Why Doesn't Positive Thinking Work?

Positive thinking seems to work for some people, but when you try it, you don’t feel any better and you don’t DO any better. Why? Why doesn’t positive thinking seem to work for you?

You must have had the thought, “Maybe they’re faking it. Maybe it doesn’t work for anybody.” But then you come across studies about positive thinking improving health, and it makes you doubt your doubt, right? Then the question is, “Why doesn’t positive thinking work for me?” And you think, “Maybe if I thought positive about positive thinking it would work better.”

But that’s not the problem. When positive thinking works, it’s not because people believe in it — it works when it does because people are doing it in a certain way. When positive thinking doesn't work for you, it’s for one of these three reasons:

1. Your willpower is in conflict with your imagination. Whenever the two conflict, imagination always wins. If you are forcing yourself to “think positive” while imagining things turning out badly, you will feel badly even though you are saying positive things to yourself. Imagination is more powerful.

2. You’re thinking positively negatively. If you try to prevent yourself from thinking a negative thought, experiments show you will think the thought MORE than if you don’t try to avoid the thought. That’s just how the brain works.

3. Your positive thinking is done shallowly and without commitment. Platitudes don’t work. You can’t just say positive things and expect it to have an impact on your attitude or your mood. Your feelings are affected by what you truly believe, not what you merely say.

If you want to enjoy the health benefits, the benefits to your relationships, and the improved effectiveness at accomplishing your goals that positive thinking can give you — you’ve got to apply these principles:

1. Don’t use force. You can’t force yourself to be positive, and in fact, forcing yourself is an unpleasant feeling. Use your imagination effectively instead. Sit down, close your eyes, and relax first — before you use your imagination. Once you’re relaxed, imagine the outcome you want. If you’re in the middle of a crisis you can’t do this, of course. So this one won’t work on the spot. But it will work for a longer-term situation. A few times a week, relax deeply and envision the outcome you want.

2. It doesn’t work to try not to think of something negative. If you find yourself doing that, what can you do? Direct your thoughts with a good question.

3. If platitudes don’t work, but you want to think more positively, what can you do? The negative thoughts are like a virus on your computer. You need a way to isolate the virus and then remove it. Forcing yourself to think something positive every time you think something negative doesn’t work because you don’t believe the positive thought.

The solution is to find out what’s wrong with the negative thought — and if there’s nothing wrong with it, to accept the reality and stop concerning yourself with trying to disbelieve it.

But probably there is something genuinely wrong with your negative thoughts. You can find out by using the Antivirus for Your Mind. It is a process of calling up those negative thoughts one at a time and really looking at each one carefully to see if the thought contains any of the 22 “mind-viruses.” These are 22 thought-mistakes. Everybody makes them at some time or another, and (without knowing it) believes something that isn’t true — something that impairs their ability to function or something that brings them down unnecessarily. Root out those mistakes in your own thoughts and free yourself of the tyranny of false negative beliefs.

Positive thinking — done in a particular way — can indeed work beautifully. Now you know how. Does it seem too hard? Were you looking for a quick fix? If so, look carefully at your belief. Would it really be so hard to relax and imagine a good outcome? Would it really be so hard to spend a half hour rooting out a false belief that consistently brings you down?

The benefits of effective positive thinking far outweigh the time and effort it takes to achieve it.

So start today. Choose one of the three solutions and get to work on it. After you have that one pretty well mastered, come back and choose another one and work on it.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

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