Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Positive Self-Talk Can't Create a Positive Reality!

Here's a link to a good article by Heidi Grant Halvorson on Realistic Optimism.http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/05/be_an_optimist_without_being_a.html

It inspired me to jump from my Belief#1 to Belief#4. You'll understand why if you read both. You'll also understand my
somewhat over reactive negativity about positivity if you read my post below.

Dr. Tingley’s Belief #4: Positive self-talk cannot create a positive reality even after the negative self-talk habit is broken.

The positive thinking trend got its start in the 1930s with Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and in 1951 with The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. Both books introduced the concept that thinking positively is a useful practice. Both books explain in detail additional requirements for success: setting goals, outlining a plan, setting timelines plus personal characteristics of creativity, intelligence, and persistence.

Martin Seligman’s 1998 book, Learned Optimism added to the positive thinking trend, although more because it was misunderstood than because it added fuel to the positive thinking fire. Seligman, a psychologist and clinical researcher, has been studying optimists and pessimists for 25 years and has determined that optimists generally are healthier and live longer than pessimists.

Optimists believe that defeat is a temporary setback or a challenge, and will slightly delay a good result. In fact, they aren’t positive thinkers but just plain old realistic thinkers. Pessimists are definitely negative thinkers. They believe that bad events occur through their own lack of ability, luck, or skill. Outcomes will be poor and lasting. Clearly they are negative thinkers.

Seligman advocates changing pessimists into optimists by eliminating the self-blaming negative thinking of pessimists, not by adding positive thinking. But ultimately, he and his research were swept along in the tidal wave of positivity.

Many books have followed the early Hill-Peale model, but none as far out and removed from the classic origins as Rhonda Byrne’s recent books, The Secret and The Power. A smart friend recently read The Secret and told me, “I just put it out to the Universe that Joe will divorce his wife and finally marry me. I feel so relieved and happy.” What? How can she possibly believe that after ten years of an affair with a married man he will suddenly leave his wife because the “Law of Attraction” says so?

In case you aren’t familiar with the tenants of the two books, The Laws of Attraction and Love advise readers to send thoughts of what they want and love out to the Universe. The Universe will return and reward them with the relationships, skills, objects, and outcomes they desire. Byrne doesn’t discuss the means by which this miraculous process takes place, but apparently no laws of physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, or math are involved. Instead the process seems fueled by magical thinking, a common practice of young children, but not of smart, sane adults.

The Law of Attraction is BS, fantasy, wishful thinking, group-think, grab-the-coattails, get-on-the bandwagon, and share the spotlight and the hoopla thinking. It is not grounded in any kind of science except science fiction. I know there are many intelligent men and women who’ve bought in, but in reality, the Law of Attraction wears not a single stitch of clothing.

Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2009 book, Bright-Sided, How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America takes on a gamut of positivity purveyors, including the American Psychological Association, corporate America, evangelical mega churches, and the positive philosophy for treatment of cancer. Ehrenreich also chewed up motivational speakers at the National Speakers Association convention who spoke passionately about the wonderful results of positive thinking and its connection to the science of quantum physics. The New Agey 2004 movie What the Bleep? was widely quoted by all speakers. Ehrenreich’s summary? It’s “inescapable pseudoscientific flapdoodle.”

I wish I had thought up that phrase myself. As part of a temporary consulting job for a New Age psychologist, I was required to see that silly movie 13 times – and talk to 13 different business clients about their “take away.” Fortunately I didn’t have to talk about my thoughts and reactions, which were definitely less eloquent than Ehrenreich’s comment. Somehow or other in my pre-job interview with the fringey psychologist, I missed her tilt.

Psychology Today blogger and Canadian researcher Jo Anne Wood conducted recent research on the effect of positive affirmations, a common technique advocated by believers in positive psychology. “Two experiments showed that among participants with low self-esteem, those who repeated a positive self-statement (‘I'm a lovable person’) or who focused on how that statement was true felt worse than those who did not repeat the statement or who focused on how it was both true and not true. . . . Repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, but backfire for the very people who ‘need’ them the most.”[1] In a nutshell, affirmations didn’t work for people who don’t feel good about themselves. It made them feel worse. No surprise that conducting a dialogue between your inner critic (“I’m unattractive, dull and dumb”) and your fake positive cheerleader (“I’m a lovable person”) doesn’t work well for you.

Bottom Line #4: Positive thinking is not the solution to the negative self-talk habit nor is it the way to live happily ever after.

[2] The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1995, 63, pp. 644-650.
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