This post may contain affiliate links. Read the full disclosure here.
The Problem with Positive Thinking (and What to do Instead)
If you consistently buy into the masses of social media influencers out there, then you might be inclined to believe that positive thinking is a cure-all for life’s woes.
Well, for quite a long time now, I have been a self-development junkie, psychology sponge, and neuroscience geek. And, for the last decade, I have used my training in breakthrough coaching, NLP, Mental and Emotional Release and Hypnosis, neuroscience, and healing touch to help and empower hundreds if not thousands of clients.
So, take it for it’s worth, but I’m here to tell you that much of what you see about positive thinking is complete and utter crapola.
I know what’s going through your head: But Norman Vincent Peale wrote an earth-shattering book all about the power of positive thinking!
Yes, I know.
Mountains of books have been written about – and a multi-billion dollar industry has been built upon – the idea of positive thinking. Trust me, I know. I’ve read the books. Been to the seminars. Drank the positive punch-flavored Kool-aid.
I even use positive psychology and numerous positive visualization techniques with my clients and audiences. I even teach them to my students.
Because positive thinking in the right context can be an extremely power tool.
But it is not the magic bullet that it is pimped out to be.
The problem with positive thinking is you have to…you know…think. And when you’re already stuck in a pattern of negative thinking it can be tough to leap to the other end of the spectrum.
If positive thinking were truly the answer then there wouldn’t be any need for all of the books and seminars. All we would need to do to fix our problems is think happy thoughts.
While many of us are trying to fly, this ain’t Neverland and I don’t see any pixie dust.
Positive thinking is great if you are (get this) already in a positive mood or what you’re going through isn’t really that big of a deal to you. If you’re just feeling a little blue or you’re just having an “off” morning, then some airy-fairy positive thinking and affirmation can give you a nice little boost.
But, what if it’s been three days and you’re ready to claw your eyes out?
What if you have absolutely zero motivation?
What if you’ve been struggling with depression for months or years?
What if because of a worldwide pandemic you’ve been stuck in your house for weeks?
Yes, positive thinking was helpful for me when COVID-19 first reared it’s ugly head. But after several months of losing clients due to the pandemic’s financial impact, positive thinking wasn’t getting me very far.
USING YOUR BODY TO BOOST YOUR MOOD
So what can you do?
What can you do when your dog dies? Or when you unexpectedly lose your job?
What can you do when life shows up with a pair of steel-toed boots and kicks you right in the fucking nuts?
How do you shake it off?
You do exactly that. You know, what Taylor Swift says. You shake it off.
Okay, maybe not exactly. But it’s more helpful than you might imagine.
In his book, Waking the Tiger, Dr. Peter A. Levine, PhD illustrates how in nature we can witness prey (a gazelle) being chased by a predator (a cheetah), and if the gazelle is able to get away, something amazing happens once he’s clear of danger.
The gazelle will stop, take several sharp breaths, do a little shake, and then go on about his day.
What is he doing? To put it simply, he is shaking off what just happened and regaining his composure before he rejoins the herd and shares his story of survival to all the lady gazelles at the watering hole.
Effectively, the gazelle is purging his system of cortisol and resetting his system from a fight, flight, freeze response.
He is quite literally shaking out trauma, so it doesn’t remain stored in his body.
Every thought and emotion you experience is also experienced by every single cell in your body, all 30 trillion of them (as currently estimated by science).
If you don’t do something to “shake” them out, those emotions get stored as trauma in your cells.
This is the key to breaking yourself out of a funk.
We’ve all heard that the body listens to the mind. And that’s true. But not many people realize the mind listens to the body. And this is the reason why you can’t simply positive think your way out of a depressed state.
At my live workshops, I demo and teach a variety of powerful techniques. But, here’s a simple one you can start using right now and it’s a two-step process:
- Change your posture.
Yes. That’s it.
If I asked you right now to stand how a depressed person might, what would you do?
You’d slump your head and shoulders forward, and slouch. You might even sit down. And your breathing would likely become shallow.
In every seminar room I’ve conducted this exercise, there’s never been a single person who didn’t slump and slouch when I asked them to take on the posture of someone who is depressed.
Even a blind person would respond the same way.
It is our natural instinct to get back into the fetal position. It is also an unconscious method of trying to protect the heart.
Get into the fetal position and try to be ecstatically happy. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
You can’t do it, can you?
The mind knows what the body’s posture means and this is why positive thinking won’t help you out of a depressed or anxious state.
You MUST change your posture.
They call it ‘body language’ for a reason. The body speaks both from the inside out and the outside in.
Your posture tells your mind how you want to feel and the mind follows suit. It’s like a Trojan Horse for mental health.
Next time you’re in a depressed state, stand how a happy, motivated, positive person might stand.
Back straight, chest out, head up.
Think of the differences between Eeyore and Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. They don’t act that way because of how they feel. They feel that way because of how they act.
You have been given everything you need to control your body and your mind; you just have to learn how to hack the code.
Take a few minutes today to walk around like you’re motivated. Cool. Confident. Be like the gazelle. See what happens.
Kip Brooks is a certified Trainer and Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and holds certificates in Mental and Emotional Release® and Hypnosis from the Association for Integrative Psychology. He is a John Maxwell certified speaker, sales trainer and coach and holds certificates in youth empowerment by YouthMax and YouthMax Plus. He is also certified by the Life Coach Training Institute and is certified in Neuroscience, and Healing Touch.