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The Positive Thinking Problem

It's not what you think

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There's a problem with positive thinking...
There's a problem with positive thinking...

Positive thinking, the story goes, is the answer to life, love and everything. Learn to do it and your life will be transformed. Abundance will flow all around you like water from a tap and you can have as much of it as you can positively think of. Learn the trick and you can be whatever you want to be. Become a successful guru, or perhaps a social media influencer, and amass thousands of adoring acolytes. It must be true because all those who are selling courses on the subject say so!

Their own positive thought is that if they shout loud enough and long enough that they can teach you the secret of achieving your every desire, they will receive frequent donations from those eager to grab the shortcut to riches or whatever. But it’s not positive thinking that’s creating their success. It’s selling the dream that does it.

The biggest problem with all of this is that for the majority of people thinking positively is totally unnatural. The way we look at the world cannot be anything other than the inheritance of two-and-a-half million years of evolution – since the automatic thought processes of those ancient ancestors is what gave them the biggest success of all. Survival. They could not afford to spend time conditioning their thoughts to focus only on what they wanted. They lived in the real world with sabre-toothed tigers, wild boars, bears… and enemy tribes who might have created hidden pits for the unwary to fall into. And it was those who were aware of what might befall them if they were not careful who were most likely to survive, and who would have spread their genes more widely.

So, most of us have inherited the tendency to look for problems, to be aware of what might go wrong. This is exactly why the news media feature the problems in the world and why we pay such avid attention to doom and gloom, even though it may depress us. Although we are not aware of it, it’s the subconscious doing its job of seeking to ensure our survival by focussing on threat. It goes even deeper. Given two headlines, one about a catastrophe we cannot change, and one about something uplifting and joyous, most people, even the optimists amongst us, will find it easier to ignore the joyous one than the catastrophe. The reason, of course, is simple; a joyous event can never hurt us but a catastrophic one might. No matter that it’s about something we cannot change and may not even directly involve us – the subconscious knows nothing of that and functions in the way that kept our ancestors safe. Catastrophe might mean death. Joy doesn’t. No contest.

Of course, upbringing has something to do with the way we work as well. Some people are taught to think positively (not necessarily deliberately) while they are children. Others are taught negative or fearful thinking instead (not necessarily deliberately) and those are the ones who would benefit most from those self-help courses and books.

But there is a caveat. Just thinking positively on its own probably won’t achieve very much at all, if anything. You have to do something. And this is where things can get really interesting. We all know of people who seem to make success look easy. The optimists who have the bright ideas and somehow manage to bring them to fruition with hardly any real effort. The simple fact is that it’s never as easy as they make it look but they do something automatically that can so easily be learnt. So, here’s the recipe:

  1. Think vividly about what you want to happen and be specific. Not just ‘be a success’ but ‘be successful selling imported rugs on the internet’ for example. You have to know precisely what you are trying to achieve.
  2. Visualise really vividly why you want it and imagine vividly how your life will be when you get it.
  3. Write down every last idea that comes to you about it over the next few days or weeks – it’ll be your subconscious providing you with the work plan and also how to deal with anything that gets in the way of success. Don’t just think about it – you have to take action to encourage the subconscious to give you more.
  4. If doing (1) and (2) doesn’t produce (3) it’s not the right plan for you so start again with something different.

The only way that four-step plan might fail is if you give up before it works. Success is never as easy as some people make it look but it is available in some shape or form for anybody who truly wants it.

And that includes you!

©2020, Terence Watts

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