny improvements, acknowledge them, and celebrate like a mad woman every time! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      2. anne leueen says:

        Haha! I applaud that mad woman!!!

        Like

      3. This morning, and of her heat cycle, I just rode her out. No shenanigans, and then no strange bucking afterward during short arena work. Yay!!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. anne leueen says:

        Yay! We were having good rides on both sides of the country today! Thanks for sharing your good news!

        Liked by 1 person

  26. Gymah says:

    What a great post! I agree that it is all too easy to fall into negativity. Staying positive can seem hard to do at times, but you’re right, persistence is key. Sometimes quiet persistence is better than large efforts of positivity that will eventually die out.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. anne leueen says:

      I agree. for the long haul of life we need persistence. Thanks so much for this comment. I appreciate it.

      Liked by 1 person

  27. Wow is all I can say… You are incredibly strong, may You continued and be blessed 💪 the authenticity and realness of this is amazing.!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      thank you! I appreciate this comment very much.

      Like

  28. cagedunn says:

    The difference between tell and show – the stool trick. If you can demonstrate and have the person experience the feeling, they do the work themselves. tell someone to do it ‘this way’ and all they hear is ‘blah blah blah’. Same, same – dogs, kids, horses; if we can demonstrate how something works and why, and let them participate in the lesson, let them experience how it works, the joy they feel in the accomplishment is all the positivity they need. Not the word, the deed.

    Liked by 2 people

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