The Problem of Positive Thinking

I just heard a podcast by my good friend Steve Beaman on the topic of positive thinking made popular 50+ years ago by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. I was taken back to my twenties and the reading of this book. I found the principles made sense. However, something was missing. At the time I couldn’t identify that something but I believe I can now and even act upon it.

I have come to understand that when we say “thought” we define that word to be a strictly cognitive process. It may make a difference in life but also may be only of passing fancy, a trivial pursuit of sorts. I have come to see “thought” as much too limiting.

If we take a look at our mind/brain, most of its capacity is dedicated to things other than cognitive thought. I am not aware of my heart beating, my breathing, the trillions of bits of information coming to me every second through my nerves. I am also not aware of all the emotional stuff that I may be carrying from the age of 2 or 3 or 5, etc. which is taking energy from my system in order to maintain my negative emotional state in a way of self-protection.

The title I gave to this article is “The Problem of Positive Thinking” which infers there is a problem in regard to positive thinking. Well what could be wrong with positive thought? Am I suggesting it better to think negatively? No! However, if you force positive thought on top of a negative emotional reality you will experience the positive thought as a lie or at least a burden which sooner or later you will no longer be able to shoulder.

The problem here is not with positive thought per se. The problem is that we stop with positive thought as though that is the culmination of our reality. There are two other touchstones which must accompany positive thought for that thought to be positively accepted. Those touchstones are positive belief and positive action.

Many have had the experience of hearing a word or story and knowing the truth it contains and yet being unable to make the change in life such thought requires. We may desire to move from a positive thought to positive belief and finally on to positive action but find ourselves unable to make the shift necessary. The problem is that on some unseen level you do not believe what you think. When your beliefs and thoughts collide your beliefs will win. Here I am talking about the unseen belief system through which you funnel all your experiences.

Only when you identify the faulty beliefs at the core of your identity can you effectively begin to act upon what you now think. So what does this look like? How does someone begin to see this unseen belief system in his/her own life? Look for the appearance of negative emotions and how you deal with them. What are trigger points for you to explode in rage, turn red in the face with embarrassment, or cower in fear? How are you physically experiencing these negative emotions? Usually this happens in a stiff neck, a tight chest/palpating heart, or a gut tied in knots.

If these things sound like you, then thinking positive thoughts, by themselves, will not work. Only when you feel and let go of the negative feelings and beliefs you have carried for years will your positive thoughts begin to make a difference in your life. Dr. Peale was correct that there is a power in positive thought. It is a good beginning. However, if you feel a twinge in neck, chest, or gut when you think in a new, positive, way you have a choice. You can continue to fight against your belief or explore it. The fight will only end in the negative belief becoming stronger and your positive thought being rejected as impossible.

When I say explore your belief that is made possible by becoming aware of your negative emotions. Your next step is to let go of the emotion(s) stealing peace and confidence from your life. This takes some time, however this is the housecleaning necessary for positive thought to take hold.

Housecleaning is a very good metaphor in understanding what I am saying. If I want to paint my living room a different color, I first must remove all the cobwebs and spiders. I must clean off the dust and wash off fingerprints and other residue. If I were to forget these steps, the paint would not adhere to the wall but to the other stuff. Eventually, the investment in time and money would be lost.

This is the way you experience positive thought in your life. If you will put in the effort of feeling feelings and letting them go, your new positive thoughts will adhere to your life like paint to a clean prepped wall. So here is my encouragement to think positive thoughts and go beyond to develop positive internal beliefs leading to positive actions.

Author's Bio: 

Steve Beaman is the Author of "Happiness & Prosperity in the 21st Century: The Five Paths To a Transformed Life". He has authored over 100 articles relating to the Five Paths including articles on Financial Prosperity, Emotional Wellness, Physical Health, Intellectual fulfillment, and Spiritual Security. He enjoyed a highly successful career in Economics and Finance prior to establishing The Steve Beaman Group. The "SBG" is an organization dedicated to helping people on their journey's of life.