Positive thinking is a tricky thing. People with mental health issues are naturally suspicious of “positive thinking” because many of us have been incorrectly told that our problems would go away if we would just be positive, change our attitude, try harder.

Half FullWhen I was living with undiagnosed ADHD, “positive” is definitely not one of the first words that would have come to mind if I’d been asked to describe myself. When you’re repeatedly failing, underachieving, and unable to keep your life in order for reasons you don’t understand, it’s hard to be anything other than negative and pessimistic.

After I got diagnosed, my perspective started to shift. I accepted “OK, this is the brain I’ve got. There are some things it does well, and there are some things it doesn’t. The best I can do is figure out what it does well and do those things as much as possible.”

This kind of change isn’t about consciously changing your attitude or trying to “think positively.” Rather, it’s about making concrete changes in your life that will lead you to become happier and more positive. In the case of ADHD, that means focusing on your strengths and finding ways to spend time in environments that fit well with your brain. Ultimately, being positive is just about focusing on the things that make you happy.

Notice the chronology here: I got diagnosed, which helped me make changes in my life that led to a more positive outlook. It’s not a case of “becoming more positive fixed my ADHD.” It’s the other way around: getting help from mental health professionals led me to develop insight into my ADHD and make positive changes in my life.

I think that’s the bottom line when it comes to the “power of positive thinking” and mental health. If you have an untreated mental health condition, no amount of trying to stay positive is going to fix things. Seeking treatment for the condition, on the other hand, is the first step toward making tangible changes in your life that will make you happier and help you develop a more positive outlook.

Image: Flickr/Bart