Reality Check: The Ups and Downs of Positive Thinking

Do you “think positively?” Do you believe that it’s important and helpful to do so?

One of the appealing aspects of choice theory for me is its positive message and optimistic view of human possibility. By recognizing what we can and can’t control; we can develop more personal freedom. By developing ways of interacting without attempting to externally control others; we can build better, happier relationships. It all leads to more life satisfaction.

Even when we can’t change the reality, we can sometimes change our perception. In a highly dissatisfying situation that you can’t change, try getting a different perspective by asking, “Is there a positive way of looking at this?” It could help!

Are there any potential downsides to thinking positively?

Erin has math test anxiety. She believes that her anxiety causes her to forget everything she knows when in a test situation.

Erin has decided to think positively. She’s been telling herself over and over that she will succeed. She imagines herself responding confidently to every question. She pictures herself getting a good mark.

Erin’s positive thinking is likely more helpful than her previous choice—that of believing that she cannot do well.

The pitfall with positive thinking, however, is the belief that thinking is all you need to do. “I think I can, I think I can,” isn’t going to get Erin very far if her action is limited to sitting on the couch saying, “I think I can.”

Telling yourself that you believe that you will pass your algebra test is one tool in the toolkit of success. However, there’s another useful tool: actually working on your algebra!

In choice theory, behaviour is seen as total behaviour, made up of acting, thinking, and feeling. It is through your actions (doing) that you connect with the world. The choice theory view is that if you act positively, positive thoughts and feelings follow.

This view puts optimism as a follower of action, rather than the leader. Doing positive deeds, which bring on positive thinking, may be the most effective.

Say goodbye to the idea that there’s no point in trying to do anything until you feel better. Now is the time, indeed!

For Erin, the action of developing skill by practicing her algebra problems would lead to more positive thoughts. Positive action and those new positive thoughts lead to more positive, confident feelings. And because those feelings are now based on improved competence, her new confidence may well be rewarded by success. It’s the combo: positive action, thinking, and feeling, that brings the win-win-win!

So why doesn’t everyone do it? Positive action takes effort, and if you are not feeling confident or thinking positively, the effort needed to take action might not seem worth it.

Is it worth it? Only you can decide.

However, if you want to break away from feeling a lack of confidence, try taking positive action. See for yourself whether it works.

Which do you find more effective in your life: having a generally positive mindset or a generally negative mindset?

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