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.”)
Cultivating A Positive Mindset
Mindset refers to the general attitudes of people and the way they think about things. It is what informs whatever decisions they make (or don’t make). It controls what they say and do. Their mindset is also the lens they use when evaluating the issues and events happening around them.
Mindset affects the way a person looks at things and issues. Let me share an experience as an illustration.
I once had a conversation with a colleague about salaries and working conditions. He bewailed the fact that a truck driver in his country earns more than what he is earning in a year as an expat teacher. After listening to his litany, I told him to pause for a while and dig deeper into his comparison and consider other factors like the number of required work hours and the physical demands for the job. When computing the number of hours, I reminded him that we as teachers are not actually working during winter and summer breaks but we get paid in full by the university as stipulated in our contracts. That’s a total of four months when we practically do almost nothing related to work but get paid. On the other hand, that truck driver needs to grind it out winter, spring, summer, and fall to earn every single penny he is earning.
He realized at the end that his pay per hour is actually higher than the truck driver and his working conditions are much better.
A positive mindset allows a person to have a broad perspective enabling them to see the bigger picture. That’s what my colleague failed to see – the bigger picture. Big-picture thinking is one of the components of what Dr. John Maxwell referred to as “good thinking.” Dr. Maxwell explained that successful people reached the pinnacle of success because they cultivated “big-picture thinking.” We can choose to do the same.
Factors related to family, school, and environment are considered determinants of the kind of mindset that people possess. How such elements affect them as they grow older could be gleaned from the way they behave, think, and talk.
Mindset could be affected by the culture people have grown into and it could either be positive or negative. Studies done on mindset have established a strong correlation between mindset and achievement and happiness. Needless to say that people with a positive mindset are more successful and live a stress-free life. They have either a flourishing business or a rewarding career (or both) and their personal lives are amazing.
A positive mindset can be cultivated if anyone wants to. But it’s easier said than done. It would take a very strong commitment and determination for it to happen. It will entail hard work. The rewards people with a positive mindset are reaping are not being handed to them in a silver platter. Those are the fruits of the seeds of hard work they have sown.
Dr. Carol S. Dweck, a Stanford psychologist, made a comprehensive study of mindset. Dr. Dweck coined the words “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset.” She explained that “In a fixed mindset students [people] believe that their abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. In a growth mindset, students [people] understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence.”
We need to make a choice between having a “fixed mindset” or a “growth mindset.”
Learning is a lifelong process. We should never stop acquiring the knowledge, skills, attitude, and values we need.
We never cease to be students. But which kind of student are we – the one with a fixed mindset or with a growth mindset?”
As explained by Dr. Dweck, because people with a “fixed mindset” believe that intelligence and other human traits are static, they avoid challenges, give up easily, and see the exertion of extra efforts as fruitless and futile. Conversely, people with a “growth mindset” are convinced that human intelligence and other traits can be developed which would lead them to embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, and see effort as the path to mastery. People with a “fixed mindset” ignore useful negative feedback and feel threatened by the success of others while those with a “growth mindset” learn from criticism and find lessons and inspiration in the success of others.
It’s time to evaluate which of the two mindsets you possess. Whether you change it or not is a decision only you can make.
I have been trying to cultivate a positive mindset. It is an ongoing process and I am happy with the results. How I wish I have started doing this when I was younger.
My journey to changing my mindset for the better was not easy. It made me completely overhaul my way of thinking that was programmed by the environment I have grown into and the kind of education and experiences I had. It is equivalent to getting out of my comfort zone because I have to change the habits and routines that I got accustomed to. But it’s worth a try.
The Road To Self-Improvement: A Collection of Essays
I gathered in this part of my website the essays I have written about personal growth and development. I want to share the lessons and insights I learned from motivational speakers whose books (and videos on YouTube) have given me the blueprint on how best I could restructure my way of thinking so I could make better decisions in the different areas of my life.
I have been experiencing amazing changes in my life that I started regretting why didn’t I dig into these personal development stuffs when I was younger. I have heard a lot about “positive thinking” and related ideas before but I did not pay attention. But as the saying goes, “better late than never.”
I came to realize that “positive thinking” is but the first step in a person’s journey to a better self and a better life. It’s not the be-all-end-all of personal growth and development. But it all begins in setting a positive mindset. Positive actions should follow. People are in a better position to succeed when they break free from limiting beliefs and debilitating attitudes.
My goal in writing these essays and have them put together in this corner of my website is to help promote awareness on personal growth and development. I am not (yet) an expert in this field. I just want to share the little things I have learned so far and to say that I am so happy with the results I am getting.
Cultivating a Positive Mindset
Where Has Positive Thinking Brought Me?