The words “think positive” fall somewhere on the spectrum between “things that do nothing to solve the actual problem” and “now you’re just insulting my intelligence.”
I mean, really, thank you for looking up from your phone to provide such deep insight.
Why do these “perk up!” type statements piss us off so much?
Because positive thinking doesn’t work. If it did, we’d respond to our wiser brethren with a, “Gee whiz, you’re right, Sparky!” as we skipped over to the sunny side of the street, our problems disappearing into the wind.
I’m not a pessimist. Churchill was right when he said, “I myself am an optimist, it does not seem to be much use being anything else.” Plus, relentless optimism is a fun way to piss people off. (See above).
My problem isn’t positivity. It’s the Law of Attraction.
First, let me offer a disclaimer in anticipation of a barrage of ironically angry emails. (The Law of Attraction does work! My unicorn just arrived yesterday!) Yes, the Law of Attraction can serve us. Any method that teaches the mind to think more positively enables us to see opportunities we might have missed otherwise.
All true. But when we practice the Law of Attraction, two problems arise:
- We begin living in the future instead of accepting the present. The idea, “I should be thinking more positively” is built on an underlying belief that things should be better than they are. If it weren’t, the desire to be more optimistic wouldn’t exist. As a result, we end up repeatedly telling ourselves that we’re not good enough, that we should be further along than we are, that we need more than we have.
- If we are harboring a veiled negative belief about ourselves, repeating a positive mantra can make us feel even more fraudulent.
“I am successful” becomes “I know I’m never going to get there.”
“I will be in an awesome relationship” becomes “I might as well start knitting sweaters for my cats.”
We don’t recognize these discrepancies at first. We’re too busy manifesting our asses off. But sooner or later, when things don’t go our way, when the dream doesn’t appear at our doorstep, that underlying belief rears its ugly head. Now we failed at both getting what we wanted and thinking positively.
It must be us! We’re failures!
We’ve perpetuated the negative belief we were trying to eliminate in the first place and no amount of willing, wishing, and hoping is going to get us out of it.
So we’re screwed.
Three things have to happen in order for positive thinking to work in our favor:
- Accepting where we are. List out your “shoulds” (I should be in better shape/more successful, etc., etc.) and then write out as many reasons why you really shouldn’t be further along than you are. Maybe you’ve been prioritizing work over six-pack abs, so in actuality, you shouldn’t be in better shape. Maybe you haven’t had the finances to back your business, so you shouldn’t be doing ten thousand sales a month. It doesn’t matter what it is, the point is that it’s okay. Only once we accept where we are can we begin to move forward.
- Reframe events as they happen in order to rewire neural circuitry for the positive. The brain needs three positive thoughts to outweigh one negative to compensate for negativity bias. While it may seem forced at first, you’ll start to reframe naturally after a few weeks.
- Figure out your mental baggage. Life’s too long to be carrying all that sh*t around. Whether it’s meditation, journaling, or talking it out, once you let go, you can let the positivity in.
And if that doesn’t work, just perk up.
 Bernstein, Andrew J., The Myth of Stress: Where Stress Really Comes From and How to Live a Happier and Healthier Life. New York: Atria Books, p. 168.
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