In this daily motivator, Ray Davis of The Affirmation Spot debunks the sun of a negative thought concept. Having a negative thought is a normal and natural human response to certain situations. Ray sets the record straight on this topic.
The optimist sees the half-full glass as ready to overflow. The pessimist waits for the water to evaporate and claims victory.
I came across an article titled “How to Harness the Positive Power of Negative Thinking” by Oliver Burkeman on UC Berkley’s Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life website. This is a well-conceived article promoting a book by the author that takes positive thinking to task. Burkeman’s book is apparently aimed at showing us how positive thinking is overrated and negative thinking is beneficial.
I left a comment about the article on the site, but I wanted to expand a bit on my response there. I encourage you to read the article before reading my response.
It is important to keep all things in balance – positive thinking included. Clearly the overzealous goal-setting and perfectionism, described by Burkeman, are a danger in our positive thinking. We can stress ourselves out in the constant pursuit for more, more, more. When we don’t get the desired results, we can feel disappointment and more negativity for a time. And certainly, there are people who cheat and cut corners to reach their goals. None of these, however, are indictments of positive thinking. They represent positive thinking misapplied.
Clearly, some of this go, go, go win, win, win mentality has been driven by some of the giants in personal development. Burkeman touts ancient Stoic and Buddhist philosophies as an answer. He points out that these schools of thought sought a less strenuous way to be happy without the constant pursuit of something. I agree.
However, Buddhism and Stoicism are both self-denying, and to some extent, world-denying philosophies. They were not designed to create achievement of goals in the world. Where I believe philosophies like that can contribute is in keeping us balanced and sane and as we make the necessary push required to “make things happen” in our world. If your goal is simple serenity, then by all means choose Buddhism or Stoicism. If you have goals and things you want to achieve in the world, these philosophies, while comforting you, are not the ticket.
When I read articles like this one, it reminds me why I work to move my own thinking in positive directions. For negativity is the human default setting and much easier to maintain than positivity. There is also this strain of thinking here that sees negative thinking as somehow more realistic than positive thinking. This line of reasoning goes that we live in a harsh world where disappointment is commonplace and we can protect ourselves by expecting little. The message is “play it safe”. Don’t risk your happiness, when it might end in disappointment.
For the dreamer, though, this will not do. He or she sees a bigger pie and possibility everywhere. He or she knows that avoiding defeat is not the same as victory.
When you risk, you do chance setback and disappointment. We live in a Universe where risk is the cost of reward. The dreamer accepts this as part of the game.
You don’t have to be stressed or narcissistic in the pursuit of those goals. You don’t have to harm others or think only of yourself. You see, real positive thinking wants not only the best for you, but the best for those around you and the best for the world. When it is selfish, it is misapplied. When it makes you tight and stressed about achieving a certain goal by a certain date, it is misapplied.
The real issue here boils down to this, assuming you don’t plan to retreat to a mountaintop and meditate yourself to Nirvana (a worthy goal in and of itself). You are going to need to act in the world to achieve your goals. When that action is driven by fear and negativity, success is rare. When it is driven by a positive outlook and the belief that something more, even though risky, is possible – success comes more often.
We can spend our lives steeling ourselves against disappointment and defining that aversion to setback as happiness. Or, we can spend our lives working to achieve our dreams and expanding our horizons about what happy means.
Follow your bliss. Experience your bliss. Become your bliss.
I believe in humanity. I believe in our potential. I believe our best days lie ahead!
A character in George Bernard Shaw’s play Back to Methuselah stated, “Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not?”
Robert F. Kennedy used a paraphrased version of the quote in his speeches. Kennedy said, “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”
Why not, indeed?
Why not is a very important question. It’s the question we should always ask ourselves when we believe something isn’t possible for us for our world.
The world has hundreds of negative premises on which it operates. They should and must be challenged by a good why not.
- We cannot have leaders who truly listen and respond to the will of the people who entrust them with their power. Governments have always been that way. We cannot expect them to change. Why not?
- We cannot be responsible stewards of the environment without massive government taxation and regulation to tell us how. Why not?
- We cannot coexist and build communities with people we disagree with religiously, politically, or economically on this planet. Why not?
- We cannot feed the people of this planet without worrying about who gets paid for it. Why not?
- We cannot do everything possible to see that every human being has an opportunity to pursue his or her talents to their full extent. Why not?
- We cannot have a successful economy that doesn’t involve war and conquest for ideology and resources. Humans have always done this. We can’t change it. Why not?
- A company must always have a bigger share of its market pie. It cannot be satisfied with merely employing thousands of people, keeping its customers happy, and making a healthy profit. Why not?
- We cannot have a debt-free money supply and a banking system that doesn’t practice usury. Why not?
Each and every one of these negative premises is to some extent damaging people in our world. They make it harder for people to live their lives and get the most possible out them. We need to be asking a BIG why not on these issues and many others.
Someone owes us an explanation as to why the positive opposites of these premises are not the path we need to be following. Some can be reversed through our own personal actions. Others will require the disentrenchment of the powerful interests that keep these premises afloat.
Let’s pull this back to the personal level. You have negative premises too. Negative premises that are holding you back from your goals. Fortunately, the only entrenched interest you have to overcome to address them is you. I know, not always as easy as it sounds.
You don’t have to go to all the trouble of listing your negative premises. You probably could not come up with all of them anyway. Simply become aware of them when they appear. They are going to sound like the following.
- I can’t pass the math test.
- I can’t go to college.
- I can’t get a better paying job.
- I can’t be the top salesperson.
- I can’t be the best baseball player.
- I can’t be world-class musician.
- I can’t be a good mother, father, grandmother, or grandfather.
I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.
Every time you hear an “I can’t” come into your mind, you are establishing a negative premise. Whenever you recognize your mind formulating a negative premise stop and challenge yourself. Demand to know why you cannot do whatever it is you want to do.
When you begin to put this into practice you will see that dreaming things that never were and asking why not is a powerful tool for success.
Be positive Be peaceful Be prosperous!
Ray Davis is the Founder of The Affirmation Spot and focuses on empowering minds to think positively, achieve goals, and live dreams.
He is the author of the Anunnaki Awakening series (2015). Book 1 – Revelation – is now available in paperback and on Kindle. This trilogy takes Ancient Aliens out of the past and into the present. An interstellar, interdimensional journey ensues with humanity’s future hanging in the balance.
What if you made all the difference in the world? Well, get comfortable with that because you do!”
I often receive emails from people looking for simple things they can do in their every day life to be more positive. Many of us spend unnecessary time and energy catastrophizing events that never happen. The key phrase, and I’ll bet you’ve said it or thought it at least once today, is what if.
Usually the scenario sounds something like this.
- I want to ask him or her out, but what if…
- I want to apply for that manager job, but what if…
- I want to take a nice vacation, but what if…
- I want to feel happy, but what if…
This is a classic example of self-talk. We have these thoughts all day long. A key to whether or not you’re achieving a positive mindset is what follows the what if. Play the scenario in your mind right now. What normally follows what if – something positive or something negative?
You might need a What If 180. That is, if your thoughts are negative, you might want to try consciously turning them 180 degrees to something positive.
You can change statements like:
“I want to apply for that manager job, but what if I don’t get it and I feel like a loser?”
“I want to apply for that manager job, and what if I’m exactly who they are looking for?”
Why assume the worst instead of the best? Is the worst any more likely – really? Of course not! As you catch yourself doing this and consciously doing a What If 180, you find that the positive becomes your default state of mind.
Once you have transformed the negative scenario into a positive scenario you can transform the question into an affirmation.
“I want to apply for that manager job and I AM exactly who they are looking for!”
One other tip. You notice I changed the word “but” to the word “and”. The word “but” has been shown to psychologically negate the previous phrase.
You’ve received one of those compliments. “You’re a great baksetball player, but…” “I love you, but….” Try to eliminate those buts from your self-talk too. When you use the but you’re really saying, “I want to feel happy, but I WON’T”.
Start your What If 180s today. Make a game of it. You’ll have a little laugh at your negative self-talk and more importantly you’ll change it.
Ray’s Daily Affirmation:
“Focus on the goal…When I set out to achieve something I eliminate all the negatives and naysayers and focus completely on my goal.”
(Download this mp3 affirmation or 100s of others at The Affirmation Spot)
Today I am going to share my own thoughts on this research and would invite mental health professionals, people in the coaching and self-development fields, or ordinary readers who have used affirmations to comment on the topic.
The researchers conducted a study based on the following premise from their paper’s abstract.
Positive self-statements are widely believed to boost mood and self-esteem, yet their effectiveness has not been demonstrated. We examined the contrary prediction that positive self-statements can be ineffective or even harmful. A survey study conﬁrmed that people often use positive self-statements and believe them to be effective.
Two experiments showed that among participants with low self-esteem, those who repeated a positive self-statement (‘‘I’m a lovable person’’) or who focused on how that statement was true felt worse than those who did not repeat the statement or who focused on how it was both true and not true.
Among participants with high self-esteem, those who repeated the statement or focused on how it was true felt better than those who did not, but to a limited degree. Repeating positive self-statements may beneﬁt certain people, but backﬁre for the very people who ‘‘need’’ them the most.
I am always shocked and dismayed by the cynicism that emerges when the subject of positive thinking comes up. This research certainly seems to have awakened a cadre of bloggers and journalists ready to pounce and denounce positive thinking as a sham. I have written often on this blog about the constant stream of disempowering messages that some in media like to produce. I have also written about the whole concept that somehow positive thinking is perceived as less “realistic” than negative thinking. Both of these factors seem to be in play as this story unfolds.
Let me begin by expressing my alarm, not at this study or its results, but at the way it has been heralded in the mainstream and psychological press as empirical evidence that positive thinking is a fraud. Those 20 year old images of Stuart Smalley have been dusted off and pushed front and center to ridicule the practice of thinking positively.
Oprah, Wayne Dyer, and other luminaries in what I would term the “empowered thinking” movement have been chided for their support of such nonsense. Their statements that we human beings are capable of amazing things when we change the way we think have been taken to task as fantasy.
Some Examples of the typical media fair:
- Positive Self-Statements Do More Harm Than Good
- Why Self-Help Programs Are Bogus
- The Power Shortage of Positive Thinking
- Self-Help Makes You Feel Worse
- The Hidden Dangers of Affirmations
- Thinking Positive Makes Some Feel Glummer: Study
- The Powerlessness of Positive Thinking
- Power of Positive Thinking Questioned
- Think Again About Positive Thinking
- Self-Esteem Can Damaged by Positive Thinking, Posits Study
- Positive Thinking Has A Negative Side, Scientists Find
- Chanting “I Am Happy” Can Make You Sad: Study
Worst of all, people suffering from depression and other negative thinking disorders have been told that thinking positively is bad for them and it should be avoided because it will make them feel worse.
I have been in contact directly with Dr. Wood. It is my belief that she and her colleagues are trying to conduct honest research and find honest answers to honest questions. After reading and digesting the paper that resulted from their research, I am convinced that the flaw lies not in the researchers’ intentions, but in the selected methodology. Dr. Wood, based on her writing, agrees that specific statements may have more efficacy than the general “I am lovable” statement used in the experiments that led to the paper.
“Moment by moment, brick by brick, I am building a life full of things more important to me than my problems.”
This topic is very near and dear to my heart. I don’t speak as an outsider on the topics of affirmations or severe depression. 20 years ago, at the age of 25, I nearly died due a severe depression and undiagnosed Addison’s Disease. The fact is I should have been dead. My electrolytes were below levels capable of supporting life. I had eaten nothing and drank little for weeks and I was down to 96 pounds. My father had to carry me into the hospital emergency room. Every cell in my body hurt and I wanted to die to escape the pain – physical and psychological that I was feeling.
Affirmations were an absolute mainstay in my climb from that deep, dark place. They remain a key part of my success today.
When I encounter someone who is suffering from depression, anxiety, or other difficult life situations; it’s not theoretical to me. I understand what they are going through. I know the struggles I had for years after that hospital visit. I know the hard work and determination it took to change my thinking and change my life. My passion is to help people who suffer from these conditions to get better and live the life they came here to live.
That’s why I started The Affirmation Spot. That’s why I spend a couple of hours every day tweeting affirmations for people on Twitter. That’s why messages of disempowerment and “you can’t” being delivered by the media and mental health professionals bother me so much. I know it feels like you can’t sometimes, but you can! It’s not hyperbole, magic, or a scam. It’s the truth. I did it and so can you!
I applaud Dr. Wood and her colleagues for tackling this topic and attempting to put science behind what my experience and that of so many others clearly demonstrates.
However, the study failed to grasp the process required for affirmations (“positive statements”) to impact the thinking of a depressed person. Subjects were questioned about their mood during the cognitive dissonance that is always sure to occur during an attempt to shift thinking. I know this personally, as I have encountered it many times. In fact, every time I use affirmations to pursue some new goal I encounter cognitive dissonance.
The research apparently took place in a single instance. Affirmations take time, repetition, belief, and commitment to impact and replace negative thinking. There is no evidence that study participants had any commitment to change their feeling of “not being lovable” by use of the affirmation. They certainly did not have time for repetition to have its effect.
The measurements in this study were akin to measuring the muscle growth of someone after one workout in the gym.
As someone who turned my life around using affirmations and other tools and now works to help others do the same, I can state that this research is preliminary, incomplete, and far from conclusive.
My view is that the research should continue and that a methodology conducive to a true study of this question should be devised to examine the validity of these findings. I suggest the following criteria as a starting point.
- Clinical Trial – conduct a real clinical trial using real psychological patients rather than grad students. There should be a controlled group or perhaps even a comparison against other treatment options.
- Decision – participants should be people with a a commitment to changing their negative beliefs, thoughts, and habits. Affirmations are just wishful thinking without a decision to change. Without this commitment, neither affirmations nor most other treatment courses will work.
- Time – affirmations are just like an exercise program. It takes time for the results to be seen. The affirmations have to be used, as with any other treatment, over a period of time and progress in mood and behavior monitored for positive change.
- Targeted Change and Affirmations – both the thoughts, beliefs, or behaviors to be changed must be identified and affirmations specific and appropriate should be used. “I am lovable” is a nice sentiment, but a a weak affirmation to produce real change. The goals to be achieved, obviously, have to be realistic.
- Multiple Content Types – The affirmations should be delivered audibly, verbally, and visually to account for varying learning styles. I also recommend what I call holographic affirmations – first person, second person, and named affirmations. First person affirmations are said to obtain ownership of the affirmation. Second person affirmations are used as thought replacement because the overwhelming majority of negative thoughts come into our minds as “you” statements. Name affirmations get the person’s attention by using the sweetest sound in the language – their name – as a cue.
- Reinforcemnt – progress must be reinforced to solidify the positive, empowered thinking we want to achieve. There are a lot of competitors to fill the voids of our thoughts and emotions media, family, religion, government, etc. If we are not encouraging and reinforcing the thoughts of our choosing, someone else will fill that void. That is how most people wound up being LSE in the first place. They listened to others about how they should feel and think about themselves
This study and the media feeding that has followed leaves millions of depressed people with the impression that thinking positive, empowering thoughts is not a viable solution for them. I am living proof that this is not so.
The idea that these people should be left to wallow in the realism of their depressive thoughts is a sad and unwarranted message. Yes, change is hard, but change is part of human potential. To tell someone obsessed with negative thoughts that thinking better thoughts is “dangerous” or “fruitless” (as many articles about this study have) is the height of irresponsibility.
I would hope that this research continues along the lines described above and that studies measuring the true efficacy of affirmations as a tool can be conducted. 20 years of my life and my interactions with many, many people tell me that such research will demonstrate that sensible positive thinking is an option and a way to the light for those suffering, as I once did.
In closing, I have one simple question. Regardless of the situation you are facing in life, are you going to have better results facing it with the burden of negative thoughts or with the empowerment of positive thoughts? The answer is clear. Positive thoughts are not the enemy. Negative thoughts are the problem. We need to keep that in perspective.
“This year I am absolutely committed to being the person I came here to be!”