The Power of Realistic Positive Thinking
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“You can complain because roses have thorns, or you can rejoice because thorns have roses.” – Tom Wilson
Are you a negative person or a positive person?
Do you believe that positive people are in denial and ignoring reality?
Do you believe that being positive is silly, unrealistic and ignorant?
You could be missing out on one of the most important tools for enjoyment and fulfillment of life.
Thinking positively can not only make you feel better about the life you have but it can actually help you to get the life that you want to have.Â
You may have heard this before and been skeptical, but I suggest that after you read this article you will realize how much difference positive thinking can make in your life and how exactly it works. Having been a negative person for some 20 years I completely understand how you might feel. I used to really get annoyed when people told me to â€œlook on the bright sideâ€ or that research shows that positive people lead happier, more satisfying lives. I understood intellectually that these are the facts but that was not enough to motivate me to make the effort to get out of a lifelong habit of negativity.
That might seem silly, but sadly it was true. I really believed that positive people were happier and more satisfied but two things were stopping me from making a genuine attempt to be positive. Firstly, I really believed that these positive people were fooling themselves and denying reality. Secondly, I did not understand how positive thinking actually helped them to feel happier and to achieve what they wanted to achieve. I now have a full understanding of these two issues, as I will explain here.
Positive thinking is not denying reality. Being realistic involves seeing the whole situation – both the negative aspects and the positive ones. The truth of the matter is that the glass is BOTH half empty AND half full. That is an undeniable fact. That is reality. Denying reality is thinking ONLY that the glass is half empty OR ONLY that the glass is half full. Both situations actually exist simultaneously.
The best sort of positive thinking is acknowledging the negative aspect and working to improve it while focusing on the positive. Both unrealistically positive and unrealistically negative thinking are to be avoided. It is pointless to keep traveling full speed ahead if you have been told the bridge is out, but just thinking and believing that somehow your vehicle will get safely over the river (excessively positive). It is also pointless to say that you are not going to start on your journey at all because the bridge is out (excessively negative). The most successful solution is to use the knowledge that the bridge is out to formulate an alternate route to get to your destination.
I am sure that you will agree with this very reasonable suggestion. You will probably also say that you donâ€™t fall victim to either of these excessive thinking patterns because you would not make either choice. But in this situation the facts (about the bridge) and the choices are clearly stated. In real life, both the facts and the available choices are often obscured by our belief systems. Belief systems that we are often unaware that we have.
Belief systems encompass and inform every thing we do. It includes your belief about the world you live in, the people around you and how you interact with those two elements. You have specific beliefs about what consequences each of your actions will cause. Some of these are accurate and some are not. Some beliefs develop from isolated incidents which have been extrapolated erroneously to encompass wider situations. If you received poor service from one branch of the ACME store you might have developed a belief system that the ACME chain of stores has poor service. This belief will result in you not patronizing that store ever again. This might not be so good for the store but probably will have little negative effect on you.
Unfortunately most of our belief systems govern more important facets of our lives and influence more important decisions. In these cases, an erroneous belief system can result in unhappiness and dissatisfaction. I will use an example to illustrate.
Susie has a good look at her body and decides that she is fat. Her thoughts then proceed as follows:
I am fat.
I am unattractive.
No one will ever love me.
I will die alone as an old fat ugly woman.
Of course by this point Susie feels very sad and depressed â€“ if you felt that no one would ever love you and you would die alone, you would be depressed too, wouldnâ€™t you? Susie then does something to comfort herself â€“ either settle down with some ice cream, take a walk, call a friend or whatever method she uses to cheer herself up.Â This choice will also be determined by Susieâ€™s positive or negative thinking. In another article, I will say more on the choices we make in reaction to our feelings.
Let’s examine Susieâ€™s thought process and see how it is based on her belief systems and how realistic these are. Firstly, Susie thinks that she is fat. This may or may not be true depending on Susieâ€™s view of herself and her expectations of what a healthy body should look and feel like. But for simplicity, lets assume that Susie is indeed overweight. Lets treat this as the fact.
Susie then makes the leap that if she is fat then she is unattractive. Is this true? Think about it carefully. She could be fat and still be attractive, couldnâ€™t she? Weight and attraction are not mutually exclusive. I know some very attractive overweight people. In fact there are people who are attracted only to partners who are fat. Attraction is after all a personal thing and based on many qualities, of which body size is only one. That is the reality. But Susieâ€™s belief is that if she is fat she is therefore also unattractive. First error in her belief system.
Susie then makes a further leap that because she is unattractive no one will ever love her. Is this true? Surely not. Love is based on many different qualities and factors of which attraction is only one. Susie has not considered the importance of personality, intelligence, relationship skills, and the gazillion other, sometimes mystical, things that influence finding a loving mate. Susieâ€™s belief that love only comes to those who are attractive is yet another erroneous unrealistic belief.
Become aware of your belief systems
The problem here is that Susie perhaps is unaware of her belief systems. This thought process usually occurs within the space of a few seconds with little conscious thought involved. This is why it is essential to first train yourself to be conscious of your thoughts and how you arrive at your conclusions based on the facts presented. After you have learnt to become aware of your thought processes, you need to then start questioning them with regards to reality. The question â€œIs this really true?â€ is an excellent starting point. Explore your beliefs in this way and replace any overly negative thoughts with more realistic ones.
Use Realistic Vocabulary
Just a short comment here, that it is also immensely important to be aware of, and change your vocabulary to reflect reality. A comment such as â€œThis workout is killing meâ€ is inaccurate and sends a negative message to your mind and body. The workout is not literally killing you. You will survive it. Being more realistic and honest by saying â€œThis workout is very challenging but it is making me healthierâ€ sends a more positive message and also helps to retrain your thinking. Look out for a related article on the Importance of Vocabulary.
Now we understand that thinking positively does not imply that you should be unrealistic. We also understand the role that our belief system plays in misdirecting us and the importance of challenging our belief system for realism and accuracy. It is clear now that negative thinking is also unrealistic thinking and denies reality.
But how does positive thinking result in feeling happy and actually getting more of what you want in life?
In the above example it is clear that Susieâ€™s thoughts directly resulted in her feeling sad and depressed. Logically this would imply that a more positive thought process could result in more positive feelings. But surely I am not advocating that Susie be happy about being fat?Â Of course not. Let me continue the example to show how Susie could engage in more positive thinking.
I am fat. This makes me feel unhappy and dissatisfied.
I would feel better about myself if I were thinner.
I would feel proud, accomplished, satisfied and not to mention healthier.
I will make a plan to lose some weight and get healthy.
I think I might go exercise right now.
Susie now feels empowered and positive about her future. She set about to make a plan to improve the situation that is making her unhappy.
Clearly the emotional outcome here is much more positive. Instead of degenerating down into a depression, Susie feels positive and excited about the fact that she is taking action to solve a problem.
It is important to note that Susie has not denied reality. She still acknowledges that she is fat. However the outcome of this thought is completely different in the two scenarios. And most importantly, not only does Susie feel better in the positive scenario but she has also decided to take an action that will directly change her life and get her something she wants â€“ to be thinner.
Positive thinking is empowering thinking. It empowers you to act. It empowers you to change what you do not like and to get from where you are to where you want to be. It does not encourage you to pretend that your world is better than it is. It encourages you to make your world better.
I strongly believe that our thoughts play a major role in the outcome of our lives. So look out for future articles on positive thinking and defined strategies on how to achieve it.
Putting this to work in your life
Are there areas in your life where negative thinking might be hindering your enjoyment of life and your fulfillment of your dreams? I imagine that there are areas in all our lives that could benefit from the power of positive thinking.
If you are still a skeptic I challenge you to try to be realistic but positive for just one week, or even one day and see for yourself the difference it can make in your life.
Everyday, we buy things and try things in an attempt to improve our lives. Wouldnâ€™t it be great if just changing your thoughts could be the thing that so drastically improves your life? Donâ€™t you owe it to yourself to find out?
I would love to hearÂ of your experiences with this experiment so please feel free to send me an email here .
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- How to become an Optimist – Part I
- How to be Happy – Training yourself to enjoy life
- Your Capacity for Change
- How to Fight Depression Naturally
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