I recently read a phrase that caught me off guard… toxic positivity. I had never heard this before, and it sounded contradictory. How can positivity be toxic? I like to joke that I’m the “annoying optimist,” because I know not everybody wants to hear about the “power of a positive mindset” and “everything happens for a reason,” or really anything that takes away from the feeling that something bad is happening. But toxic?

A few days later, I saw it again, so I had to do some research. And it’s not saying that all positivity is bad, but if you’re portraying yourself as being happy no matter what or shutting out anything that might be viewed as negative, that’s the problem. It’s also encouraging everyone to always see the bright side, or to keep anything bad buried instead of opening up about it. That can be dangerous, too. Sometimes that kind of insincere positivity can lead to unintended harm, misunderstanding, or worse. Thinking about it in that context, I can understand why the word “toxic” might apply.

My optimism is grounded in realism. It’s not about pretending that nothing bad ever happens or thinking that how you feel when something does is wrong. It’s about accepting the situation and making the choice to find something good in it. That’s not always easy. You can’t necessarily see it right away. It can take some active effort, but just like with anything, with practice it can become habit to search for the good instead of focusing on the bad.

My One-Day Rule 

For a while now, I’ve given myself a “1-day rule.” And what that means is, I’m allowed to have bad feelings – frustration, anger, sadness, whatever – for one day. That’s to acknowledge what is happening. Beyond that, it’s time to move on. Dwelling doesn’t do anything but leave you feeling stuck. But I think that one day is important to internally examine what’s going on. Sometimes when you’re honest with yourself about what’s happening, it’s easier to find the answers you need within. But it’s also good to have a venting buddy – someone you can complain to without judgment, to release that negativity instead of letting it build up inside.

Making Positivity a Habit

I do my best to be practical about a situation. Can I change what happened? No. Can I do something differently in the future to make sure it doesn’t happen again? Probably. Can I control everything that happens in the world? Of course not. But can I control the way I react, interpret and respond? Absolutely.

It’s not a science. You can’t always help how you feel. And, to complicate things even further, we are complex creatures who are capable of feeling a lot of different things at once. You can be annoyed and grateful at the same time. You can be frustrated with where you are, yet excited about what the future holds at the same time.

This is why I don’t like the question “how are you?” For a literal person like me, the answer is too involved. I’m not big on small talk, and when people ask that, they’re not looking for a detailed response. Have you noticed how many people ask that question, and don’t even wait for an answer before they move on to talking about the thing they want to talk about? Let’s just bypass that whole thing.

Using the Concept of “Yes, and…”

It’s more about being conscious of what’s going on inside and actively making that shift so positivity becomes the habit and negativity the exception – instead of the other way around. It does take some effort. One good trick I’ve heard is to apply the Improv technique of “Yes, and…” In Improv, that means accepting what one person says and expanding upon it. Because if you shut them down with a “no,” you’re not leaving them anywhere to go. So when you apply “Yes, and…” to your own mindset, you’re accepting how you feel, and expanding upon it in a positive manner.

“Yes, I’m overwhelmed. And, I know that all this hard work is getting me closer to my goals.”

“Yes, I’m worried I don’t have enough clients right now. And, I am doing such great work for the ones I do have, I know it will lead to more.”

“Yes, I’m nervous about starting my business. And, I believe in myself and know I’m going to be successful.”

Focus on the solutions instead of the problems. It doesn’t make the problems go away, but it makes it easier to move forward.

Why Mindset Matters in Business

What does all this talk about feelings have to do with business? Didn’t I say that rule #1 in business communication is to keep emotion out of it? I did, and I stand by that. But you are human, and you have feelings, so it’s about channeling those feelings towards success. When you have a positive, solution-oriented way of thinking, you can work through obstacles more effectively. And that is crucial in business.

Mindset is a huge part of my business coaching, and it’s the less obvious part. People might come to me because they need help setting up a bookkeeping system. And I can help them with that, but it’ll only get them so far, especially if they hate bookkeeping. It’s more about helping them understand WHY they want to know it, how it benefits them, and ideally turning it into something they can get excited about. Okay, so they’re probably not going to get excited about the bookkeeping itself, but if they understand where the money is coming from, where the money is going, and what it all means for them, they can get behind that.

Or if we’re working on time management, it’s easy for me to give some productivity tips and solutions that have worked for me. But until they understand WHY they’re not getting things done, it’s not as helpful. But, when they figure out that what’s really holding them back isn’t time, it’s fear – fear of failure, fear of judgement, sometimes even fear of success –then they can really change their habits and start making progress.

Small Shifts Can Have a Huge Impact

My friend John McClain has a simple method that works wonders. Change “I have to” to “I get to.” So instead of saying “I have to do my bookkeeping,” say, “I get to do my bookkeeping because clients choose me when they need these services.” Or instead of “I have to be on all of these calls today,” say, “I get to be included in all of these conversations because so many people trust my input.” Or instead of, “I have to get rid of that demanding client,” say, “I get to choose to work with people whose values align with mine.”

Little shifts in the way you think can drastically impact to how you feel about your business, the people around you, and so much more. When it comes down to it, positivity isn’t going to solve the world’s problems, or even your own. It’s not going to prevent bad things from happening. But, if you choose to be optimistic and focus on the good, you’ll be better equipped to handle the challenges that come your way. And that helps you build a stronger business. There’s nothing toxic about it.