A Potential Flaw in Positive Thinking Psychology

Dare 2 Hope_thoughts

Photo Credit: ileanaandrei.ro

There’s a lot of talk these days about positive thinking and how important it is to change your thinking to improve your health and happiness. And while I won’t argue that our mindset affects our feelings and behavior (because I believe it absolutely does), I am concerned that we can put too much emphasis on thinking. That’s a big statement for a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) therapist to make! But here’s the balance that I would like to bring to the discussion: Though highly influential, thoughts are not an all-powerful force in our lives.

There are potential drawbacks to believing that everything we think affects our behavior. So even while we acknowledge the significance of our thoughts and strive to have healthier, more constructive thinking patterns, let’s also recognize some limitations of our thoughts. For example, thoughts…

  • do not always reflect what we really believe, feel or want.
  • do not always mean we will act on whatever that thought is.
  • do not always reflect reality.

Let’s take a closer look at why each of these points is relevant.

#1. Thoughts do not always reflect what we really believe, feel or want. We all have had bizarre, maybe even dark thoughts that pop into our heads at times—that is a normal part of being human. It does not mean you are “crazy” or a bad person. Some people struggle with these types of thoughts more than others, particularly people with issues like anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or postpartum depression. On the extreme end, I’ve had clients who had intrusive thoughts about things like stabbing their spouses or molesting their child (even though they had no reason or desire to do such things), and they worried it meant there was something evil inside of them. Being bothered by your thoughts is a sign that they don’t reflect your wants or values. In cases like these that go beyond the “normal” occasional bizarre thoughts we all have, there are often biological causes for these thoughts. There is sometimes trauma in that person’s past that can be influencing these thoughts.

#2. Thoughts do not always mean we will act on whatever that thought is. Thoughts do not automatically manifest into behavior. None of my clients who had bizarre, or even violent, intrusive thoughts ever acted on them because that is not who they were.

Now, sometimes our thoughts do line up with our feelings and that makes it more likely we will act on them, but it doesn’t mean we have to. This is key for my clients in eating disorder recovery, who might have obsessive thoughts about not eating or about thinking they are fat (and also feeling fat). Though it can be incredibly difficult, they can choose not to act on those thoughts. In her book, Life without Ed, Jenni Shaefer describes it as “disobeying” the eating disorder. We can have thoughts and feelings about harming ourselves and decide to call a friend instead. A tape can play in our head about how that big presentation at work will be a flop, but then it turns out we nail it.

#3. Thoughts do not always reflect reality. Thoughts, like feelings, are not facts. Research confirms that much of what we worry about doesn’t even happen.¹ And just because we think something doesn’t make it true. We can think we’re ugly and actually be attractive. We can think we’re an idiot and be very intelligent. We can think we are boring and socially awkward while in reality, people find us engaging and pleasant to be around. The stories we tell ourselves are just that: stories. And sometimes stories are only partially true or sometimes they are completely false.

It is really, really good news that while we work on changing detrimental thoughts, we are not completely at their mercy until they change or go away. We can still choose to ignore or to act opposite of our thoughts when they aren’t healthy. Remember friends, we are not just thoughts… we also have a will and a conscience and many other elements that make up who we are and drive what we do.

Much love,
Cherie Signature

¹References: “85 Percent of What We Worry About Never Happens” By Don Joseph Goewey (www.huffingtonpost.com/don-joseph-goewey-/85-of-what-we-worry-about_b_8028368.html)

About Cherie Miller @ Dare 2 Hope
Cherie Miller, MS, LPC opened Dare 2 Hope Counseling to help clients all over the country get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Her specialty is eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, orthorexia and other unhealthy eating patterns. Contact her here.

How to Successfully Navigate a Career Setback

Dare 2 Hope - Sucessful Career Setbacks

We all know that life doesn’t always go the way we want, and sometimes we have to change courses unexpectedly. Maybe the career change didn’t work out so well or the new boss is horrible or the higher-ups are moving your department to Alaska. Whatever it is, change is hard. But how hard depends a whole lot more on the way we handle it than the situation itself. Here are some tips to help make the best out of difficult change.

#1. Throw a pity party.
That’s right…feel sorry for yourself. Pretending you don’t feel sad or bitter won’t make those feelings go away. They’ll just stay unresolved and will weigh you down like soggy clothes. The key is that you can’t give yourself permission to hang on to those feelings either. So set a time limit. “I will feel sorry for myself for _____ days and then I will move on.” Acknowledge those feelings as acceptable given what you experienced, process them properly, and then put them away because those feelings don’t ultimately serve you—they are not stepping stones to success.

#2. Gather some cheerleaders.
Big change—especially change involving risk—demands a good support system. We all need people who will encourage us when things get tough, who will believe in us when we don’t believe in ourselves, and will tell us not to quit. People who will say things like what a dear friend texted me when I had some setbacks in the middle of a significant life change:

Now is the time to set a vision for yourself and do everything in your power to get there. You’re already well on your way, which means the hardest parts are behind you, but don’t give up because you’re gonna land on your feet.

Don’t kid yourself…you can’t do it alone.

#3. Find a mentor.
I repeat…you can’t do it alone. Not only is it important to have people in your corner cheering you on, it’s also important to have someone coaching you. Even professional athletes still have coaches, so don’t think you’re above it. Learn from someone else’s mistakes instead of making your own. Duplicate their successes. Find someone who is (1) knowledgeable about your new endeavors and (2) knowledgeable about you. Because you need practical advice, but you also need personal insight. But don’t waste your time—and certainly don’t waste theirs—if you are not going to listen to them. Of course, you don’t have to accept or follow everything they say, but you do need to be willing to discern it all with humility and openness.

#4. Be optimistic, but set realistic expectations.
On some level, you have to believe that you can succeed or you won’t. Yes, most of us will have some doubt (which is why a good support system is important), but we don’t commit whole-heartedly—if we even make an attempt all!—to endeavors we believe are doomed to fail. Now, I’ve worn my “Proud Pessimist” badge most of life, but if I’m honest, I have to admit that it’s never exactly been a springboard to happiness or healing. Whether it comes naturally or not, work on fostering some optimism to help buoy you when things get tough.

And expect that things will get tough. Don’t be the other extreme either—a Positive Polly who’s unprepared for the setbacks and challenges sure to come. We set ourselves up for unnecessary frustration and disappointment if we think that things should always go smoothly.

#5. Develop a plan.
You need to map out where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. A word of caution, though—you may feel overwhelmed as you start unfolding things. There’s no doubt a lot to do and success feels a long way off. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you don’t have to do it all at once. Prioritize things based on what really has to happen first and then start with small steps. This will keep things manageable and build confidence as you gather momentum.

“Sweet  are the uses of adversity which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a  precious jewel in his head.” ~ William Shakespeare

#6. Get tough.
As I’ve mentioned a few times, there will be more challenges ahead, so decide now that the inner critic is to be ignored when he or she starts up. Commit that you won’t give up easily and that you are stronger than that—maybe even make a contract with yourself. Post a no-whining policy on your computer. Do whatever you have to, but start building resiliency in yourself now.

Be well,
Cherie_signature

Cherie Miller, MS is owner of Dare 2 Hope Coaching and a virtual Health and Wellness Life Coach who helps clients all over the country improve their lives. Her specialty is helping people get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Contact her here.