Category Archives: Self-Improvement

Dissecting Positive Thinking

“Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power.”

– William James

Some people say that positive thinking is nothing but a delusion. It is… to them. Yes, only to them. To those who think that positive thinking is just a fantasy, it is. What we think things are – they are. Our thinking shapes our truth. It is the brush we use to paint our reality. It doesn’t mean though that what we think about something is correct and is the absolute truth. The reality that our brush called thinking painted doesn’t apply to everyone.

To those who think positive thinking doesn’t work, it won’t. They’d better not try it because their efforts are deemed to fail. It’s unlikely though they would try, given the kind of mindset that they have.

Those who consider positive thinking as crap also think of people who embrace it as not attuned to reality. Reality? Whose version of reality have the  positive thinkers failed to tune in to? Have the idealists, realists, pragmatists, and existentialists (insert more “ists” here) already settled their disputes as regards the nature of reality? What I know is that the debates on whether reality is absolute or relative have not ended conclusively yet.

It’s so tempting to ask the question, “Is reality real?” Well, I just did but I will no longer explore that topic. Let me just share how Ran Zilca describes reality. He said, “Reality is not outside of you. It only exists in your mind, and you view it through your own unique lens, filtered by your senses, your memories, your mood, and your thoughts. A different person would look through his or her own perspective, and may describe a vastly different reality, as if the two of you are at not all in the same place and time.”

So, nobody should force on anyone the version of reality informed by his or her personal experiences and created by his or her own brand of thinking.

But is it really necessary to run the gamut from classical to contemporary philosophies to discuss and argue the essence of positive thinking? That is tantamount to analysis paralysis. Positive thinking is not an issue to be resolved but a decision to be made. Accept it if you think it works. If not – reject it.

There is no need to argue  the rightness and wrongness of positive thinking because it is not a moral issue? Positive thinking does not involve a difference of belief  but it is a matter of preference. There’s no moral dispute.

If for example, I chose to be optimistic, hopeful , and cheerful, I am not disagreeing with the pessimists.  I am merely exercising my right to decide which mindset I would bear. My decision to embrace positive thinking would not affect the pessimists. It would not harm them. Would it harm me? How in the world could a mental attitude that expects good results and successful future harm the person having it?

Critics better not say that positive thinking has no academic credibility, that no empirical evidence could be provided to prove that it works. It is not true that the proponents of positive thinking have nothing but anecdotal evidence to prove that it works. The critics simply ignoring the latest findings in the field of brain science  and are not seeing how practices related to positive thinking, like meditation and mindfulness, have been gaining wide acceptance. There are lots of studies conducted to establish a scientific foundation for this idea.

In an article I wrote on positive thinking, I cited the works of Marc Guidi and Hans Villanueva as examples of studies that have been helping positive thinking develop academic credibility.

Evidence proving that positive thinking works are difficult to ignore unless the critics are intentionally turning a blind eye. A website called “The Pursuit of Happiness”  published an article entitled “Review of Key Studies on Mindfulness and Positive Thinking.” The said article is a list of links to several  studies conducted in the areas mentioned in the title (of the said article).

Simply type “studies on positive thinking” in any search engine and you’ll find a lot of articles and studies conducted about it.

Positive thinking is more than the “Law of Attraction” – the basic idea of the controversial 2006 documentary film “The Secret.” The principle “like attracts like” is not the be-all and end-all of positive thinking.  The former is only one of the many ideas associated with the latter.

One strategy that advocates of positive thinking suggest is “fake it till you make it.” The critics call it absurd. But what if it works… the way a placebo drug does. Let people try  anything that would get them out of a funk. Anyway, the said strategy is only one of the many strategies available for those who want to try positive thinking. If it doesn’t work – abandon it and try other available methods. Anyway, there’s nobody who really knows it works or not. There’s no harm if one tries it. Remember that Alfred Adler, the Austrian medical doctor and psychotherapist who founded the school of Individual Psychology, developed a therapeutic technique that he called “acting as if,” a strategy that gave his clients an opportunity to practice alternatives to dysfunctional behaviors.

The one thing that is difficult for me to comprehend sometimes is why some motivational speakers are discrediting positive thinking. The only reason I could think is probably they are trying to sell another self-improvement method and the only way they could get the attention they need is to say something negative about positive thinking.

The more we really try to dissect the essence of positive thinking using all the isms of intelligent people as lens  the fuzzier it becomes. It is but a simple concept.

In Psychology they simply call it dispositional optimism.

Let’s simplify it further in a way that even the modest of minds could understand. Let’s call it hope.

It is as simple as  this – Positive thinking is expecting that good things, rather than bad things, will happen… that success is attainable. Positive thinking is always trying until you get (and you become) what you want. It is a refusal to have limiting beliefs. It is deciding to choose only the positives in the different frames of perspectives.

Don’t get me wrong though. Yes, I have asserted (a few paragraphs back) that positive thinking is a simple concept. But making it work is difficult.

Positive thinking has been misconstrued as just that – thinking. It is not. It is not as simple as you close your eyes, take a deep breath, think about the things you want – money, good health, good relationship, peace of mind and what have you – think you have them, as hard as you could then when you open your eyes you’ll have them in front of you served hot in a silver platter. NO! It doesn’t work that way. That is not positive thinking but rather wishful thinking.

Positive thinking is just a springboard. Nothing happens if a person just thinks and doesn’t act. Isn’t that common sense?

In  another article I wrote about positive thinking, I posited, “Positive thinking without positive action won’t work.” A plan of action is required – a plan of action that should be executed and vigorously pursued.

Thinking precedes action. People are (supposed to be) rational beings and whatever decisions they make, whatever course of action they take, they should think about it first. And which would be a better launching pad for the decisions we make and corresponding actions we take – a positive frame of mind or a negative one?

Believing that good  things are bound to happen and that success is attainable would lead  people to know their purpose in life. If people  have no limiting beliefs they will be prompted to define clearly their goals and frame a plan of action to attain them. The process will help them develop self-discipline and become self-sufficient, organized, and focused.

Positive thinking is not as simple as it seems. Let me reiterate that for it to work, a corresponding plan of action  is required. And that would entail a lot of hard work, dedication, and discipline.

Actually, the believers and critics of positive thinking are both correct. It works and it doesn’t. Confused? Consider this – “Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.” That’s from Henry Ford. And here’s from Virgil… “Possunt quia posse videntu” (“They can because they think they can.”)

On Fate and Destiny

control

“Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her. But once
they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how
to play the cards in order to win the game.”
– Voltaire

Much has been written about fate and destiny. Those that I read presented varied opinions on whether or not those two concepts are one and the same with some claiming they can be interchangeably used and some arguing that one should not be mistaken for the other. There are assertions that fate and destiny both refer to what the future holds for you and me. However, that future, when viewed using the lens of fate, is negative and is neutral  – not really positive as you might have expected I would say – when seen from the vantage point of destiny.

The common thing that the literature I explored on the said constructs  clearly articulated is that both fate and destiny are manifestations of the future of a person but the former  has  negative connotations while the latter is neither positive nor negative… and I will explain why I view it that way.

Fate is negative because it is a belief that everything that happens to us in the future have  been set in stone. We cannot change our fate no matter how hard we try. That is a scary proposition because it implies that we are not in control of  our life and what will happen to us in the future. There is nothing we could do but go with the flow, dance to the tune of whoever we believe designed our fate. That is we choose to believe it.

Conversely, destiny, as I said previously, is neutral because it presents a future that is yet to happen, a story not written yet. The reason I consider it neither positive nor negative is that things will go either way for you – good or bad – depending on the quality of the decisions you make in the different areas of your life.

I believe that I create my own destiny. I am writing my own story. You should do the same. You hold the pen,  you have control over how your story will turn out to be. You should not surrender that pen to other people and make them write that story for you because it may be written not the way you want. You should take control and try very hard to make the right decisions in order to ensure that the destiny you create for yourself is a great one.

Fate and destiny are both considered a predetermined course of events. However,  fate is viewed as inevitable which is controlled by an unseen force while destiny is  likened to clay in the hands of a potter – it can be shaped as desired. Would you let others hold the mold and put the clay and let them be the ones to shape your future?

You ought to decide whether to accept that the life you live is tied to threads controlled by the puppeteer called fate or is it a book filled with empty pages and you’re holding the pen  and have that opportunity  to fill those pages with stories of triumphs and happiness. You may decide whether you will be living a fate assigned to you or you will be controlling your own destiny.

Fatalism, the doctrine that events are fixed in advance so that human beings are powerless to change them (Merriam-Webster, n.d.), has influenced the way people live life since time immemorial.  The danger with subscribing  to the idea that events in our lives are determined by the hand that  fate dealt with us is it leads to a passive life. Fatalism reduces a person to merely a driftwood on the waves being tossed to and fro.

Believing that success and failure are preordained, people  may not be motivated to give their best shot in any endeavor or be afraid to take risks in any way. They would simply wait for their future to unfold for they are sold to the idea that they are not in control. They believe that fate would bring them to where they should be anyway and would make them what they are meant to be. For them, there is not much (or nothing) that they could do but wait until their wheel of fortune grinds to a halt and hope that they hit the “jackpot” (and not the “bankrupt”) when it does stop.

Fatalistic people also believe that nobody knows what the future holds. But those who use the lens of destiny when viewing the future, while they accept that they don’t have the ability  to predict the future and determine what will happen eventually,  there’s nothing that can prevent them from preparing for it.  They know that there are variables they can control to make sure that the future will unfold the way they want it to happen. This is what extremely successful people do. They plan. They execute that plan. They take control of their future. Some of them would even say that they create their own future.

Innate in us is the capability to chart our own destiny. Living our fate or shaping  our own future is a matter of choice. Instead of waiting passively for the future, we should take control by laying out a plan to ensure that it unfolds the way we want it to happen.

Remember what Albert Camus said – “Life is the sum of all our choices.” “Our life,” as Myles Munroe puts it, “is the sum total of all the decisions we make every day.” It is then incumbent upon you to make the right choices all the time. And the first decision you need to make is whether you view yourself as the master of your fate or its slave. Are you in control of your  future or the puppeteer called fate is?

The fatalistic attitude of people stems from the doctrine of predestination upheld by most of the world’s monotheistic religions (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism). The said doctrine maintains that whatever happens has already been determined by God. What if this means that God, omniscient and omnipresent that He is, only knows, and not controls, how our future unfolds based on the decisions we make as individuals? It doesn’t require a scientific mind to figure out that it doesn’t make sense that God gifted mankind with free will if after all He already preordained everything.

Buddhists and Hindus believe that our destiny as humans is determined by our actions, thoughts, and words. If it is so, it is important to be careful with what we do, think, and say. We take control of our future by making sure that our actions, thoughts, and words  will bring us to the pinnacle of success and not perdition.

Creating our own destiny does not mean denying that certain aspects and events in life are inevitable and unavoidable. For instance, we could not choose the body we want and  the physical attributes we desire. We also could not choose the parents we were born to. When finally we face the mirror and contend with our personal realities, we could only wish that we were born to parents who would endow us not only with wealth but with good genes.

Yes, we could not control the circumstances of our birth. There’s no way we could also prevent people around us from making bad decisions that might adversely affect us. However, we can choose how we shall respond to all the limitations and unfavorable conditions that we encounter. We could not afford to be held hostage by them. We should never play the role of a helpless victim. Voltaire puts it this way – “Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her. But once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.”

As Sartre (1956) argued, “Predetermined nature, facticity or essence do not control who or what we are; moreover, one is radically free to choose one’s destiny and it is one’s moral responsibility to do so.”

The moment we become capable of deciding for ourselves and aware of our capabilities was the moment we start charting our own destiny – that’s when we begin to be in control.  We should begin by embracing our limitations and recognizing which aspects of our life were not properly put in place by the people who were in charge of us when we were young and incapable of making decisions for ourselves. Limitations and unfavorable conditions can be overcome if one so desires. This May (1981)  articulated by saying, “Fate is that  which cannot be changed about a person, such as gender and race. Destiny is that which can be created from what was given.”

Aside from the circumstances of our birth, the only other thing we have no way of avoiding is death. We don’t know when it would come, except to those who are terminally ill and predicted by doctors to have only a certain time left to live. We’ll never know how long we live and how soon we breathe our last. This presents us with a choice – live our life to the fullest and make every moment count or live in fear trembling at the thought of the Moirae named Atropos coming any moment to cut our life thread.

References:

Fatalism. (n.d.). In merriam-webster.com. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fatalism.

Sartre, J. P. (1956). Being and nothingness. (H. Barnes, Trans.). New York: Washington Square Press.

May, R. (1981). Freedom and destiny. New York: W.W. Norton.

On Education and What People Achieve and Become

For education to be meaningful, it should be holistic having as its ultimate goal the development of the whole person. Holistic education helps an individual to grow and develop in all dimensions: emotional, psychological, creative, social, imaginative, physical, intuitive, and spiritual as well as intellectual.1 The focus is on the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and values not for the sake of getting the best scores in standardized tests but to prepare them to engage in the real world. Holistic educators seek to engage students in their real-life worlds to the greatest extent possible.2

Have the schools of the 21st century  been approaching education holistically? Do they deliver the kind of education that enables their students to achieve their full potential? Are children in schools trained merely to be a worker in their chosen fields or prepared to take on the multi-layered challenges they have to contend with in real life?

Answering the foregoing questions definitively is difficult. The ones in the best position to answer them are the graduates themselves. It is only after a few years after completing schooling that  people can really evaluate whether the education they receive is meaningful or otherwise.

In the process of evaluating the value of the education people received, the question they need to answer is – “What have they achieved and become through it?”

What education allows people to achieve determines only half the value (or even less) of that education. The other half (or even more) lies in what people become through it. It is not enough that people succeed in their chosen careers – either by being gainfully employed or by having a business of their own – to say that their education is meaningful.  What have they become as persons needs to be examined as well.

Psychologists have identified the different aspects of the personality as physical, emotional, social, moral/spiritual, and intellectual. It is all in these areas that the evaluation of the process of becoming should be anchored upon.

Tests such as Big Five Personality, HEXACO, Myers-Brigs Type Indicator, and Core Self-evaluation can be used to determine the dominant personality traits a person has. In China, they have their CPAI (Chinese Personality Assessment Inventory). These tests can somehow help people analyze what have they become (or what are they becoming).

There are only two ways to classify personality traits or characteristics – they are either positive or negative. The HEXACO model of personality structure, for instance, is very specific in describing people in the honesty-humility (H) dimension – sincere, honest, faithful, loyal, and modest/unassuming versus sly, deceitful, greedy, pretentious, hypocritical, boastful, and pompous.

What people become can only be labeled in two ways as well – good or bad. There are no gray areas. Ethics (as a branch of Philosophy) established clear guidelines in determining what is good and bad, right and wrong.

It is of paramount importance that education should not only help people prepare for a career but guide them into developing positive traits and the right attitudes. A child is not only a future employee or businessman. When eventually a child becomes an adult, there are other roles he/she has to play in society – as a citizen, as a community member, as a fellowman, as a neighbor, as a friend, as a family member. Life is not all about work. The workplace is only a small part of the world where the child lives.

Achieving is the process of succeeding in one’s chosen career or business – of enjoying the fruits of one’s labor. Becoming is the process of developing into the best person one is capable of turning into – physically, emotionally, socially, morally/spiritually, and intellectually. The person a child becomes would directly impact the way he/she would perform in the workplace, community, and society.

The process of achieving enables a person to have the means to earn a living.  But earning a living is different from living life. It is the process of becoming that empowers that person to live a life beyond work.

Education should be considered functional only if it succeeds in guiding the child in the processes of achieving and becoming.
_______________

* (1 & 2) Andrew P. Johnson, Ph.D. Minnesota State University, Mankato
andrew.johnson@mnsu.edu

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