What’s the Problem with Positive Thinking?

A Woman Looking Off Into the Distance With Positive Expectation

Well, there is nothing wrong with positive thinking, itself. The real issue lies with the absurd misconceptions some folks have (and lately quite a few bloggers) about what practicing a positive outlook means. These in turn lead to failed implementations, and blow-back, and more downer blogs on positive thinking.

True positivity has nothing to do with covering over negativity. It has nothing to do with ignoring relationship difficulties or employee issues to achieve a false harmony. It has nothing to do with pasting affirmations over disturbing thoughts or memories (which can do more harm than good). It has nothing to do with suppressing anger or other “non-evolved” (what a joke) emotions that are a natural part of the most evolved person and which can prove quite helpful when recognized for what they are and used appropriately.

Positive thinking is about acknowledging and understanding what we experience as negative, and then choosing a focus that brings our perception to the value in any situation. Whether what troubles us is a perceived flaw in ourselves, or behavior of another, or the weather, or whatever, a habit of positive thinking means that we will incrementally work our way to seeing what good is there, or what good we can make of it.

Positive thinking is about seeing the new thought and action choices that can come from experiencing something we don’t want, and that will bring us closer to those things we do want, and those experiences we will value.

Positive thinking is about focusing on the value in ourselves, so that acting from that value, we can pursue our desires and cherished aspirations, make more valuable choices, and take valuable appropriate action. This last might include risking some conflict to stand up for what we believe in, even while we are seeing the value of the diversity that is behind our perception of risk.

Positive thinking is about seeing the value in others—as Benjamin Zander suggests, giving everyone we meet an “A” right off. See and expect value in others, and you’ll most often realize it. When you don’t, time to see the value of that experience, too.

Positive thinking is about looking for different perspectives, finding one we like, and then using it to enhance our search for meaning, value, joy.

Positive thinking then, is not at all about avoidance, but is instead an invitation to bring our will, and our eagerness to learn and grow, to take control of our focus, and to master our gift of perception.

This is more difficult to do with some individuals and events than others (in a quantum sense, even objects are events), but it is not as difficult as most folks make it out to be. In fact, I will use an example of my own experience to illustrate how it can work, and then I will introduce a woman who writes with hope and positive focus, from Sendiai, Japan—from the middle of what most of us consider an awful crises.

My Windy Bicycle Ride

  • 6:30 AM: Beautiful out there! (Checks temp, but not wind.)
  • 6:31 AM: “I think I’ll hope on the Cannondale and take a 10-mile ride.”
  • 6:45 AM: All stretched, bike shoes on, head out to the garage to take the bike off the rack: “Hmpf, a little windy…”
  • 7:00 AM: After the first ¼-mile: “%&$, this wind is tough!”
  • 7:05 AM: “Shouldn’t have gone out. Damned wind. This is not fun.”
  • 7:10 AM: After a particularly strong gust: “Maybe I could catch a break here!” (Out loud, to the wind.)
  • 7:10:01 AM: “I’m a wellness advocate, inspirational speaker, and a teacher, for heaven’s sake. Shame on me. I can do better than that.”
  • 7:10:02 AM: “Maybe I can give myself a break. I’ll drop a gear and work with the wind a bit” (That thought feels better.)
  • 7:10:04 AM: “Huh, I remember a company that made a parachute-shaped jacket, so that cyclists could get a better work out when there is no wind. Some athletes would PAY for this wind. I am getting a great workout!” (Feeling even better.)
  • 7:10:10 AM: “Aircraft take off into the wind. It’s the literally the attitude (angle) of the plane into the wind that makes it take off. Great analogy, Mark!” (Feeling even better after self-congratulation, and insight provided by windy experience—value.)
  • 7:10:20 AM: Noticing the beautiful landscape of a nearby home on my route: “Huh… going a little more slowly (while getting a great workout) has it’s benefits… never even noticed that before… beautiful. “(Feeling even better, now.)
  • 7:16:01 AM: Listening to the wind through the trees as I ride: “Man it is just beautiful out here, and the wind is actually adding to my experience now…” (Wow, what a change from earlier in the ride!)

I hope this little experience of mine illustrates how real positive thinking works. All I did was shift my focus to REAL value in the situation, and I did it in small, incremental, steps. I didn’t make up something that wasn’t so, or in one fell swoop affirm that I could beat the wind—or turn around. I simply saw the wind for the value it added to my experience. At the end of the ride, I was able to look back and truly appreciate my experience.

And now for more powerful, inspiring example. The link below is to the Blog of Anne Thomas, who’s letter from Sendai, Japan has gone viral (and quite a few blogs have failed to attribute it properly). It’s full of hope, and also instructional in the beauty and power of true, positive perspective. I link to Ann’s site rather than copy her post here, so that those who wish to contribute to the relief fund may do so through Anne’s site.

The Link

How do you practice positive thinking and/or positivity? Is it a factor in your day-to-day life? Please don’t hesitate to comment…


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