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The false myth of “think positive”

How many times in the face of a difficult situation have we been told: “Think positive!”, “Be optimistic!”. Whether it’s a minor mishap like puncturing a tire, missing an important appointment due to illness, or a real existential tragedy, such as a critical work situation, relationship problems with children, partners, the possibility of having contracted an illness…usually these words can have a double effect on us:

  • The first, the most obvious: “He says it to encourage me / because he loves me”.
  • The second, which insinuates itself in a slightly less conscious way into our minds is: “It gives little importance to my problem”.

Far from supporting the approach of those who empathically end up “crying with us”; or who with a fatal attitude liquidates everything with: “Life is all a rip off!”

It could be useful to start from the person’s narration, confirming the weight that his problem actually has, and then together look for a solution to get out of it. A solution that is as practical as possible, not mental ruminations or sterile theories; Sometimes a friend who knows us well can help us in this task. Obviously if it is not enough it will be necessary to contact a professional.

N.B. Complaining blocks the action!

Sometimes, however, we ourselves inflict it on ourselves with worse results if possible.

In the book “Psicotrappole” (“Psychotraps”, or the sufferings we build ourselves), Giorgio Nardone indicates that positive thinking is one of the worst “thinking” psychotraps. With positive thinking, in fact, one might end up deluding oneself and the following disappointment can even lead to depressive forms. Moreover, the higher the expectation, the more devastating is the effect of disappointment.

Taking into account that the mechanism of self-fulfilling prophecy works much more in the negative than in the positive; when we voluntarily try to think positively, the paradoxical effect is obtained: I end up depressed more, if I am afraid and I try to think optimistically, I am further scared.

So, what to do?

The “psychosolution” offered in Nardone’s text, which I highly recommend reading, is:

  • Remember that positive thinking in the face of fear, anger or pain exacerbates these feelings rather than reducing them.
  • Positive thinking is only useful when there are already successful results, to amplify the confidence in our resources and abilities, already expressed in the facts. This means increasing efforts on the basis of proven effectiveness, therefore the opposite of an illusory, voluntary expectation.

In conclusion, it is essential to keep the tendency to create voluntary illusions at bay, so as not to say, “the journey was beautiful but the arrival was disappointing”.