December 1, 2017

Is Positive Thinking Just a Bunch of BS?

Just think positive!

Ugh. No one wants to hear this. It’s usually what someone says when you’ve communicated some form of fear, doubt, or frustration and they don’t know what else to say. It sounds like good advice, but really it isn’t.​

If you’ve already decided something isn’t going to go well, then there’s little someone else can do for you. But unless you can tell the future, there’s a good chance your prediction isn’t any more useful than someone’s ‘think positive’ advice.

When faced with insecurity about an outcome, some believe that future-predicting a poor outcome is a more realistic approach. It also feels less crushing if the results are less than satisfactory.

Realism is important. For some 30 years, psychologist Carol S. Dweck has performed extensive research on mindset, and this body of research suggests that you can’t fake your positivity. It does you no good to ‘think positive’ or say everything will be fine if you secretly don’t believe that.

Dweck’s research also shows that how you choose to think can have a significant affect on your ability to succeed. A “fixed mindset,” where you establish definitives for outcomes and abilities, doesn’t allow for much of anything to shift in your favor. Certainly not by your doing.

So what can you do when the outcome of something is uncertain and you begin to feel insecure? Here are three ideas to get you past positive/negative thinking and onto a track toward success: 

Think Effectively

Forget thinking positively - think effectively. If you’re dealing with a challenge, what would be most useful to you immediately? In the short term? In the long term? Negative thoughts only form ideas about what you don’t want. Well if you don’t want something, why are you dwelling on it? Get your mind on something that can actually be useful. For example, if you’re feeling nervous, thinking about the symptoms you’re experiencing and dreading what’s to come certainly isn’t going to make you less nervous and it isn’t going to improve the outcome of the situation. And telling yourself that everything is going to be great isn’t going to help you feel less nervous either. So what would be most useful at that moment? Perhaps it would be something like focusing on the breath. Getting the breath under control can have a positive effect on the limbic system, which can in turn help you to become more settled.

Trade In Black and White for Exploration

Defining things in black and white terms like right/wrong, good/bad, succeed/fail, or win/lose sets you up for some pressure. You only have a 50/50 chance of things going your way, and those usually aren’t comfortable odds. When you don’t have good odds and you’re under pressure, there’s a good chance you’ll add hesitation to the mix. (This doesn’t seem to be getting better…)

Let go of the outcome and just see what you can do. When you allow yourself to do something in order to create an experience rather than to create a certain outcome, you may find yourself much more willing to give it a go. You might also find that you get much closer to the outcome you desired than you would have under that pressure.

Stop Limiting Your Potential

There are countless stories of people overcoming seemingly impossible obstacles or doing more than they ever imagined. When you decide that there’s a limit to your potential, you put a cap on what you can accomplish. There’s no reason to do this. Limiting your own potential doesn’t make anything more realistic; it just stops you from expanding your mind and your skills. Thankfully there are many who haven’t done this...otherwise we wouldn’t have pyramids, or bioengineering, or racing cars. We wouldn’t have new styles of music or dance or fashion. We wouldn’t have space shuttles or ways to communicate with people on the other side of the world. Limiting your potential doesn’t allow you to see a way out or a way beyond where you are.


What we’re looking at here is partly semantics. There’s nothing wrong with positive thinking, but there’s also nothing useful about it if you haven’t established an underlying belief system from which it stems. You get to choose the root of your beliefs, and those beliefs will lead to strings of thoughts and actions. Overall, it’s not about positive thinking, it’s about creating an internal environment that leads to continuous positive outcomes in almost any situation.

So is positive thinking just a bunch of BS? Well, I suppose it depends on where you’re coming from. 😉

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