You know the saying “every cloud has a silver lining?”

It may sound like an innocent (if cliched) reminder to find the good in any situation, but it’s not as helpful as it may seem.

To understand why let’s unpack some common “positive” thoughts you may have practiced in your own life.

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • My job is terrible…but it’s teaching me how to stand up for myself.
  • My business isn’t working…but at least I’m learning how to get better at it.
  • My partner isn’t making enough money…but it’s helping me be more thrifty.
  • My sister complains all the time…but it’s teaching me to be more patient.

These are all examples of what I call “silver lining thoughts.”

Notice how each of these thoughts accepts a pretty negative premise: that your job is the actual worst, your business sucks, your partner isn’t living up to their financial potential, your sister is a complain-aholic.

All of these things seem like true facts. They seem like terrible circumstances outside of your control.

Real storm clouds, am I right?

And of course, it feels awful to sit with the feelings that these thoughts produce…so what does your brain do?

It races to make you feel better. And – you know brains – it will always want to take the path of least resistance. It’s hard work to challenge your well-worn beliefs about your job/partner/business.

So instead, it polishes up that old thought & glues on some shiny silver flakes: “Ok,” it says, “It’s true that all of these things are awful, but look at how well you’re withstanding all this adversity!”

That new thought may provide you some temporary relief (because hey, who doesn’t like to feel resilient?), but it doesn’t actually change anything. At the end of the day, you still believe you’re stuck in a dead-end job or a shitty business or an unequal partnership.

That, my friend, is a silver lining thought.

It’s a thought that sounds positive on the surface, but it assumes your unexamined negative thoughts are true.

Because as much as you believe your job is 100% the worst, that is a thought, not a circumstance. There’s no universal “Bad Job” metric out there. There may be some people who would genuinely love your job – there may even be people at your job who think it’s great.

You experience your job as terrible because you have thoughts that it’s terrible.

We know why it’s easier to accept those thoughts as true – but it comes at a price.

For one thing, the fundamental premise feels terrible.

It disempowers you.

It keeps you stuck.

For another, it means you are choosing temporary relief over growth.

Imagine if, instead of accepting that premise, you used that time to explore what exactly your thoughts about your job are and what your thoughts about yourself at your job are.

Imagine if, instead of accepting that your business isn’t working, you explored your expectations of your business and yourself.

And instead of accepting that your partner doesn’t earn enough money, you dug into your thoughts about money and scarcity and your partner’s obligation to you.

Do you see how transformative this deeper work can be?

But when you put a positive spin on your negative thoughts, you don’t even see the questions you could ask yourself, the growth you could experience.

If you’re realizing you do this ALL. THE. TIME…

Don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with you. This is just a brain habit, and sometimes it does help alleviate some of your pain.

But you will always be better served by being willing to just sit with your thought, noticing how much you believe it. You won’t get much growth with silver linings, because you aren’t being honest with yourself. You’re believing your own drama and then trying to feel a little better about it.

Then, you will be able to actually change the thought pattern.

So, try slowing down the next time you find yourself scanning through new thoughts to think or looking for the bright side of a “bad” situation.

Start by just noticing it. Take a breath and sit with your original thoughts.

If you’re looking for a positive spin, it’s because you’ve accepted the premise that there’s an existing negative circumstance. But there isn’t. There’s just the negative spin of your unconscious thoughts. And if you take the time to recognize that, you’ll get so much deeper with your thought work.

Look behind that silver lining to see what you can learn.

Ask yourself:

  • Where am I believing my own thoughts?
  • Where have I not questioned my evaluations or assumptions?
  • Where am I in a rush to find a new thought that’s keeping me from seeing that my fundamental thought is optional?

You may find that when you accept it and sit with it, there’s nothing all that scary about a storm cloud anyway.

You may find the clouds are where your true transformation is.