When ‘Thinking Positive’ is Not Enough

We have all heard the advice of ‘Hey, just think positive!’ or seen those cheesy little posters that say ‘If you dream it, you can do it!’.  Positive psychology is rooted in the fact that thinking optimistically can be used as a tool to improve your wellbeing.  There are tons of anecdotes that explain the effectiveness of thinking positively, but there can be pitfalls of ignoring the negative. What happens when ‘thinking positive’ just isn’t enough?

You cannot fake self esteem

Sure, there are studies that show that repeating positive affirmations about yourself helps improve your self -esteem, but here is the catch, this techniques only works for people who already have a solid foundation of their self-worth. Research by Wood and colleagues in 2009 demonstrated that if you have a low self-esteem, repeating affirmations may feel inauthentic and may actually have an opposite effect.

All emotions are important

While only focusing on the positive thoughts can be helpful for some, dangers can arise when you constantly ignore feelings like anger, sadness, and frustration.  Some emotions need to be dealt with in order to learn and grow from tough situations.  Suppressing these feelings can actually become damaging in the long run. People find strength and beauty once they have weathered the storm, so don’t be afraid to experience it.

It may lead to disappointment

If positive thinking is the solution to our troubles, what happens when things do not work out the way we intended?  Is it our fault for not thinking positively enough?  Sometimes simply thinking a certain way is not a replacement for hard work.  Understanding that overcoming adversity may be required to reach your goals is sometimes more important than thinking positively.  Positive thinking alone will not lead to success and victory.  If you dream it, you can do it, but don’t forget it takes a lot more than just dreaming.

We care less about others

In a 2012 study, researchers Kappes, Sharma and Oettingen found that people who believe in positive solutions for the world’s problems donate less to charity.  I know, it may sound kind of backwards but think about it.  If you see someone homeless on the street and your mentality is ‘Oh, they are just going through a rough patch. They will land on their feet!’ Are you less likely to give? What about when you recognise the gravity of the person’s situation and think about long term struggles they are likely to face?

We may ignore warning signs

When you think positively, it is only natural to fluff off any minor frustration or ailment. In fact, that is the goal of positive thinking, to not get caught up in the little stuff.  But if we ignore little issues, they can at times be important and grow into big issues.  Sometimes it is better to deal with the small negativities before they become bigger.  Your health is the perfect example of this pitfall.  If your daily headache ‘isn’t that bad’, then are you robbing yourself of medical attention that you may need? Don’t let positive thinking turn into naive thinking.

While thinking positive has helped many people move forward in their lives, problems may arise when we live in the extreme of positive thinking.  Like everything, there is a time and place where positive thinking is helpful and there are times when we need to be aware of the traps of constant positive thinking. Try thinking about the middle space, balanced thinking. Look for the positive, negative and neutral perspectives. Then decide how you might respond to any challenges that arise.

Related reading:

Stress: How to Manage it (or even Benefit from)
The Psychological Effects of Kindness
10 Best Ever Anxiety Management Techniques

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