In the world of self-help, positive thinking is lauded as one of the most motivational things you can do. "If you believe you can, you will!" and other such taglines appear on almost every cover of every semi-popular to outrageously-popular book or course you see on the shelves.
A short google search about positive thinking for instance, brought me up with various images of affirmations that people repeat everyday.
These may look like they are great to uplift your spirit and kickstart your motivation. They look promising for anyone into goal-setting. But, here's the newsflash: this kind of positive thinking is not as helpful as you would think.
Unfortunately that a huge mistake people do. They get up early in the morning and repeat statements like these.
Why? You may ask me, Hasn't research proved that optimism and positive thinking helps people succeed? Yes, you are absolutely right. If so, then how can positive thinking be a failure?
Positive Thinking – Clarifying certain aspects of it.
We need to be careful about positive thinking and make sure it is directed in the right way, says Dr. Heidi Halvorson.
Believing you can reach your goals is a critical part of your success. There's no doubt about it. But believing that you will succeed "easily without effort" will backfire.
You see the difference?
Believing you can succeed vs believing you can succeed "easily and effortlessly".
The latter is usually damaging to your goal. Constant engagement in positive thinking, visualizing will lead to fantasies.
Because success only comes with perseverance, patience, hardwork and discipline. Period. When you think success comes without obstacles, the thought may be positive but very unrealistic.
Life of a Successful Person
Look at the life of any successful person. Do you think they attained success easily and effortlessly ?
Let me share someone's life story with you. Here's the timeline of what happened to him.
- Lost his mother when he was 9
- Fired from his job when he was 23
- Became unsuccessful in two businesses during his 20s.
- Lost his fiancee when he was 26
- Had a complete nervous breakdown at 27
- Lost 8 different elections from 30 to 45
- Failed in an effort to become vice-president at 47;
- Lost a senatorial race at 49
- Became the President of United States in at the age of 52.
This man was Abraham Lincoln. Was this an easy success? He could have quit anytime, but he choose to persist.
Issac Newton's discovery of gravity didn't by a flash of insight! It took 22 years of unimaginable struggle and hard work.
Imagine what would have happened if any of the successful folks believed success is easy and effortless. They would have quit at their first setback.
Research actually confirms this!
Psychologist, Gabriele Oettingen has done extensive research on Positive thinking. One of her study features a group of obese women who were enrolled in a weight loss program.
Dr. Oettingen had asked half of the women to daily imagine themselves losing weight easily and effortlessly- Just the type of positive thinking that we've seen above.
The second group, however, were asked to imagine all possible obstacles they are likely to face"¦ like having a hard time resisting temptations, cheating on their diet plans, laziness to exercise etc.
The result were surprising.
Those women who engaged in positive thinking lost 26 pounds less than women who were realistic. That's because thinking in more practical terms will allow you to be more prepared for the overcoming your obstacles.
The study concluded that this type of positive thinking is not as supportive as people would think.
However, the solution is not to get rid of positivity either, says Dr. Oettengton.
Because when you think too much about the obstacles and setbacks, you quickly lose the drive and motivation to reach your goal. You start to doubt your abilities and underestimate yourself. Being optimistic is also important.
Striking a Delicate Balance
What Oettingen suggests is a balance of positive thinking and realistic thinking.
You should be positive and believe that you can reach your goals, but you should be realistic about the difficulties and obstacles you must overcome.
She calls this strategy "mental contrasting".
The strategy is to start imagining that how it feels when you are succeeding at your goal. and then switch over to reflecting on the possible the obstacles that will get in your way.
This technique helps you be prepared for the kind of challenges that come along your journey and focus on what you will need for the goal to succeed.
So here's how to can do it practically: you begin by imagining how it feels when you're succeeding at your goal. Yay, we're happy, we're doing good, achieving success!
And Then you switch gears – start imagining a possible obstacle that will get in your way.
After this, you switch back to positives, such as a way to overcome the obstacle, or achieving a milestone. Then you add another obstacle.
Basically, you keep it reality based. There will be good days, and there will be bad. It's not either/or, it's both together.
If you focus only on the negatives, you'll lose your drive. If you focus only on the positives, the first obstacle will run you over like a truck.
You have to balance belief of success with an acknowledgement that success only comes after a lot of hard work, perseverance, dedication, self-discipline.
Let's do a small example of mental contrasting.
Start by writing down your goal in a positive way: I am confident I will reach my ideal weight by the end of next year, and will have changed my habits to reflect a healthier lifestyle.
Now imagine a positive thing associated with this. You will be more confident and get back on your old jeans.
Next, imagine an obstacle: It is to being tempted by a double cheese pizza.
Imagine a positive next: You feel more beautiful and lively. You will spend less on health care.
Now think of an obstacle. You may feel lazy in the morning to exercise.
And so on"¦
You will do this roughly a couple of times.
And eventually, you'll get the hang of it. It is good to do this strategy once a week if you have big goals.
So remember, optimism is a very important trait. But make sure it is directed in the right way. Most importantly, be ready to work hard, persevere and face challenges.
The ball is in your court now.