When it comes to the notion of positive thinking (basically forcing yourself to think about positive things in addition to the thousands of negative thoughts that tend to go on in our heads) we get two camps…
- Positive Thinking Works…this camp attaches an almost mystical, magical notion to positive thinking that is, at first, very attractive for anyone who is near rock-bottom and looking for that "magic pill" that will help overcome the massive pain they are feeling in their life right now
- Positive Thinking Never Works…here you have the naysayers that play on the past failures and setbacks that millions of self improvement "customers" have experienced in order to gain their attention and sell their next gadget or method
In fact, neither camp is exactly correct…as with any aspect of us humans, it turns out the answer is a "touch" more complicated than the black and white picture you may see if you go looking for self improvement information.
To get the full picture of what makes up our long-term and short-term thought patterns we have to consider both physiology (how the brain works) as well as emotions and psychology.
In this case, the two go hand-in-hand working closely together to develop thought patterns that drive our daily thinking which also directs our daily behavior and reinforces the thinking further – a circle of thought and behavior that becomes as entrenched in us as our habitual morning coffee, 3-meals a day or daily route to the grocery store.
Positive thinking SHOULD work, but often it doesn't, so the question can start there…why doesn't it?
WHY DOESN'T POSITIVE THINKING WORK?
Much of it comes down how our brain works.
In order to handle the vast amount of information and decision making that must be handled by our brains today, the brain rather efficiently creates well-traveled pathways that help us "store" our previous thought processes just as a computer or web browser "caches" common searches or functions that we perform over and over again.
Here's an example, suppose that when we were kids someone told us we were not good at spelling which led us to repeat that silently in our heads several times each day and again in very emotionally charged settings like high-pressure tests, assignments or having to step up and answer tough questions in front of the class.
Our brain then creates a "short-cut" neural pathway in our brain that reinforces this decision process making it "assumed" to be reality without us having to really think about it any longer, but also preventing us from recognizing or changing this thought process in the future.
We basically now take that thought as correct – the underlying cause (the one comment from one teacher) is now gone from our consciousness replaced with a short-cut instead.
So, later in life, we want to change this assumption. We try telling ourselves we can be good at spelling, but we are always fighting against a neural path that has been set years ago and has been electrically reinforced thousands upon thousands of times AND is emotionally charged (the teacher telling us at a time in life when your teacher was perhaps as influential as your parents).
HOW CAN POSITIVE THINKING WORK?
So, can you start to get a sense for how positive thinking COULD work?
From the understanding above we know there are two major factors that impact how thoughts are formed and reinforced in our brains:
1. They come from emotionally charged (often external) sources
2. They are repeated over and over again until the brain creates a neural "short-cut" and that thought becomes natural reinforced by our brain
No wonder a day or two of positive thinking where we simply repeat a phrase or thought in our brain doesn't work – right?
After all, this is no match for the highly emotional-charged original negative thought repeated thousands of times to create a well-worn path that has been electrically ingrained in our brain.
In other words, for positive thinking to work there needs to be a systematic way of tearing down these well-traveled, negative thought pathways while at the same time consciously creating new, substitute positive pathways that become the new well-worn pathways influencing day-to-day thoughts, behaviors and feelings.
Within Attracting Greatness we outline a plan taken from top achievers in life that have figured out how to substitute toxic thoughts and bodies with renewed, highly energetic, positive thoughts and pathways despite some very negative past experiences and behavior.
Now we know that positive thinking, the way we perceive it today, does not work. But we also know how we CAN make it work going forward to make real, lasting change in our lives.
Give this a try and let us know your results…leave a comment, we would love to hear from you.