“The Positive Thinking Problem”
Drew Rozell, Ph.D. partners with a select number of dynamic individuals, groups, and progressive companies who wish to harness the power of Radical Responsibility to create better outcomes.
“This stuff works”
Fall foliage from the High Peaks. Shot from Giant Mt.
Welcome, my friend!
Good to connect with you again.
Lots to share here, so please take a moment to strap in…
It’s autumn here in the northeastern United States and between the leaves, playoff baseball, and the perfect sleeping weather, I am basking in my favorite season.
This month’s feature, The Positive Thinking Problem will take a few minutes to read, but I am really happy with the way this piece turned out. I certainly feel strongly about the subject.
I hope you feel the same way after reading it.
Thanks for your support and your time.
P.S. If you like this, please share it with someone. Or leave a comment.
THE POSITIVE THINKING PROBLEM
The idea that we create our lives through the power of our thoughts has been thoroughly vetted. In fact, this message has been delivered for centuries by the world’s most influential spiritual teachers (Jesus and Buddha), scientists (Einstein), psychologists (Carl Jung), and philosophers (Ralph Waldo Emerson).
Whether you want to hit a baseball, improve your health, or find a mate, there’s a mountain of evidence supporting the direct link between the thoughts you choose and the outcome of your experience.
As both accessibility to information and personal desire to know have increased, more people are awakening to the power of their thoughts. However, as when any idea sinks its roots into popular culture, this rise in popularity sometimes evokes resistance from some people.
These days, most of the articles on positive thinking focus on discrediting the power of positive thinking, dismissing the technique as New Age mantra, the cyclic popularity of which allows charlatans to funnel money from gullible seekers.
In reading some of the rejections of positive thinking, the most damning line of criticism seems to be that positive thinking does not work. As evidence, these authors describe how their wishes do not come true. They go on to remind you how your wishes really don’t come true either.
After all, if thinking positively worked, wouldn’t we all be wealthy and live fabulous lives, instead of scraping by and posting “TGIF” every week on our Facebook update?
On the surface, this argument makes sense. After all, you’re a positive person, right? You think good thoughts, and gosh darn it, people like you. So why do you never seem to breakthrough to another level of success? It’s a fair question.
So what’s the answer then? What’s the real problem with positive thinking?
The real problem is not with the power of positive thinking at all.
The real problem—and I mean this in the best way—is that you are delusional.
The real problem is that your self-perception of the thoughts you are choosing is distorted. You’ve not taken on the responsibility for carefully and consciously choosing the thoughts you offer to the world.
Allow me to elaborate by sharing my experience of bumping into an old friend, Murphy, the other day. After a few minutes of catching up, he offered this:
“Drew, I gotta tell you. I always like what you write, but I think there’s got to more to what we create than positive thinking and the law of attraction stuff. I mean, you know me. I’m a really positive person, but man, my life is as hard as ever.”
I nodded silently, but inside I was bursting to show him that the thought he had just chosen to share with me about his life was anything but positive. And while his thought might reflect the truth of his experience (I have no doubt his life DOES feel hard), Murphy did not understand that by giving this unwanted story more of his attention by sharing it with me, he would only collect more and more real world evidence of how hard life is.
In short, the gap between Murphy’s belief about the degree to which he thinks positive thoughts and his practice of choosing positive thoughts is vast. Grand Canyon-like.
I’d known Murphy for more than 20 years and we were no longer close for a simple reason: I found him to be among the most negative and draining people I knew. To be clear, Murph is not a jerk or a mean-spirited man. If I had to characterize him, I’d say he was well-meaning, but clueless as to the energy he projects to the world.
His biggest challenge was the one we all face: himself. He was a walking ball of negativity and likely the last person in his life to be aware of this fact.
The real problem with positive thinking is that we all have a bit of Murphy in us; we are all poor at seeing ourselves clearly. When it comes to evaluating ourselves, we tend to see ourselves in a more favorable light than an objective one.
For example, studies to done to measure this tendency have shown that when comparing ourselves to others, we overestimate everything from our popularity to our intelligence level. One study that asked people to rate their driving ability reported that nearly 80% rated themselves as being an above average driver.
I’m out of the research business, but I would bet heavily that if you designed a study on people’s self-perceptions of their positivity, the numbers would be grossly inflated compared to an objective analysis the thoughts they offered. And the law of positive thinking operates with the cold, predictable efficiency of a computer program. There is no right or wrong, no good or bad results (these are human judgments). There are only predictable outcomes based on whatever input the program receives.
It’s a simple law: The energy that you project (expressed through the thoughts you choose and the feelings those thoughts activate within yourself) determines the energy that you draw back into your life. Like energy draws like energy. A simple, but unyielding law.
However, when things do not go our way, it’s much more likely that we will blame someone or something outside ourselves, rather than pausing and choosing to look inward for the true source of the problem. Sticking with the computer analogy, when I tinker with my websites, it’s not usual to end up with some error on the page. I’ve gotten so frustrated that I’ve found myself pounding on my computer keys, angry that THIS STUPID THING WON’T WORK!
That rarely fixes the problem. The computer software merely follows lines of code. The output on the screen is just the sterile output of whatever code has been entered — a simple, but unyielding law.
Through the years, I’ve noticed that the anger I direct at my machine or the creative cursing I lob at my software has yet to take me a millimeter closer to a resolution of any problems I’ve experienced. Resolution only follows when I choose to accept that the error lies within me, the user. This decision allows me to look in the right place (the code) to eventually leads to the problem getting solved.
Finally, practicing the power of positive thinking does not equate to walking around being happy all the time. Because life is designed to have contrasting energies—the dark and the light, the yin and the yang—the expectation that life is a bowl of cherries is a flawed premise.
Positive thinking is not about attempting to control every outcome or event that occurs in your life. You cannot. However, when we come face to face with the events of life, it’s helpful to envision yourself as coming to a fork in the road—no matter the challenges you meet in life, you are given the power to choose your response to these events. One path is the old, well-worn habit of reacting with doubt, anger, fear or in other ways that do not feel pleasing to you.
The other fork is the road less traveled (and yes, it’s always there, but you need to look for it). Choosing this route requires you take on the practice of coaxing your thoughts in a more positive direction. You’ll know you’ve taken this path when the thoughts you choose lead you to you begin to feel better at a visceral level. This decision feels good to me. A pleasing choice to the soul. Simple.
Make no doubt about it, choosing the positive road is not as easy as it sounds. In fact, it requires you to take radical responsibility for your life. Being radically responsible means that you choose to own how you think and feel in any moment of your life. You enter the practice of choosing to move away from the old habits of blaming, complaining, and looking outside yourself for the sources of your problems.
Instead, living in a Radically Responsible way, you accept that whatever you manifest in your life is a perfect reflection of the energy you are projecting. To resolve the problems you experience, look inward, and begin the practice of choosing authentic, better-feeling thoughts.
In the face of a lifetime of conditioning that teaches us to complain, blame, and to be afraid, taking on the task of reprogramming your thoughts in a positive direction is a formidable challenge; it requires constant desire, awareness, and commitment to practice. It’s not for the lazy. It’s not for the meek.
Because it’s a challenge, most people will not choose to live this way. And while that’s fine, it does not make the principle of positive thinking any less sound.
To my way of thinking, this is the best news. Right now, you have the most powerful tool in the universe at your disposal, a tool powerful enough to create worlds (literally).
Pick it up. Play with it. The more you practice choosing the best thought/reaction, the better you will get at guiding your thoughts in a positive direction. The better you get, the better your whole life will feel.
At that point, the real problem with positive thinking will be that you did not commit to it sooner.
What are you REALLY capable of?
Chances are excellent you’ll never discover it on your own. It’s just the way things work…
I went rock climbing for the first time the other week with a new friend, Jeff. Jeff had all the gear and more important, all the experience. I just followed his lead and kept my focus on finding my next grip or toehold.
By saying YES to the opportunity to expand my horizons and taking full advantage of my guide, I did done something new and learned a few things about myself.
Life is meant to be exhilarating.
(Or not. But it’s way more fun to evolve.)
View from the top. More pix from this trip here.
My clients are individuals who understand the impact and value of becoming Radically Responsible for their lives and who are ready to upgrade every aspect of their lives.
If you’re ready to become an expert in The Art of Living Well, I invite you to schedule an initial session with me.
I bet you’ll be glad you did.
Lynx… Get it? Lynx? Anyone… ? 🙂
If you’ve not checked the blog in a while, here are some highlights from the past few months…
* A Book, A Movie, and an Album*
- A Book: Just finished Abraham-Hicks’ The Vortex. I’ve read all their books, liked them all. For me, this one is their best. Learn about your relationships and understand why you attract what you attract.
- A Movie: Man on Wire. Documentary I found inspiring (caught it on PBS). Description: On August 7th 1974, a young Frenchman named Philippe Petit stepped out on a wire illegally rigged between New York’s twin towers, then the world’s tallest buildings. After nearly an hour dancing on the wire, he was arrested, taken for psychological evaluation, and brought to jail before he was finally released.
- An Album: Was reading how Pearl Jam self-released their new album, Backspacer through Target stores and asked my wife to pick up “the new Pearl Jam” album on her trip to the store. She came home with a new Pearl Jam disc, but it was the new re-master of their seminal album, Ten. The album brings me back to my junior year in college when my friend Rick made me buy the then-obscure album in the tiny local record store. We rocked out all semester long… and the re-master sounds awesome.
Roaring Brook Falls in the fall. Near Lake Placid, NY.
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ISSN: #1530-3101 Library Of Congress, Washington D.C., USA © Copyright 2009 by Drew Rozell, Ph.D. – All Rights Reserved