Positive thinking is something that is embedded into life these days in our Western World, that suggesting it has a downside gets met with a similar response to having a go at elderly people or saying something unkind about Princess Diana.
So many of my peers and colleagues swear by positive thinking and many people I encounter tell me they have benefited greatly from it. However, there is research and experience that suggests it is not all that effective and can actually be quite harmful in some cases. Some might suggest that there are better ways to get the benefits that positive thinking allegedly gives.
In the same vein as people who say they are a ‘glass half full’ person due to positive thinking, comes that sentence that is the epitomy of positive thinking; “when life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.” Both of these notions are seeming cornerstones of positive thinking and no-one seems to even consider questioning them, surely they are drenched in all things good, no?
I’m going to dispute this notion for a moment… Did fate really actually hand you a lemon or was this merely your initial, unthinking response? Second, is a lemon really a bad thing, something that you would rather not have, but now that you do have it you will somehow salvage something by making lemonade? Finally, it is quite stressful to be handed a lemon until such time as you figure out how to make lemonade. Do you really have to go through this process?
What is it with this black and white thinking, on or off, win or lose, success or failure? Throughout our lives, we tend to categorise our life events as “good” or “bad”. And most of us tend to put many more things in the “bad” category than the “good” category. And when we say something is bad, the odds grow overwhelming that we experience it as such. And so in to the rescue comes the much needed positive thinking to save the day. We have been given something bad, a real lemon, and we better scramble and make some lemonade out of it and salvage something out of this “bad” situation.
Yawn, snooze, how tiresome!
Now think back on your own life. Can you recall instances of something that you initially thought was a bad thing that turned out to be not so bad after all or perhaps even a spectacularly good thing? Like the time you just missed a bus and had to wait thirty minutes for another one and it was a pain except for the fact that your work colleague also missed it so you talked at the bus stop for the first time and a valued friendship developed. You can think back through your life and notice many instances, like when the job you desperately wanted but didn’t get initially saddened you, then you found a much better one came along and you would not have been able to accept it if it were not for the earlier rejection.
Now I’m going to suggest something carzy, what the heck, lets go nuts…. Lets propose that, no matter what happens to you, you do not stick a bad thing label on it. No matter what. You are made redundant… Your mortgage lender sends you a respossesion letter . . . Your husband or wife files for divorce . . . Or any other catastrophy. I know, this seems off the wall and verging on laughable. Of course these are not cool experiences and terrible things to happen to any of us…. Or are they?
Is it possible, just possible, that you have been conditioned to think of these happenings as unspeakable tragedies and hence experience them as such?
In his seminal work Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl tells the story of the girl from a privileged background who was grateful to be in a concentration camp because she was able to connect with a spiritual side of her that she never knew existed and was previously undiscovered. Observations like this led Frankl into his life’s work of determining why, when faced with extreme adversity, some persons positively flourish while others disintegrate.
Those that truly triumph in life, very rarely label or categorise what they go through as bad and then cry about it over and over. They simply take it as a given. Almost as if they were a civil engineer surveying the landscape through which a road is to be built. In this view, a swamp is not a bad thing. It is merely something that has to be addressed in the construction plan.
And if you never label something as bad, then you don’t need positive thinking and all of the stress associated with getting something bad and experiencing it as such until you figure out how to make lemonade out of it…
This is a painful notion for positive thinkers…. “This is bad. Really bad. It’s a lemon. But somehow I will make some lemonade out of it and then perhaps it won’t be so bad.” First you think its bad and then you think you will somehow make it less bad and there is a strong undercurrent that you are playing games and fooling yourself. Some people succeed. Many don’t. And those who don’t are devastated that the model they were trying so hard to build caved in on them. That’s why positive thinking can sometimes be harmful.
Can you actually go through life without labeling what happens to you as good or bad? Sure you can. You have to train yourself to do this. You have been conditioned to think of things as bad or good. You can de-condition yourself. It is neither easy nor fast but it is possible.
Don’t label what happens to you as bad. Then you won’t need positive thinking and much of the stress in your life will simply disappear. In a puff of smoke! Just like magic 😉
Have a fabulous weekend, I have my first weekend off in 4 weeks and the sun plans to shine, yay!
Does this mean positive thinking is trying to make good of something?
I would agree that positive thinking could have the potential to blur the vision, muffle the hearing and numb the senses, in a sense however innocent the intention of the positive thinker 🙂
I saw Total Wipeout at the weekend, you know that water based obstacle course? Anyhow, there was a woman on the program who was portrayed as a ‘black belt in positive thinking’. She came last in the compettition and all along was talking aloud to herself “your doing so well, keep going” etc, etc.
My point being she probably thought she was doing well, however for someone to go through a load of situations with such an attitude would fall short of themselves, by that I mean not realising what they did well and what they could improve and how – hense why we have the ‘well formed outcomes’ in Hypnotherapy and NLP.
Another question maybe to consider the following a former mentor said to me regarding positive thinking:
“If you have two halves of a rabbit what do you have? some would say a whole rabbit. I say you have a dead rabbit!”
Thanks Andy, I enjoyed that quote at the end 🙂