Why positive thinking can be a bad-good thing for you
You been working all day and begin to find yourself in somewhat of a “funk”, so you decide to take a trip online into your favorite social network, with the hopes of cheering yourself up with a funny video or a maybe a cute little kitty pic. While you’re out there, you may just find yourself bumping into one of those “positive thinkers” who never seems to be in a bad mood and you wonder to yourself how they can be so “chipper” and how you wish you were like that.
Or do you really? If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably asked yourself what kind of good pharmaceutical drugs that person is on…am I right?
In this day and age “positive thinking” is so entrenched in society that if you go against the happy thought junkies and rock the boat they’re floating in, you may find others attacking you as if you lit an American flag on fire or something. Many of these folks swear by the process of never having a negative thought, ever, and many may have helped themselves by doing that. Either way, there is no concrete evidence to support the claim positive thinking works and in some cases it can be harmful to the person involved. When it comes to the little things in life and business, there is a better way…
Positive Thinking implies that you can never have a “negative” thought
As the ol’ adage goes “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade”. This time-honored wisdom is very seldom argued, but there are some very serious problems with this type of perceived “logic”, you don’t have to go very deep to truly understand it. One who is in constant denial of human nature and the purpose of emotions and is trying not to have any negative thoughts at all, tends to become a “Yes”, or at least an overly agreeable person, and this can work against an individual in very destructive ways. Real life doesn’t work that way.
Let’s decide first of all, was it your destiny to be given a handful of lemons, or was that simply your initial gut response to the situation at hand? Are lemons all that bad to begin with? Why do we always have to first assume that it’s not good to have a lemon? This only leads us to believe that we will always have to fix whatever it is that we receive that feels bad to us in the beginning. Should we really be torturing ourselves like this?
As humans, it seems we are always quick to categorize matters we encounter as either “good” or “bad”. Psychologists will tell you that we tend to label things as “bad” 3 to 10 times more often than we label things as “good”. And when we start labeling things that happen to us in this way, more often than not, odds are that we will leave with an experience that meets our expectations. These are the kind of times that we believe we need positive thinking. We have been given something bad (a real lemon), and we think we’d better get our shit together and make some lemonade out of it real fast, so that our take-away from this is a “good” thing.
Whew! What a waste of energy!
Think back through your history, do you remember times you thought were bad that turned out to be good; maybe even unimaginably so? Like that time you missed your bus that gave you the opportunity to wait at the bus stop with a WWII vet, in awe of their heroic tales of tragedy and homecomings? Perhaps you lost a decent job, only to discover that the exact job you always wanted opened up just a few days later, leaving you to realize had you not been fired, you would have never been given the opportunity to enjoy the job of your dreams? You will likely remember many such events.
Let’s take this to the next level. Suppose that no matter what kind of bad experience you have next, you simply don’t attach a “bad thing” label to it. No ifs, ands or buts about it. This may seem contradictory or downright laughable to you now. For instance, how can you NOT place a bad thing label onto a divorce? A foreclosure, perhaps? Bankruptcy? These are such terrible tragedies and horrible things to have to deal with, right? Or are they? Is it remotely possible that you’ve been conditioned to think this way? Ergo you experience them in the form you pre-programmed yourself to believe them to be?
Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning” is the narration of a well-to-do girl of privilege who was thoroughly grateful after being held inside a concentration camp. The simple fact is she was able to make a connection with her spiritual self that she never been in tune with before. It was observations of this kind that led Viktor to his life’s work, to establish why, when people are faced with such trauma or extreme adversity, some grow stronger while others wither away into dust.
The Common Thread
Those who rise to such occasions never label what they go through as bad or dwell and lament over it. They make the decision to survey the ground in front of them and proceed to build a road through it. When life is viewed from this perspective, a slimy bog is not a bad thing. It’s just an obstacle that needs to be relocated, mitigated or worked around on the final plans. Mountains suddenly become molehills.
In the end, what this shows us is that we don’t require positive thinking if we don’t label things as good or bad. All the stress comes from attempting to tackle a ‘bad thing’ by first making into something it’s not. The experience one usually has to struggle with (making something good out of something bad) to achieve the desired result simply goes away.
Dr. Srikumar Rao (1) once stated in his article in Psychology Today: “…this is a huge pebble in the positive thinking shoe.” Saying things like: “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.” Basically you tell yourself something’s bad, then you try to relieve yourself by thinking you can make it “less bad”, but there is a subplot going on in your head that’s also telling you, “You’re just playing stupid games with yourself”.
Some people have the ability to win at this subconscious game of cat and mouse, most other don’t. Those who can’t work out this mode of thinking on their own are devastated and left feeling as if they tried “so hard” and yet still, they failed. This is when ‘positive thinking’ can sometimes harm a person.
Can you really go through life and not label what happens as good or bad?
Sure, why not? You certainly will have to train yourself to do it. You’ve been conditioned to follow a certain mode of thinking, but you can recondition yourself in the same way. It’s not an easy task, nor does it happen overnight, but it is possible. This is the type of REAL ‘positive thinking’ that isn’t performed or often taught by those that call themselves positive thinkers or life coaches!
For instance, let’s just say your car breaks down. You’re going to have to come up with the money to pay a mechanic to fix it. You’re going to need to work some extra hours or sell something you own to pay off the new debt, so it doesn’t affect your other financial responsibilities. Oh the agony! How will you ever make it to work if your car is broken? Who’s going to get the kid to school in the morning? What will you have to do to make it through the day? Who? What? How? You don’t have to put this load on your shoulders, the only reason you do is because you were never told that you didn’t have to.
I am telling you, don’t accept that unfortunate burden. Your job will be there, school will deal with the absense (I’m sure your child will!), and the car will get fixed. You may even discover some unforeseen blessings attached to the outcome. Maybe you’ll have some quality time to spend with your child, or now you can finish that task at home that you’ve been putting off, you may even have time left in the day to make some real, fresh-squeezed lemonade and be able to sit back to enjoy it!
On the positive side, negatively speaking…
Don’t label what happens to you as bad. Just keep moving, life happens quickly. That way you won’t need positive thinking and much of the stress in your life will simply disappear. Simple as that.
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1. Srikumar Rao, PhD. is the author of Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated, and Successful — No Matter What (Published by McGraw-Hill). He conceived “Creativity and Personal Mastery,” the pioneering course that was among the most popular and highest rated at many of the world’s top business schools. It remains the only such course to have its own alumni association. His work has been covered by major media including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, Time, Fortune, BusinessWeek, the London Times, the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph. CNN, PBS, and Voice of America, and dozens of radio and TV stations have interviewed him.