Photo by Felix Plakolb on Unsplash

Does a positive attitude really work?

Not really. Not always. Surprised?

Attitude is a powerful thing. And a positive attitude can be life-changing. To maintain a positive attitude, we need positive thinking, right?

Even if it is tough to maintain sometimes, a positive attitude is priceless. We cannot argue that our attitude affects our life as well as the lives of those around us.

But first, a story you have probably read, but worth reading again:

A Native American boy was talking with his grandfather. “What do you think about the world situation?” he asked. The grandfather replied, “I feel like wolves are fighting in my heart. One is full of anger and hatred; the other is full of love, forgiveness, and peace.” “Which one will win?” asked the boy. To which the grandfather replied, “The one I feed.” (Origin Unknown)

Simple story, yet it brings home a life-changing lesson. We are what we think. See how the power of a positive attitude can be harnessed?

The equation is simple:

Think positive, get positive results.

Think negative, get negative results.

Right?

You will reap the fruit of the thoughts you sow.

Right?

Uh…

Not really. Not always.

I’ll tell you why. And this is largely the result of a conversation with my son. Like it or not, the child is father of the man, often. I am in the habit of always telling him to think positive. His reaction varies, depending on the situation. If he’s happy, he makes affirmative noises. If he’s bugged, I can see “ah, big deal” or “as if” or “oh come on, Mi” written all over his expression.

We got into a long discussion about how some people are actually more irritated and feel worse when we try to make them feel better. In fact, I had an aunt seemed happiest when she was unhappy. She would look suspicious when we gave her the positive thinking theory. My Mom, on the other hand, vehemently believed in the power of positive thought.

So the question is: how can positive thinking work? Is it inherent nature?

Let’s look at some tricky situations:

Low self-esteem

People with low self-esteem actually feel much worse when you encourage them to think they are absolutely fine people, simply because they don’t believe it. They think they’re not good enough and end up feeling even worse.

How can they feel better?

There is a study that established that people with low self-esteem who were asked to perform acts of kindness for a week actually moved from clinical depression to not being depressed. And soon, they developed a sense of self-worth and were well on their way to feeling much better.

That makes sense to me. When they did things for others, they were appreciated. This reinforced that they were useful. It increased their self-worth. And so, telling them they are good enough now sounds logical to them.

Continuously focusing on problems

Who doesn’t have problems in life? But have you ever met people who can never seem to shift their focus from their problems? Of course you have. Not only do they dwell on their problems; they also extrapolate, imagine and analyze dire consequences.

And if there is no problem, they create one! Let me give you an example. I know someone who travels a lot. Each time he has a flight to catch, he books a taxi to take him to the airport. As soon as the booking is confirmed, he starts worrying.

  • Will the driver call?
  • Will he report on time?
  • Will he get stuck in a traffic jam and miss his flight?
  • Will he reach the airport in time?
  • Will the flight take off on time?

And so on.

Okay, granted that all these are possibilities. But let’s give things a chance to work, shall we? These people do not see the point behind positive thinking. They claim they’re being practical. Here, a trained therapist may be needed to help pinpoint and tackle all that negative thinking. They may need to learn, all over again, how to approach their problems.

“Feed that which you want to see grow”

Trying to please everyone

Ah, the bane of most people. Can you make everyone happy? Whatever the answer, should you really aim to do that? No!

So, for those who depend on others for their happiness, it is easy to figure out why positive thinking may not work for them. They are so busy trying to get the approval of others or doing things for them that it drains them of their energy and they have none left for themselves. And if they perceive that the ones they’re trying to please are not satisfied, don’t ask! Here again, a therapist may be better than exploring self-help.

“I am not good enough”

The self-explanatory classic! If we constantly criticize ourselves, how can we ever accept positive thought? If we don’t have faith in ourselves, who will? I’ve seen this in both adults and children. Years ago, when my son participated in a contest in school, he coolly said there was no way he was going to win. When I asked him why, he said there was another guy who was a clincher for the prize. That made me mad! I mean, in his mind, he had already decided he wasn’t good enough. I had to talk him out of that attitude!

There are two things here.

  • The inner critic who focuses on the self
  • The part that assumes lack of ability

One way to squash the inner critic is by consciously recalling the nice things in life and remembering the people involved. This basically moves the focus from self, making the way to appreciate other things and people. As for the lack of ability, it is a good idea to take stock of past achievements to boost self-confidence. And just in case you are wondering, my son did win that contest.

Not believing in positive thinking

Some people simply feel that positive thinking is crap. They claim that they prefer to be “realistic”. These people need proof and facts. Some people also tend to look at the “flip” side, which, translated, really means the negative side of things. While it is good to look at both sides, always focusing on just the negative as though it is the only thing that exists is not fair. Real life examples of the benefits of positive thinking may help.

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing; that’s why we recommend it daily.” Zig Ziglar

Some ways to nurture positive thinking and get that positive energy flowing could be:

  • Quit worrying. It hurts your head and your mood. Use the energy to think positive.
  • When a negative thought pops up, tell it to shut up. Don’t allow it to build up and snowball. Why water those weeds?
  • Identify thoughts and beliefs that drag you down. Make a conscious effort to get rid of them.
  • Practice saying “So what!” Get over the fear of rejection.
  • Try and minimize “regrets”. The past is gone. The future is unknown. Focus on the present.
  • Take responsibility for your actions and their consequences. It is easy to blame others when you feel unhappy.
  • Define what success means to you. Set goals. Figure out how to reach them.
  • Work on your self-confidence. Most issues in life arise because we don’t believe in ourselves.
  • Focus on the lessons you learned, not on the mistakes you made.
  • Practice gratitude and appreciation.
  • Nurture your relationships.
  • Live as though every day is a miracle. It is, you know.

Does positive thinking work for you?

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by 300,118+ people.

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