Positive vs. negative
Do people respond better to positive encouragement? Or to negative criticism? That’s a no-brainer, right? Of course we respond better to positive encouragement! And I don’t know about you, but when I self-talk, I often correct thought patterns going into pessimistic territory to bring them back to the path of affirmation:
- “Why didn’t we get our financial act together earlier in our lives?!” gets shifted to, “Isn’t it great how we’ve been able to change our financial outlook so much even though we started late?”
- “I blew the grocery budget!” becomes, “I never even used to know how much I spent on groceries. I’ve become so much more aware.”
- “Some people are way more frugal that we are,” transitions to, “We are way more frugal than we used to be.”
Is there ever a time to go negative? I’m all for positive thinking, but I believe that in our efforts to stick to the sunny side, we often deny ourselves the help that certain not-so-sunny truths can give us. Here’s an example:
Acknowledging a negative: pride
I thought that I had overcome any pride that stood between me and financial health. After four years of working our way towards debt-freedom, DH and I have had plenty of opportunity to face down pride – and we HAVE faced it down.
- A feeling of envy at other people’s travels has made way for an attitude of anticipation as we look forward to the day when we will travel again.
- A sense of embarrassment for not having the landscaping of some of our neighbours has transformed into contentment with simple and less.
- And as for our 17-year-old Dodge Caravan – that has mortified our daughters for years now – we see in it a hopeful symbol of the changes that are shaping a brighter future for us. We want it to last forever.
So there. Pride has been dealt with, and we’re reaping the rewards: No more envy. No more keeping up with the Joneses. No more seduction by shiny and new.
The comment that unearthed my lingering pride
But it hasn’t ALL been dealt with. A comment made in response to my recent post about my stubborn money-management flaw – which is a lack of management when it comes to discretionary money – made me feel that old familiar feeling of wounded pride. Laurie and Money Beagle had already suggested putting aside a certain amount of my discretionary allowance each month so that I wouldn’t keep running out of it before the month’s end. “What you could do is take 10% off the top . . . ” Money Beagle suggested, “Call it your ‘no touch fund’ and it can be there for bigger opportunities down the road.” The problem with that, I replied – because I had tried the strategy a few times – was that I knew where this no touch fund was. And the “no touch” part of it never lasted.
Maja, who had read these comments, made another suggestion: “. . . how about you give that 10% to your hubby (in cash) and have him hide it for you, so that you’ll have to ask him to get it for you if you really want it?” Makes sense right? If I haven’t succeeded on my own, why not get some help? In fact, Maja’s suggestion was very much like one I had recently made to a friend who chronically overspends via her credit card. “Why don’t you give the card to me?” I said. “If you really need it, you’ll know where it is.”
But Maja wasn’t advising my friend. She was advising me. “I don’t need THAT,” was my first reaction – as my lingering pride flared up. “I’m not THAT hopeless.
Hmmm . . . . Why so defensive? I like the saying, “Where there’s a fortress, there’s a vulnerability.” What vulnerability was I defending with my reaction? And what did that reaction reveal about my attitude towards my friend with the credit card weakness? A little arrogance, I think. “Let me help you with the kind of help I’d be ashamed to need myself.” Only I did need it.
Negative criticism vs truth without judgment
Negative criticism: The truth is, I AM that hopeless. I’m so bad when it comes to managing my discretionary allowance that it might actually be a good idea for me to get my husband to hide some of it away to protect it from me. How humiliating is that?
Truth without judgment: I used a few harsh words up in that last paragraph: “hopeless”, “bad”, “humiliating”. Is it possible to acknowledge the extent of my weakness minus the judgment? I think so. Without criticism, without wounded pride, I can simply say, “I face a real block trying to apply everything that I’ve learned about money management to my own discretionary allowance. I’m not sure why I have such trouble in this area, but I do. It might be a good idea to get someone else to help me manage it. At least for now.”
And if I could say that without self-condemnation, wouldn’t it make my efforts to help my friend that much better too? If I’ve got a false pride, I’ve got a false arrogance. And if the flip side of my pride is self-condemnation, the flip side of my arrogance is disdain towards others. On the other hand, if I lose my pride and acknowledge my flaw without self-judgment, I’m in a position to lose my arrogance and get real with others without disdain.
Maybe negative isn’t always so negative after all
Does this all make sense? I hope so! This week, Laurie wrote with such vividness of the the darkness a journey out of debt can involve – especially when the debt is so high relative to income. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it. Is it a “negative” post? I don’t think so. It is honest, and I’m sure it has resonated with many people – in a way that has given them the comfort of knowing their struggles are experienced by others. There’s a relief in truth – even hard truths. False perkiness, that we sometimes feel inclined to resort to for the sake of being “positive”, doesn’t offer anything at all.
Truth without judgment: the new positive
So here’s my conclusion: truth that is hard and therefore seems negative, that hurts our pride, that we resist accepting, is actually positive IF – and only if – it is free of judgment. As you deal with your debt, acknowledge the character flaws and the difficult realities that surface. They’re part of the journey. And the strange thing is, they lose their negative power as you accept them without judgment. And though you can’t tell in advance how it’s going to happen, you can trust that this acknowledgement will alter the truth you’re accepting – and make it positive.
Have you ever had a hard time facing a certain truth? Have you ever tried false perkiness to avoid being negative? Have you ever had the experience of a seeming negative becoming a positive? Your comments are welcome.
*Image courtesy of Google Images