I admit it, I’m a “positive” thinker, but I see so many comments about the downside of positive thinking I decided to do a little research to see what I may be missing. So over the past week, I slogged through a pile of studies, articles, and associated reader comments, and watched lectures and interviews on the pros and cons of positive thinking. As a result, I can now fully understand why some people really do hate the concept.
Positive thinking is utterly self-obsessed and makes us forget that we are in a world where, all too often, horrible things happen.
But hang on; I may not be going where you think because what I learned is the problem really isn’t positive thinking itself as much as it is a persistent misunderstanding about what it’s supposed to actually do for us.
Just Think Positive Thoughts – Everything Will Be Okay
I was working as a life and small business coach when the Secret first became popular and came across a LOT of people who had fallen into the trap of thinking that if they just stayed positive and believed hard enough, all their dreams would come true. Worse, if those dreams didn’t materialize, it was their fault because they simply hadn’t believed hard enough. But as many have learned the hard way, no matter how positive you may be, sometimes bad things happen to good people. You can think good thoughts all day long and still get rear-ended when you back out of your parking spot.
That doesn’t mean you failed Positive Thinking 101, it is just life!
Positive thinking isn’t about being happy 24/7, looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, denying your fears, masking your feelings or sticking your head in the sand and hoping that your problems will just go away. It’s about tackling life’s challenges with a positive outlook. There is a huge difference!
Many approach positive thinking as a form of bargaining in order to get what they want, but it doesn’t work that way. In fact, if you look at research on positive psychology the studies clearly advocate the value of being more “realistic” at times and learning from our experiences, particularly when it comes to problem-solving. It might help to consider positive thinking as a way of using your thoughts to help you muster the energy and confidence to move forward rather than becoming mired in feelings of hopelessness and negativity, which only serves to keep you trapped and discouraged.
Just because you have the right mindset and some measure of resilience, doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to experience occasional bumps in the road. It does mean that, regardless of the size or scope of the challenges you may be facing, you’re going to be better prepared to muster the strength, confidence, and courage to keep moving forward.
I often run into a similar misconception with my work with emotional resilience. There are those who believe that the point of doing the work to develop resilience is to experience fewer problems in life, and this simply isn’t true. Highly resilient people experience fear, uncertainty, and problems just like everyone else. The difference is they are able to quickly push through those moments of self-doubt and focus on what they need to do to get past the obstacles they are facing. They choose not to let their circumstances define them and believe that whatever happens (even if it means a new reality) they will be okay, and as a result, they often grow as a result of their experience.
Again, big difference!
Look there are plenty of compelling arguments in favor of positive thinking, optimism, pessimism, defensive pessimism, realistic thinking, and on and on. But no matter which camp you reside in here is the bottom line, we don’t always get to have a say about what happens to us in life, but we always (always) have control over how we choose to respond.
If you’re going through a difficult patch in your life or just having a really frustrating day and feel the need for a little quality “oh poor me” time or a good cry, that really is okay! But instead of looking for ways to justify your feelings OWN them and you’ll not only recover faster but you’ll find yourself with a greater sense of control over your life circumstances.
I see positive thinking not as a magic wand to keep the bad stuff away as we sit back and wait for good things to happen, but as a tool to help us remain focused on the things that really matter and open to possibilities for growth in all life’s challenges.
Positive thinking does work; you just have to know what it is (and isn’t) and how to really use it.