Is Positive Thinking Overrated?

Posted: May 2, 2012 in Uncategorized
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There were no self-help groups, personal coaching, cheerleading, or handholding. The philosophy was very basic. You know what you want. You know what you have to do. You know how to do it. Just do it. If you can’t then tough shit!
—Randy Roach, Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors

Self-help gurus often talk about the importance of having a positive attitude, claiming it’s fundamental to the success of any and all endeavors. On the contrary: attitude is irrelevant. Couple the brightest of attitudes with a flawed plan and you’ll create only failure, while taking that same action with an effective plan–even if your attitude is less than cheerful–will surely succeed. Quoting former Navy SEAL Team Six leader Richard Marcinko, you do not have to like it–you just have to do it. This is the critical factor in success: Doing what needs to be done even when it’s the last thing you want to do.

If you’re only capable of taking action when you’re attitude is positive–then don’t bother. If you require extrinsic motivation to make your move, you should just give up, now. If you only perform at a high level when you’re feeling your best, then you are the exact opposite of a professional and destined to remain an amateur at life and everything else.

Not only is positive attitude beside the point, it can actually hinder meaningful change…and ensuing success.

Einstein himself said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing…and expecting different results.  Hey, when you do ten thousand of anything, something positive should come of it! If not, well, your best efforts might be crippled by a poor plan of action.

Take an effective plan, put it into action, have the tenacity to see it through, and it will work in spite of your positive, negative, or indifferent attitude. When it comes to making dramatic, positive change in your life, a positive attitude is the least of your concerns, and in fact, may actually inhibit you in accepting the brutal self-knowledge required to break free of inertia and move forward.

People often tell me about their intense level of dissatisfaction with their jobs, ending with how they stay positive and look on the bright side to avoid feelings of depression and insanity. They’ll continue that eventually when the time is right they’ll pursue their dream careers. While gratitude for what you have is a good thing, it doesn’t mean you should ever accept a life you don’t want. Forcing positivity in the face of wrong livelihood is only the illusion of positive. Tricking yourself into feeling good about something bad is only an effective plan for negative outcomes.

Recently, I read a great article about senior citizens looking back over their lives. Naturally, some had regrets about things they’d done over the years, but the strongest regrets were felt for things that weren’t ever done.

What does this have to do with positive attitude? A stubborn positive attitude may be the enabling factor in continuing to slog on with a life you don’t event want. Sometimes, it’s hitting rock bottom that spurs forward action. No, you don’t have to lose all your worldly possessions and end up on the street but you do have to feel low-down and angry enough with yourself for accepting your misappropriated life. When you are completely fed up and nauseated at the idea of remaining as you have been, you are finally ready to initiate change and create a new life.

Creation is dramatic and powerful, not passive and subtle. Creation arises from destruction and only by destroying your wrongfully lived life can you finally embrace the life you’ve always wanted. This is what it means to be reincarnated as a new person. There are no second chances when you’re keeping one foot in your old life; your anger and extreme dissatisfaction are the flames that burn the bridges to your past. Dramatic change isn’t always pretty, nor does it always come from a pretty, positive place.

In short, putting a positive spin on a negative situation is lying to yourself–and there’s nothing positive about lies. Getting a flat tire on the way to an important meeting, you might pull off to the side of the road and think of all the positive reasons that this might have happened. Perhaps in getting a flat you avoided a terrible accident up the road. Maybe the meeting is being held in a building assigned to be blown up by terrorists. With this line of reasoning, you might even thank the stars and feel gratitude for your flat tire–not so fast! As outlandish as it might sound to the positive thinkers among you, your flat tire is probably nothing more than one of the multiple–irritating–inconveniences we all deal with from time to time. The solution? Get out of your car, change the tire, and get back on the road–no positive attitude required. You know what needs to be done, get it done and move on.

You may think a flat tire is a trivial example, so let’s use something more compelling. How about pediatric burn victims? As a non-burned person, would you feel comfortable telling these children to stay positive and feel gratitude for what they have? These kids are in the depths of suffering–and they are not wrong to feel angry about it. While they must eventually move on from their state of suffering, their healing will come faster by accepting their current–terrible–reality before moving onward. Insisting that everything is fine only defers crucial feelings which need to be brought to awareness.

Terrible things happen all the time to people who don’t deserve them and there’s nothing positive to be said about it. Not only is it healthy to accept this fact–that some things are indeed negative and even terrible–it’s essential to leading a self-realized life. Life is never all-negative nor all-positive. Some things are wonderful, some terrible, and there’s no use in struggling over what seems to be duality but in fact is not.

Self-help gurus claim you must feel positive in order to take any right action. They’ll have you do drills, like listing all the reasons you should do something, then listing all the reasons not to do it. If your positives out-weigh the negatives, then you should take action. Well, if you even have to make such a list, then your priorities are confused. When you really want something, you form a plan of action and execute it. You don’t indulge in mental masturbation. That which is important will obsess you and force you into action.

Far more important than a positive attitude are preparation and sound training. A positive attitude without preparation will lose out. Even with a negative attitude, when matched with training and preparation, you are far more likely to persevere and thrive. Best of all, by taking the necessary action to acquire the life you really want to live, you’ll naturally feel positive feelings about your life. Taking charge of your life is exciting and exhilarating, while lying to yourself about anything, including that which seems positive, is hollow and demoralizing.

So forget about trying to change your attitude! Put together your action plan, get going, and show courage in the face of the inevitable errors and setbacks. You know what you need to do and you don’t have to like it–you just have to do it.

Live Life Aggressively!

Portions used from Mike Mahler website


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