In this two-part series, I will be sharing with you my experience with positive thinking and why I strongly believe that telling people to think positive is not only bad advice, but ineffective.
You have been told at some point that if you are faced with life’s challenges and obstacles, just think positive and all will be well. After many years of trying to use positive thinking techniques to overcome my own life’s challenges and obstacles, I came to one conclusion. Positive thinking is a highly exaggerated religion. Telling people to “think positive” is very counterproductive. Not only is positive thinking hard work and time consuming, it doesn’t work. Positive thinking is very exhausting. Do you know how much work your mind has to do to stay positive? It’s got to be on it all day long. The activity of trying to think positive is hellish. There is no lightness in it. It is heavy and unbearable.
I have come to believe that positive thinking creates more problems than it solves. Forcing your mind to think positive increases stress and anxiety, which in turn reduces your emotional agility, productivity and effectiveness. I don’t doubt that positive thinking techniques can help to temporarily reduce stress and help you feel better. But the relief that positive thinking offers is temporary. Through positive thinking, you will never be completely free from stress and anxiety. Positive thinking is more like defensive living. You will have to continually fight negative thoughts in order to maintain a positive state of mind. Not only is this exhausting, but it is not sustainable. Positive thinking hides the anxiety that’s already there; it does not eliminate it.
I don’t see any freedom in walking around carrying a ton of thoughts in your head, even if they are positive thoughts. While you are busy fighting negative thoughts hoping to get to this and that place, you are unconscious of the fact that life is happening right now. Trying to think positive puts you asleep to the awareness that living is a verb, not a noun. The peace, happiness and well-being you seek is right in front of you, and it can all be yours this moment if you just stop thinking about it and start living it.
Positive Thinking Is Part of the Problem
As a personal coach, I get emails from people who tell me that they have tried to use positive thinking techniques to overcome their everyday challenges, stress and anxieties, but it’s not working for them. The only answer I give them is that positive thinking is part of the problem. I see so many people who are struggling with anxiety every day regardless of their efforts to think positive. Most of the anxiety you are going through is because you are stuck in your head all day trying to figure out which thoughts are positive which ones are not. Thoughts will never take you anywhere peaceful. Thoughts are like birds – their nature is to come and go. If you rely on them to take you anywhere, it means you will always be shifting from one mood to another. You will live a very unstable life.
Have you ever had a positive state of mind that lasted all day? No. It fluctuates. One moment you are happy, and the next moment you are not. One moment you are optimistic, upbeat and deeply in love with your work, the next moment you are not. The reason you judge yourself so harshly is because you think you should be thinking positive all the time: “I am a bad person, I shouldn’t be thinking that.” Have you ever noticed what you do to yourself when things are not going your way? Have you ever thought, “If only I had stayed positive, this would not have happened”? How do you know it would not have happened? The fact that it happened means it was supposed to happen.
To become effective and productive in your everyday life, you don’t have to try to suppress your inner experiences. The real problem is not negative thoughts. The real problem is agreeing with these thoughts. Buying into negative thoughts is what has defeated us. The idea of “positive thinking” is part of the problem because it reinforces your identification and agreement with negative thoughts.
There is a better and more effective way to build resilience than forcing yourself to think positive; there is a much cleaner way to live life. It’s called being in a state of awareness where life is allowed to unfold on its own terms. This means being aware of and receptive to all kinds of shifts in thinking and the emotions they create, without getting toppled by them. In a state of awareness, positive and negative thoughts come and go, but you remain unaffected by their movement. Instead of fighting with negative thoughts and trying desperately to cling to the ones you consider positive, just allow them to be there and stop listening to them.
About Tawanda Chirenda
Tawanda Chirenda is an anxiety-transformation and resilience-building coach, speaker and founder of The Willing Student Method, a program that helps individuals overcome anxiety, build resilience and live a happier, more purpose-filled life as a result. Although Tawanda is now a resilience-building coach, he came to it the long, hard way, through many years of struggling with anxiety, failure, and helplessness. At the age of 25, Tawanda was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder that drastically affected his normal functioning and everyday life. Through a willingness to learn, grow and change, Tawanda was able to successfully recover from this condition and regain his healthy and productive life. Tawanda has been fully recovered for more than 7 years now and he is a much stronger person than before. You can connect with Tawanda on Twitter and Facebook or visit his website, www.thewillingstudent.com, to learn more about his work.