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Positive Thinking or What?

We are often told about the benefits of positive thinking but I have to admit I have always been a little bit sceptical on the subject. When I tell myself that I am incredibly successful, intelligent, attractive, etc. there’s always a little voice inside of me going “Oh, yeah?”

The fact is that we always know subconsciously when we are trying to fool ourselves, and the danger is that all we succeed in doing is hypeing ourselves up in preparation for an inevitable fall.

It’s much better to build on what we have achieved and to reinforce the successes that we really have had. However bad our day, however much we may have behaved like a loser, there are always some things that we have done well. So rather than dwell on the failures let’s seek out and reinforce our successes.

Here’s an exercise to help us do just that:

Every evening sit down and draw up a list of the things we have done well during the day. It doesn’t matter how small or big they are. Just make a list. Get between 6 and 12 items. Then take each item in turn and write it in general terms. So if one of your items was “I gave a good client presentation today”, write down “I give great client presentations”. Then repeat it to yourself.

The difference between this and positive thinking is that you are not trying to persuade yourself of something you don’t really believe is true. Instead you are reinforcing something you have just proved is true!

Reader Comments (16)

Wow! That is a great little tip. Thanks Mark.
May 25, 2007 at 9:35 | Unregistered CommenterNicky Perryman
Thanks, Nicky. I hope it works for you.

May 25, 2007 at 16:12 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Mark, that little voice inside you going "Oh yeah" is your super-ego at it again. It simply wants to keep you in your box. Anything like positive affirmations it finds very threatening, "Oh my goodness this guy might actually try something new what am I going to do?", and it whispers, "Oh yeah" into you mind. All that positive affirming energy that was stirring inside you is gone like a puff of smoke.

I'm also a bit confused by your post because at the start you seem to pour cold water on positive thinking and then at the end you give an exercise that is based on exactly that - positive thinking.

Not to worry though, I think the exercise is an excellent one and very beneficial.

Thanks for that.

May 25, 2007 at 20:36 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Hollingworth
Oops, sorry for the second comment; but I just noticed something else.

I have to disagree with your paragraph about the subconscious because I believe that it <b>doesn't</b> know when we're fooling it. I feel that there's a huge body of evidence that shows that positive thinking <b>does</b> work.

OK, I'll rephrase that.

For <b>me</b> positive thinking does work and I benefit from it daily along with a number of other techniques like self-awareness and staying present. If you feel it's not working for you then I would humbly ask that you investigate why not because I feel it can be of immense benefit to everyone.

I think I'm done now.


May 25, 2007 at 20:43 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Hollingworth
Dear David

I would be very interested to know more about how positive thinking has worked in your own life. Can you give some examples of projects which you have carried through using this technique? Have you had any failures? How long have you been using it for?

Also any references for the evidence that it works would be appreciated.
May 26, 2007 at 15:47 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark

I will certainly write up some of my own experiences with positive thinking for my blog and I'll let you know when I'm done.

As for bodies of evidence there you may have got me. I can have a trawl round the net; but I don't now if any scientific studies have been done on positive thinking or not.

Which is why I rephrased my comment above to make it personal and not general. For me positive thinking works.

May 27, 2007 at 7:19 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Hollingworth
Hi Mark,

I just noticed it's been a while since your last post. Are you on holiday or dreaming up a new book? We're eagerly awaiting the latest from you!

Best regards,
June 13, 2007 at 15:04 | Unregistered CommenterKate

Like Kate I keep popping back every couple of days to catch up on your latest articles, to no avail.

Hope all is well and you're able to get back to regular updates.

June 15, 2007 at 12:44 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan
Dear Mark
I too miss your articles. I always check your blog. Perhaps you are having a well deserved rest!
June 15, 2007 at 18:21 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie
I'm getting worried too. My productivity at work depends on these blog entries!
June 19, 2007 at 11:37 | Unregistered CommenterLinda
Looks like the site has been abandoned!?
July 16, 2007 at 9:06 | Unregistered CommenterNiko
Not a religious buff myself, here is a little definition I believe is dead on: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). Having faith (thinking positively) is by no means a form of fooling our subconscious mind. Once you feel that warm tinge that let's you know everything's gonna be all right, that sense of wellness is sure for the taking and you'll materialize it. Dare to dream and take the plunge into grander things!!
September 7, 2009 at 4:44 | Unregistered CommenterSamuel N.
I agree, positive thinking is most effective when it's about specific things rather than vague. It's easier to believe I did one or two things well and then add to them, than that I did it all perfectly.

Working on positive thoughts also helps me identify negative, self-sabotaging thoughts. I don't have time for self-sabotage.

There is much evidence that negative feedback done the wrong way can do damage. It's remembered much longer than positive feedback. Specific things to improve are easier to work on than generalities. Also, the fact that someone narrowed down the problem implies they feel the overall package is worth the time they spent doing it, and they have confidence you will use the advice to improve.

The same applies to positive comments. Compare, "Dear Grandma, Thank you for the goo. I liked it a lot," and "Dear Grandma, Thank you for the goo. I stuck it on my shoe and stepped on Mom's carpet. As you predicted, she hit the roof. We both got a lot of exercise that day."
October 5, 2010 at 17:47 | Registered CommenterCricket
A rather scathing commentary on positive thinking:
November 23, 2013 at 9:20 | Unregistered Commentermichael
Using positive thinking to change habitual thinking patterns may be better than using it to try and convince yourself of something you disbelieve. Changing beliefs requires at least the belief that beliefs can be changed (!) followed by a process to remove doubts around the new belief.
November 23, 2013 at 9:32 | Unregistered Commentermichael
They say to the seers, "See no more visions!" and to the prophets, "Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. (Isaiah 30:10 NIV)
November 25, 2013 at 17:46 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

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