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the negative side of positive thinking

The uncomfortable truth about positive thinking

Chances are that you ended up on this page because you are searching for positive thinking in your life. Apparently negative thoughts or feelings are plaguing you and you want to get rid of them.

There is quite a taboo on negative emotions such as fear and stress.
When these feelings arise, we generally try to calm them down or heal them as quickly as possible.
One of the tools we use is positive thinking.
And even though that sounds very innocent and even very positive, there is this uncomfortable truth about our “happy-happy-joy-joy” mentality.

What is positive thinking?

“The practice or result of concentrating one’s mind affirmatively on the good and constructive aspects of a matter so as to eliminate negative or destructive attitudes and emotions.”

oxforddictionaries.com

positive thinking old style eliminates aal negative emotions

Positive thinking 'old style'

We often associate positive thinking with happiness, cheerfulness and carefree living. It often aims at, as you can see in the definition above: “eliminating negative emotions”.

There is this idea that it is your personal choice to think negatively about something and that you can therefore decide at any time to exchange your negative thought for a positive one.

And the uncomfortable truth is that, in reality, it is not that simple.

Negative thoughts go hand in hand with negative emotions. Psychologists, researchers and therapists don’t agree on whether the thought evokes the emotion or the other way around, but it does not matter so much in this case. 

There is no negative thought that does not have a negative emotion attached to it. Negative emotions are therefore a decisive factor in our degree of happiness.

The ban on negative emotions

In essence though, there are no negative or positive emotions. It is your personal judgement about an emotion that determines whether it feels pleasant or painful for you. This judgment is often deeply rooted in your youth and upbringing and you don’t just put that aside.

Suppose that as a child your parents told you over and over again that you shouldn’t be so stupid. And that your classmates would laugh at you when you gave the wrong answer again. Then you, as an adult, will undoubtedly not like to feel stupid or be called stupid.

Then, of course, you can say to yourself: “I’m not stupid at all, I’m a university graduate so it doesn’t make sense to feel stupid”. 

But this probably won’t take away the pain. That positive thought may soothe the painful feeling for a while, but the ban on “feeling stupid” remains. And the next time you feel stupid, it will probably hurt just as much. Or even more.

Positive thinking, the uncomfortable truth.

Positive thinking in this limited sense of the word cannot compete with emotional resilience. Emotional resilience is aimed at accepting, paying attention to and then letting go of any negative emotion. It assumes that emotions are indicators that call you to a certain behavior. 

Every emotion has such a guiding quality in it. By suppressing a negative emotion you suppress its quality. The result is that in certain situations you act in the wrong way. The uncomfortable truth is that fighting negative emotions is counterproductive.

stop fighting negative emotions

The 6 stages to emotional resilience in your pocket?

Mental contrasting

Susan David describes in her book Emotional Agility a study in which a number of women who participated in a slimming course were asked to imagine that they looked perfectly slender after the course. A second group was asked to imagine situations in which they might not be able to keep to the prescribed diet.

A year later it turned out that the “positive thinking” women had lost less weight than the women who had thought about the process in a more realistic way.

being realistic about obstacles leads to better results

Unlimited fantasies about the future are wonderful and even necessary to live a valuable life. At the same time, however, it is equally necessary to think realistically about possible obstacles and failures.
This is called ‘mental contrast’.

By fantasizing about your future and at the same time facing your current reality, you connect the two. In this way they form a concrete, achievable path to your new future.

Positive thinking is saying "YES" to everything that presents itself...

And actually, that’s really positive thinking… acknowledging that things can go wrong. If thinking positively means saying yes, then it’s a true medicine. Then it also means saying yes to your fear, your stress and your stupidity.

Emotional resilience will prove to be a necessary quality to survive in our increasingly complex society. Those who continue to play down the countless crises with feel-good slogans and ‘we’re lucky to have such a good life’ are reminiscent of positive thinking ‘old style’.

Soon, depression is expected to be the number one public health disease. We’d better be prepared for it… Not by burying our heads in the sand, and not by doom and gloom.

But by developing characteristics that help us to deal flexibly with our feelings of depression. Striving for emotional resilience and flexibility. That is positive thinking “new style”.

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