The Negative side of Positive Thinking

in life •  last year

Positive thinking is so deeply entrenched in our minds in today’s time that it is the “be all” remedy for any setbacks or trouble in our life. Many claim to have been helped by it and millions swear the efficacy of it. But then, it may not be really as effective a tool as it is envisaged to be. On the contrary it could be harmful too.

The other day, after posting a couple of blogs where in I put some real hard work only to see a very Luke warm response from the steemit community and I was feeling quite low. That happens with all of us. When an outcome, in return to our effort does not meet our expectation, we feel pretty disheartened. And then we follow a set of routine that we hope to put us on the path to success. That is to “Think Positive” and hope the problems will go away.

So to achieve our goals in life, we are said that all we have to do is to visualize it with positive intent and it shall materialize, this thought process or life lesson or a simple philosophy has been popular since a few decades now. There have been a number of books written in this regard, that went on to top the best sellers chart. I have a few books myself in my book collection, such as “power of positive thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale, “Think and grow rich” by Napoleon hill and “The magic of thinking big” by David Schwartz to name a few.

I have read the above books and as many more books on visualizing with positive intent, sticking small cards with positive comments all over my refrigerator to my car dashboard to my work table and what not. Then has this really helped me live more meaning and fulfilling life? Not exactly. Then could I propose that this philosophy or thought process might not hold water?

According to Osho, an Indian mystic, guru and spiritual teacher, “The philosophy of positive thinking means being untruthful or being dishonest with one self, seeing certain thing and yet denying what is seen, meaning deceiving oneself and others and this particularly appeals to mediocre people”.

Negative is as much a part of life as positive. Without negative, the positive cannot exist. They are 2 faces of the same coin. One cannot exist in the absence of the other. The Yin and yang (concept of Taoism in Chinese philosophy) where Yin is the passive, negative force and Yang is the active, positive force also puts forth the opposite principles in nature. In this philosophy, Yin and Yang are opposite but complementary, interdependent and interconnected. It is a duality as well as complementary forces like shadow cannot exist without light, good cannot exist without bad, Positive cannot exist without negative. In such a duality, how fair it is to ....

Coming back to Positive Thinking, it would be apt to tell a story about Napoleon Hill, the author of the best selling self help book, “Think and Grow rich”. This book saw its first publication in 1937 and since then has never been out of print. The book has sold over 10 million copies and is regarded as one of the best selling self help book of all times. Let’s look at Napoleon Hill’s background a bit now. In an attempt to make a living while writing this epic self help book, Napoleon floated over 30 new ventures, all of them doomed, his most inspired and visualized scheme “intra wall Institute” that sold correspondence courses to prison inmates was a big failure. Napoleon who inspired millions of people to think and grow rich lived in financial insecurity his whole life. His financial security came in his 60’s mostly due to the success of his book and all the while he lectured on success without tasting any financial success himself.

His personal relationship was no better. He never went on a honeymoon as he had no money (he went on honeymoon 9 years after marriage), pawned her engagement ring, borrowed from her and struggled all through his working life without as much as a success, In 1925, aged 42, he was broke and had finally hit the bottom and aspired for an ordinary job. His book came out when he was 54 years old and after a few years in his 60s he finally achieved financial security. When he died in 1970 at the age of 87, his net worth was just a paltry $1 million (paltry for his stature as author of one of the highest sold book on success). So it was not the positive thinking that made him rich but the millions of people who bought his book and made that contribution to him.

There is this interesting story that transpired between Napoleon Hill and Henry Ford. When Napoleon’s book was published, he used to stand at bookstores to peddle his book. And it so happened that one day, Ford, in his latest model car went into a book store to buy a book. Napoleon, who was present at the bookstore seeing Ford, smelled an opportunity to sell his book and approached Ford with his book. He struck a conversation with Henry Ford saying that “A great book has been published and it is a sure path to success”. Henry Ford asked Napoleon if he is the author of the book to which Napoleon said “Yes”. Napoleon continued that the book is a piece of art and one of the greatest ever written on success. Henry Ford without touching the book asked Napoleon if he had come to the bookstore in his own car or taken the local transport. Napoleon replied that he came by local transport, to which Henry Ford replied “I am Henry Ford and that is my private car out there and you who have written a book on “Think & grow rich” but you don’t even own a car. I have grown rich without thinking and challenged Napoleon to come to him when once he becomes rich. Napoleon never ever met Henry Ford again and compared to Henry Ford, Napoleon never reached anyway closer to him on financial success.

Conscious Mind Vs Sub conscious mind

The conscious mind and the sub conscious mind are interdependent. While the conscious mind is the creative one as it engages with the surroundings and can conjure up the “positive thoughts”, the subconscious mind is the repository of stimulus- response tapes derived from instincts and learned experiences. The subconscious mind is strictly habitual it will play the same behavioural responses to life’s signal over and over again. Further the subconscious mind is a million times more powerful in neurological processing abilities than the conscious mind. So if the desire of the conscious mind conflict with the program of the subconscious mind, which mind will win out? You can repeat the positive affirmation that you are lovable over and over or that your cancer will shrink. As a child you heard over and over that you are worthless and sickly those messages programmed in your subconscious mind will undermine your best conscious efforts to change your life. Simple examples are the New Year’s resolutions that do not even last past January?

So superfluous affirmations or visualization of positive thoughts in conscious mind does have no effect if the powerful subconscious mind is programmed with negative thoughts of failure or setbacks. Subconscious mind wins hands down.

If life hands over you the Lemons, make lemonade

This is the most common phrase that we have heard when someone fails in his endeavour. If life hands over you the lemons, make lemonade. But then the question remains. Why are Lemons considered wrong or bad? Or in other words why is a situation considered as wrong or bad instead of a life lesson? Further was the said failure merely an initial / unthinking response to a perfectly normal situation?. Humans by nature tend to label a situation or happening “bad” or “wrong” 3-10 times more often than labelling it “good” or “right”. So the natural instinct to a given situation is to think of the bad repercussions or problems first. Now for a change let us assume that No matter what happens in our life, we will not stick to the “bad” label in our mind. No matter what happens in your life. Your car broke down while on the way to office or you got fired from your job or you lost your much awaited contract or your mortgage company sends you notice of foreclosure? Of course these are terrible things to happen.

But then think for a moment. We humans are conditioned to think of these happenings are most unfortunate tragedies and tend to really experience them as such. If you never label something as bad in the first place, you never need positive thinking at all to rectify it and all the stress associated with it and the experiencing it till such time you decide how to salvage the situation by some positive thinking?

This is one of the big draw back in positive thinking. First you think it is bad, then you want to make it less bad while deep in your mind you very well know that the situation may not be salvable and that you are kidding yourself. But still nevertheless you go ahead with the positive thinking. A few might succeed. But for majority there is no difference whatsoever. And these people get more devastated that the model they tried did not work for them. That is how positive thinking can undermine one’s confidence and harm more than not doing it at all.

So if not positive thinking, then what?

One way is to go through life without labelling the happenings around us as good or bad or right or wrong. The mind can be trained to do this. The way now our mind is conditioned to think “ Bad” first in every challenge that it comes across, in the same way our mind can be conditioned to see happenings objectively without applying any “good” or “bad” label to it..

For example, let us assume that you fell down and broke your hand. You go to the doctor and get it fixed. That is fine. But the accompanying baggages are the thoughts and negativity that comes with it “why did this thing happen to me?” “I must have done something bad to others and this is my payback” “I don’t deserve this” So this is the baggage that I am speaking about. Do not label an happening as “bad”. It is useless burden. Once you begin to take life and the happening for what it is and try it deal with it objectively without any labels, the need for positive thinking does not arise.
Negative emotions are not bad per-se. When people accept and address negative emotions towards some incident or happening in their life or say chronic illness, those emotions help them adjust their compass / behaviour towards more balanced and appropriate response to life. Actually those negative emotions help their psychological growth. People who think that emotions can be influenced easily and changeable (positive thinking) are more likely to blame themselves for the nugatory feeling they feel than the people whose emotions are anchored and aware that they are out of their control..

I think there is more negativity in the people now than it was ever earlier in history. In spite of more and more people adopting positive thinking in their lives, reading a myriad of the self help books which implicitly say that they are at fault for not being happy, the depression rates have been on the rise in USA and elsewhere.
The new thinking “Positive Psychology” is gaining momentum in these troubling times.

Image credit: Source
One such program known as Penn Resilience program run by US army covers aspects such as developing coping skills and behaviours, ensure education about and also the preventive measures that encourage self-awareness, deter high risk behaviours, and support healthy alternatives that produce positive outcomes. Positive Psychology has also been adopted as a management tool by many fortune 500 companies in recent years.

So the transition from positive thinking to Positive Psychology is the new approach towards combating the negative thinking amongst the people.

Image credits: Pixabay.

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Good article and very thorough. I for one appreciate the negative things because there is something good that come out of it if you trust things happen for a reason. I Upvoted and followed.

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@jeff747 thank you very much. I shall check out your blogs.

Good work, @topdog. Positive thinking helps, but needs to be put in the right context to avoid frustration. It is important to stay focused and persistent. On the importance of persistence, the book "The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives" by writer Leonard Mlodinow is a must read. It brings evidence of how poorly we evaluate probabilities in everyday issues and the effect of this on expectations.
The subconscious tends to be negative in the face of challenges, and so keep positive thinking helps!

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@br-real. thanks for your comment. I shall read the book "The drunkard's walk: How randomness rules our lives" once I read it I shall share my thoughts with you. I agree with your view completely. :)..
just updating.. ordered the book on Amazon. will receive in a couple of days... looks like an amazing read.

Extremely nice post @topdog - impressed! Upvoted you as well.

BTW, in my view, positive thinking always (at least 99%) helps to be optimistic. I am also a kind of person who tries to be neutral for both happy moments and sad moments. Keep posting good stuff. Thanks

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@onlyviral, thank you for your kind words.

Upvoted. I'll be resteeming this now :)

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@misschatty. thank you very much.

This positive thinking is no better than wishful thinking. I have a friend that used to spend hours listening to some sort of positive ideas on a tape. She just sat there, doing actually nothing to improve her life. Unsurprisingly, nothing changed...

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@ladyrebecca, exactly !!! you are absolutely right there. in fact it could have harmed her in the long run as she eventually gets disillusioned with "positive thinking" as well as it seems to be ineffective in bringing anything positive. Just wishful thinking... a double whammy there ...

" we are said that all we have to do is to visualize it with positive intent and it shall materialize"

I wrote a whole post about this recently, because I totally agree with you:

https://steemit.com/psychology/@lexiconical/the-secret-is-not-a-secret-but-a-scam-the-secret-is-you-law-of-attraction-is-nonsense-quit-your-magical-thinking

All this positive thinking bunk is just nonsense to get people to adjust their own attitudes. Tricking your own brain with lies to feel more positive so you act more positive.

I prefer to actually do it myself. Logically. Without magical thinking that makes me potentially diagnostic of mental illness.

Followed for more.

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@lexiconical. thank you for your kind words. Going by your blog, I believe we both are on the same page here. Good to meet you my friend. I am following you for more too.

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@doneshshrestha, thanks for your kind words. I shall check your blog as well.

Yes you are right. There are also negative parts. But our lives are much better if we think positively.

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@amedeo, I appreciate your comment. I agree that our lives are much better when we think positively. true there. life is lived on faith, trust, hope and aspiration. being positive always helps.

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Glad that you are agree with me