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Category Archives: Dispositional Optimism

Where Has “Positive Thinking” Brought Me?

growth

“Positive thinking” as a concept is like a narrow street that seemingly leads to nowhere. When you embrace it and take the first few steps forward, it would make you feel like you’re not going anywhere.

Consider that normal. When you venture into the unknown and leave your comfort zone, it’s normal to feel iffy. It is your old negative mental programming taking control of your thought processes. As you take a few more steps forward, doubts would start to set in and you’ll be tempted to go back where you came from. That temptation to abandon the journey just beginning would become stronger when people around you start saying how crazy you are to even believe that “positive thinking” works. But should you succeed in conquering all the negative chatters and take the courage to just keep on walking you would soon hit the main road.

The main road that narrow street called “positive thinking” leads to is “personal growth and development.” That was what I personally discovered.

When I decided to dive deeper into “positive thinking,” I realized that it is but the tip of the iceberg. “Positive thinking” is not the main thing. “Personal growth and development” is.

My journey to “positive thinking” started with my accidental discovery of a “self-help” film. I stopped by a stall selling old (pirated) DVDs of old movies. The label (title) of the one of the DVDs – “The Secret” – caught my attention. It intrigued me. So, I picked it up thinking that it’s either a mystery-thriller or a sci-fi movie.

I described in full that encounter with “The Secret” in my essay entitled “Beyond Positive Thinking.”

It is that “self-help” film that got me into positive thinking. For me, anything that advocates positive change is worth my time and worth trying. I though I had nothing to lose but everything to gain when I decided to give it a try.

When I watched that film for the second time, I took off my “critic’s hat” and emptied my mind of all those philosophies that tried to filter all the information the film conveyed and was leading me to analysis paralysis. Anyway, all of those philosophies – all of those isms – which I previously learned were seemingly not leading me to what I want to be and what I want to achieve. Honestly, at that point in my life, I was not even so certain of what I really wanted to be and what I really wanted to achieve. That “self-help” film offered me an option, an opportunity to try another system of beliefs that might help me have clarity of purpose.

I really thought then that my PhD would transform me into the best version of myself. I was wrong.

So, I took a leap of faith and embraced “positive thinking.” I walked down that narrow street that seemingly led to nowhere. I struggled but succeeded in overcoming doubts, in shooting down skepticism, and in turning a deaf ear to the internal and external negative chatters.

And I don’t regret that decision I made.

Then I probed deeper. I read existing literature about “positive thinking” and watched lots of videos about it. That’s how I came to discover that it (“positive thinking”) is the narrow street that leads to the maid road called “personal growth and development.”

“Positive thinking” is the springboard to “personal growth and development.” The former is the key to unlocking the latter. I strongly believe that only when a person develops dispositional optimism, when that person expects good things to happen, and when that person hopes that he/she could be a better person and live a better life  that he/she would become open to the idea of undertaking the necessary steps to venture seriously into growing and developing further as a person.

When I reached the end of that narrow street of “positive thinking” and got to the main road of “personal growth and development,” I confirmed that indeed it (“positive thinking”) is just the beginning of the journey. The road ahead is long and winding. There’s much to be done. After the “thinking” comes the “doing.”

I discovered that in order to experience meaningful growth and development as a person, it would take more than “positive thinking.” There are other requirements aside from having a positive mindset. There are other things that ought to be done and these are what the gurus of “personal growth and development” commonly describe as the practices and habits that made extremely successful people who and what they are. These people became the best versions of themselves and had found the happiness, good health, and wealth they sought because of such practices and habits.

These practices and habits are actually very practical ones. They are not magical and out of this world stuffs. They are as follows: knowing your whys; embracing a solid belief system; goal setting; short and long-term planning; managing time effectively; developing self-discipline; practicing mindfulness; being purposive; becoming self-sufficient; and living a balanced life.

These are the things that Brendon Burchard, Tom Bilyeu, Jim Rohn, Wayne Dyer, Les Brown, Joe Dispenza, Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins, Simon Sinek, John Maxwell, Mel Robbins, and the like, recommend to people intending to maximize their potentials.

The above-mentioned experts in the field of “personal growth and development” pointed out also that extremely successful people have a common hobby – reading. They also practice meditation.

What I consider as the most significant among those practices or habits of people who reached the pinnacle of success in their fields of endeavors is “living a balanced life.”

“Balanced life” is a concept difficult to define definitively. It is so because people have different priorities and live different kinds of life.

But when I sifted through the works of advocates of “personal growth and development” I saw a common pattern about living a “balanced life” that made me understand what the concept is. And it is not rocket science.

Firstly – as people work hard to achieve what they want in life – money, degree, fame, and what have you – they should not disregard their health and relationships. Not disregarding health means eating the right food, getting enough rest, and exercising regularly. Not disregarding relationships means not forgetting that you have a family and friends needing your attention too.

Secondly (and lastly) – become a well-rounded person. Becoming a well-rounded person means bearing in mind that you are a physical, intellectual, emotional, and a social being (insert spiritual if you happen to believe in God). You should strive to develop in all these areas.

This is how far “positive thinking” brought me – to the discovery of these “personal growth and development” practices and habits. They seem to be simple, but believe me, they  are easier said than done – especially if you have a fixed mindset and you keep looking at life and the world using a negative perspective.

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On Positive Thinking  

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How should positive thinking be classified – a science or a philosophy (or both)? Calling it a science would be contentious since critics believe that positive thinking has no scientific credibility. What about philosophy? It could be, if we take into consideration the meaning of philosophy in casual speech. We usually use the term to refer to any set of beliefs, concepts,  and attitudes of a person or a particular group of people.

Positive thinking is unquestionably that – an attitude. It is a mental attitude that leads a person to expect good results. It is a system of belief that makes people set positive expectations in all their undertakings in life. It makes them hopeful for the future. The term is synonymous to optimism, hope and cheerfulness. The Collins dictionary focused more on optimism in its definition of positive thinking.

Let’s just say that positive thinking is an idea. Ideas can either be embraced or dismissed. Thus, it is understandable why some quarters are negative about positive thinking.

Positive thinking, with many journalists and academicians ridiculing it, may not be accepted to mainstream philosophy. At best it can remain attached to the field of psychology. It is not that this system of beliefs was not advocated by any of the great philosophers. Buddha’s philosophy is anchored on the idea that “changing one’s thoughts can change one’s reality.”. Perhaps nothing beats the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ in advancing positive thinking. The bible is replete with verses that foster hope and optimism through faith. The Christ Himself said “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20.)

Again, those who consider themselves as thinkers, especially if you connect the dots of positive thinking to faith in God, might ask for an empirical evidence, a scientific basis, to accept it as valid and true.

William James , himself a famous philosopher who experimented in mental healing, defends the right  to violate the principle of evidentialism in order to justify hypothesis venturing. Such allows anyone to assume believe in God [or anything] and prove its existence by what the belief brings to one’s life. How credible is William James? His work  has influenced intellectuals such as Émile Durkheim, W. E. B. Du Bois, Edmund Husserl, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Hilary Putnam, and Richard Rorty.

Questions surrounding positive thinking are philosophical, not scientific. Being so, they are said to be foundational and abstract in nature thus treated primarily through reflection and does not rely on experiment. But of course the academicians would not settle for anything less than the product of a scientific inquiry.

What remained as the strongest argument thrown against this idea is – no proof can be provided to prove that it works. The question is, “Can the critics themselves provide a solid evidence that it doesn’t work?” We could go on and say that burden of proof should be on the side of those who are saying that positive thinking is not true.

The usual criticism on books written about positive thinking is that they are full of anecdotes that are difficult to substantiate. On the contrary,  not all evidence provided by advocates of this belief system are anecdotal. There were studies conducted to somehow help in building for positive thinking a scientific foundation. Mark Guidi, for instance, identified five (5) scientific studies that prove the power of positive thinking.  In his article “How the Power of Positive Thinking Won Scientific Credibility”, Hans Villanueva, explained that in 2011, “hundreds of academic papers were published studying the health effects of good things to happen, which researchers call “dispositional optimism.”

But despite all the efforts to establish academic credibility for positive thinking, it will be difficult for this idea to gain acceptance. It is not easy to convince people to embrace this belief system especially with critics vigorously disputing it. Some even resort to “name calling” the advocates of positive thinking.

Others are seemingly even cashing in on their disagreement. They published books discrediting positive thinking. This system of belief may have not been embraced by many but it has become a good read and lot of authors have earned (been earning) a lot from their publications. So, by writing something against it, some authors are hoping to get attention.

There’s one author who presented what he calls as seven (7) biggest myths about positive thinking. Among other things, he said that positive thinkers ignore the world’s suffering.

Positive thinkers do not ignore suffering. They do not deny the existence of problems and conflicts in society. They do not disregard the daily struggles people face. They just want to approach them in a different manner… look at them using a different perspective. What is wrong with that?

Positive thinking  simply promotes a new way of approaching all difficulties and challenges in life. It presents an alternative viewpoint. There’s no harm in trying it. It’s not inimical to anyone’s well-being. There’s nothing to lose but everything to gain.

Positive thinking wants people to realize that any phenomena, natural or otherwise… or any of life issues, can be viewed in many angles. There’s a negative or a positive angle… which means things could either be good or bad. Positive thinking does not ignore the bad but rather if offers hope that things would be better if proper actions are taken.

Does that sound harmful? Is it bad to take into consideration what Helen Keller said – “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet”?

This system of belief is not passive. Positive thinkers know that they have to take action and the best part of it is that positive thinking requires people to inquire into the nature of their problems using multiple perspectives before deciding on what should be done.

One of the things Rene Descartes explained in “Passions of the Soul” was “the key task of a philosopher is to help people understand and control their passions – that is to become a little less anxious, status driven and scared.”  Isn’t this the one of the principles that positive thinking is advocating.

There are some questions that critics of positive thinking need to answer.

What system of belief can you offer as an alternative to positive thinking?

With the system of belief you have, are you happy and successful?

If not, try positive thinking. It might work for you.

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