Our Mental Tornadoes and Positive Thinking

For several hours this morning my county was hit with a rolling collection of severe storms, each of which had pretty good potential to produce a tornado. (And a few of them did.) That means we were under a “tornado warning” (one is imminent or has been spotted) from 4:30AM until about 10:00AM. Nothing as bad as the one that hit Alabama over the last few days, but nonetheless we were all encouraged to seek shelter, or to at least be ready to do so on a moment’s notice if we were in the path of this seemingly endless line of storms.

Meteorologists can at best predict when conditions will be favorable for tornadoes, but unless a funnel has actually touched down, they cannot ever be sure one will exist. And even once there is a funnel, there is little predictability to what the hell it is going to do. I hate the unpredictability of such storms.

It got me thinking that I hate unpredictability in obstacles in general. Nothing I go through mentally is as dangerous as people having to face a tornado of course, but the whole thing brought to mind something I have felt for a while. And that is how often career or personal success advice tends to ignore, or dismiss the unpredictable and the unstoppable.

When there is a tornado warning in your area, the first thing the authorities advise you to do is to take shelter. Do not drive, do not try to out run it, and do not stop to take picture or video of a fully formed funnel. Get to a basement or ditch or something and hit the dirt. In essence, the advice is to keep still, and wait (hope) for it to pass you by. And though you won’t hear the people on the Weather Channel put it in this fashion, what they are all basically saying is, “You can’t do a damn thing about it, so don’t be a fool and act like you can.”

We have tornado watches and tornado warnings mentally as well. Things that we know are on the horizon, or fear may be destructive, that we are powerless to stop, out run, or in some cases even define. We just know that the conditions in our lives are right for a specific problem. Or that the problem, like a night tornado, is out there somewhere, unseen, but tearing its way towards us. We can do nothing about it. Yet many people try to act as though we can.

Overselling the notion of “positive thinking”, optimism, getting up in the morning ready to “tackle any problem” has long frustrated or even angered many a pessimist or realist. Because while the notion of being more upbeat and viewing our situations in a more positive light is certainly appealing and productive, we can’t help but heed the tornado warning. Many positive thinking gurus out there tend to think that being optimistic entails defying the storm. In reality, in some cases optimism is simply being able and willing to jump into a ditch and hang on until it’s all over. The potential risk is not worth the possible reward for the realist.

I don’t doubt many out there will object to my conflation of weather to mental or spiritual obstacles. Yet why? If the issue is an unpredictable and virtually non-trackable obstacle that stands in our way of success, one that moves and pivots seemingly at random and cuts in front of us no matter what we do, is a tornado not a fair metaphor? Why is it so hard to believe that we can be trapped, paralyzed, or otherwise cornered by unpredictable and wily intangibles just as much as by a funnel cloud?

There are, in other words, things that we cannot explain, nor control that hold us back. And sometimes they hold us back so much that the best we can do is remain still. Sure a few foolish “heroes” will go out with their camera and their pick up trucks, follow the twister, and nearly get killed or maimed snapping the next shot that will be featured on television. But in the end you have to wonder if such people are doing it in order to make themselves or people around them safer, or just so they can say, “hey tornado, I lived, so fuck you,” and wait for the applause.

Pessimists are not the way they are because they think it is funny. They have their reasons. Yes it can be over done, and if you are jumping into a ditch in the middle of a sunny day, you probably need to chill. But the reasons for being a pessimist are usually valid on some level. Maybe they are not your reasons, and maybe you, as an eternal optimist have no storm activity you need to worry about with your clear skies and light breezes, but that doesn’t mean there are not indications of funnel cloud activity in the lives of others.

But maybe, just maybe you are actually standing out at midnight in the middle of a field totally oblivious to any tornado warnings that have been issued, because you woke up this morning convinced that you can conquer anything. Maybe you need a realist to wake you up and say, “You dumb ass, go find a basement before you get killed.”

My positive thinking has never stopped a storm beyond my control. Has yours? (Photo courtesy of the NSSL.)


  1. I'm so glad you posted about this. I tend to be viewed as an optimist because I have an impenetrable “I can do this” attitude – but I'm not, by nature, a positive thinker when it comes to stuff other than my own abilities. I'm a worry wort like whoa.

    Though my form of positive thinking (the “I can”, “I will”, “I deserve” stuff) has offset my negative thinking (worrying) when it comes to proverbial storms.

    I assume the worst will happen but have an unwavering confidence that I will get through whatever impending doom I'm freaking out about. So, even though my positive thinking as never stopped the threat or reality of a storm, it has stopped me from letting said fear into the driver's seat – making decisions due to the worry.

    Does that make sense outside of my head? I'm not sure. Ha.

  2. It very much makes sense outside of your head. That you feel the fear of the storm, even enough to not be so dumb as to run right into it, but you also cannot and do not allow yourself to be paralyzed by that fear when it comes time to decide what to do next. Right?

    How do you go about making that decision for yourself about when the storm is really over?

  3. Your summary was dead on!

    I generally just feel it out. I'll feel like I can finally breathe easy. When faced with life-storms, I can feel myself go into fight (as opposed to flight) mode – I'll be more focused, a tad bit physically tense, and I kick it into warp speed with all tasks. Once things calm down, my body tends to realize it before more my mind.

  4. I have no idea why my original post came through from “girl bleeds green”, or if this one will too… but it's really Megan here. 🙂

  5. I like your honesty about “feeling it out”. I think a lot of people would have this grand precise formula for determining one thing or the other, but you are frank about it. You don't always know, but have to struggle sometimes to get the answer. I really appreciate people who can be that honest about themselves.

  6. I think, in general, people grasp for the formulas to either a) make them feel as if they're in control in the midst of crisis situations or b) make their “feel it out” moments sound legit – since they're often a negative stigma with “feeling” anything these days.

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