There’s been a lot of controversy around the idea of positive thinking. Some people think it’s the be-all and end-all of creating the life you want. Others say it’s a load of bull, and a recipe for allowing your worst-case scenario to sneak up on you while you’re busy staring at the roses.
The truth is, whether positive thinking works or not depends on how you use it, and what you use alongside it.
I’m going to give you three examples of what it WILL do for you, what it WON’T do, and how to use it in a way that gets results:
1. Helps prevent you from sabotaging your own success
Positive thinking helps to prevent you from sabotaging your own success.
You see, your subconscious has two tendencies that can get in your way:
- It gets attached to the status quo.
- It hates to make a liar out of you.
When you think of yourself as being poor, alone, or anything else that doesn’t fit with the life you want, your subconscious mind takes that as an order. As a result, you reflexively act in ways that fit the reality in your head.
Here’s an example. For a long time, I thought of myself as a person who wasn’t wanted unless I was needed. That was just the way it was, or so it seemed. I didn’t realize just how much that mindset was creating my reality until I stopped to really look at my circle of friends. Two of them were strong, independent people I didn’t see very often. The third was much more dependent on me. Guess which one I worked the hardest to make time for? That’s right – the one who “needed” me. Because that was the identity I’d created for myself.
When you think about yourself and your life in a negative light, you act in a way that fits that self-image without even realizing it. So it’s important to visualize your life the way you want it to be, not the way it is. Picture it, and try to feel the emotions you’d experience if that life was real, until it feels real.
I’m not saying you should ignore your current reality. But if you want that reality to change, you need to train your brain to accept the changes you desire. Over time, your subconscious will begin to get used to the idea of living the life you want, not the one you want to get away from, and you’ll reflexively start to act in ways that contribute to creating that life.
What it will NOT do for you
Positive thinking will NOT create the life you want all by itself. You can’t just sit at home and think about your perfect career, perfect lifestyle, or perfect partner, and expect them to magically appear. You have to take action.
Apply for a job. Start a business. Get on a dating site. Get out of the house. Get help to deal with the baggage that fuels the negative thoughts in the first place. Whatever it is that you want to get, your first step is to get in action. Even if you don’t know all the steps you’ll need to take, take the ones you know about, and figure out the rest as you go.
2. Helps you see opportunities
It will help to make the positive outcomes you think about a self-fulfilling prophecy, by enabling you to see opportunities to make them happen. How? It’s like the Awareness Test on YouTube. In this test, there are two basketball teams, one dressed in white and one in black. You’re supposed to count how many passes the white team makes. BUT… did you see the moonwalking bear?
Chances are, the first time you watched the video, you were so busy watching the guys in white that you didn’t even notice the person in a bear costume dancing across the court. In the same way, when you’re looking for the positives and opportunities in a situation, that’s what you’ll see. You’ll still be aware of the obstacles, but they won’t seem insurmountable.
But if you’re constantly looking at the reasons why you can’t have what you want, the opportunities will pass right under your radar. And without them, your challenges will seem impossible to get past. So deal with problems as they arise, but put most of your focus on what you want, the reasons why it’s possible, and the actions you can take to make it happen.
What it will NOT do for you
Positive thinking does NOT prevent bad things from happening. Last I checked, natural disasters, drunk drivers and random accidents are still a thing, and nobody’s immune. Having said that, even in a bad situation, there’s always some good that can come from it – if that’s what you’re looking for and taking action for.
Some people are destroyed by loss, illness, career setbacks, and other such life crises. Others recover, and use the strength and knowledge they gained from the experience to improve their own lives and the lives of the people around them.
Which type you are isn’t luck of the draw. You get to choose, and it starts with your thoughts.
“Your destiny is to fulfill those things upon which you focus most intently. So choose to keep your focus on that which is truly magnificent, beautiful, uplifting and joyful. Your life is always moving toward something.” – Ralph Marston
3. Improves your physical and mental health
When used correctly, positive thinking improves your physical and mental health. Your emotions have a direct effect on your body and brain chemistry; if you don’t believe me, watch a scary movie and feel your heart pound. If you continuously dwell on the negative side of life, or stew over scenarios that upset you, you’re actually hurting yourself by causing your body to release chemicals that, if continuously released over a long period of time, will impair vital functions and make you sick.
You’re also keeping yourself in fight-or-flight mode, which inhibits digestion, increases blood pressure and blood sugar, and suppresses the immune system. So it’s important to avoid marinating your brain in the bad side of life, and give it something happy to work with as often as possible.
What it will NOT do for you
Positive thinking is NOT a “get out of dealing with bad stuff free” card. If something is legitimately upsetting you, ignoring it in the name of positive thinking won’t make the emotion go away. Instead, that feeling will continue to simmer in the background, either slowly eating away at you from just beneath the surface, or becoming undetectable for a while only to ambush you at a later date.
And if something illegitimately upsets you – for example, if your spouse makes a minor mistake and you get absolutely furious – that’s an even worse time to ignore the feeling. Disproportionate emotions are a sign that you’ve been hurt in the past, and that wound is coming to the surface to get your attention and be healed. Think of it as your soul filing a damage report.
At times like this, one thing you can do to balance positive thinking with a realistic response is to look at the good side of your pain. Instead of beating yourself up for your disproportionate reaction, or berating your partner for triggering it, you can say, “OK, it sucks that I’m getting this mad over something so small, but at least now I know that there’s a wound there and I have an opportunity to address it. And after I get this healed, I’ll be happier and more at peace.”
“You’re going to go through tough times – that’s life. But I say, ‘Nothing happens to you, it happens for you.’ See the positive in negative events.” – Joel Osteen
Positive thinking is a necessary tool for creating a great life. But, like all tools, it needs to be used at the right times, in the right ways, and for the right jobs. If you use a screwdriver the way you would use a stud finder, in order to do a chainsaw’s job, you can’t blame the screwdriver when it doesn’t work.
So make sure that you pair your positivity with action, don’t burden it with unrealistic expectations, and balance it with a willingness to address negative emotions and situations when they arise.