You’re reading Why Positive Thinking Doesn’t Work – And What Does, originally posted on Pick the Brain | Motivation and Self Improvement. If you’re enjoying this, please visit our site for more inspirational articles.
You might be anxiously wondering where this article is going to go, so just in case you’re about to judge me as some negative Nancy that’s going to bash positive thinking, I’d like to clear that up because that’s not what I’m about to do.
I’m going to use a deep dive into The Three Principles understanding of Mind, Consciousness, and Thought to awaken you to the fact that we don’t need to try to think positive in order to enjoy a joyous and fulfilling life. All we need is an understanding, and to not take our thoughts so damn seriously.
What I’m going to touch on is:
Positive and negative emotions don’t exist, you just think they do
Judging vs understanding
A fear-based mentality
How the mind really works
Where our thoughts actually come from
What control we really have
The repercussions to always trying to think positive
How positive thinking teaches us to become more judgmental
A more peaceful approach to our thoughts and emotions
A healthier way to know your thinking is off
Where freedom lays, and it’s not with positive thinking
By trying to think positive all the time, you’re attempting to shun the negative and embrace the positive instead of embracing the whole.
The self-help industry is completely flooded with the newest tips and strategies on how to think more positive more often. Oddly enough, attempting to see through a rose coloured lens all the time isn’t the solution to living a more fulfilling and joyful life. On top of that, it doesn’t even work.
My goal by the end of this post is to convince you that by trying to think positive all the time you will never experience all that life has to offer.
Being a caregiver to my wife with Leukemia for the past 9 years has taught me a lot. Amongst the blessings in disguise that I’ve uncovered, I’ve learnt not to fear my own thinking.
Positive And Negative Thoughts Don’t Exist, You Just Think They Do
We make up what every single one of our thoughts mean. There is no universal meaning to our thoughts. There are universal feelings that we label, but each of those feelings means something different to each of us because we each have different thoughts that lead to those feelings.
Any given thought that you THINK is positive or negative is only that way because you THINK it is. You have labelled it so. Why do thoughts that lead to feeling happy have to be positive and thoughts that lead to feeling sad have to be negative?
Is it really such a negative thing to have thoughts that lead to feeling sad if you lose someone you loved dearly? Would you rather feel happy you lost them? One could argue that being happy in such a circumstance could be labelled as negative. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Judging vs Understanding
Judging leads us towards separating our thoughts into positive or negative compartments.
Understanding points toward the fact that we think. Through a simple understanding that we are thinking creatures and we aren’t in control, regardless of the content of our thinking, we can finally sit back and just watch the movie play out in our head.
Knowing that our thoughts have no life of their own allows us to not have to take them so seriously. None of our thoughts are real, not one. They only appear real because we give certain thoughts our full attention. This attention breathes life into a thought and that’s when they appear REAL.
Well, here’s the best news…
just because you have a thought in your head, this does not mean you have to act on it nor do you have to believe it. After all, it’s just a thought…until you think it’s not.
When we give our thoughts a life of their own, we feel the need to gain some control by attempting to banish the bad and embrace the good. We do this because we fear our thoughts are real, they have a sense of control over us, so we must take back control before they make us act out in ways we forbid.
A Fear-Based Mentality
Being a caregiver to my wife with Leukemia for the past 9 years has taught me a lot. I’ve been to hell on earth and back all in one lifetime and I’m very grateful for this experience. Amongst the blessings in disguise that I’ve uncovered, I’ve learnt not to fear my own thinking.
During my deepest depths of despair, the world was a very, very dark place and I couldn’t see the light for the life of me. I tried so hard to “think positive”, but I wasn’t thrown a single bone to chew on.
I wanted to think positive because I was so afraid of what was going on inside my head. I was afraid of my own thoughts, not so much cancer. I was constantly on edge, waiting to defend against the next negative thought that popped up.
Suffice to say, I ground through that stage in my journey, it was not a graceful victory by any stretch.
I know with all my being that I will never go back to that place, or anywhere near it. I know this because I no longer judge my thinking as positive or negative. What’s probably even more important is that I no longer fear my own thoughts.
I now aim to meet each of my thoughts with love and compassion. Love trumps fear every single time. This compassion eliminates any desire for me to judge or change my thinking.
All of my thoughts are now arbitrary until I decide which ones will best serve me and the greater good.
When we see our thoughts as real and in control of us, we have a tendency to then fear the thoughts we’ve judged as negative. This fear of a negative thought gives birth to the desire to abolish negative thinking while simultaneously attempting to control our thoughts.
If we take the stance of seeing all of our thoughts as arbitrary, until we give them life through belief and attention, we won’t feel the need to judge our thinking or try and control the uncontrollable. A thought becomes a thought, no more and no less.
In this non-judgmental state, we develop compassion for our thoughts, regardless of the contents. This compassion breeds a whole new level of understanding that makes one wonder why they felt the need to judge, fear, or change their thoughts in the first place.
How The Mind Really Works
The mind works like a projector. It reflects our own thoughts back to us and we call what we see “reality”. We’re watching the movie of our own mind, we’re not the movie, and therefore we’re not our thoughts.
Sure, we can direct the film through editing the speed, colour, and sound, but what we cannot do is create the film. We don’t even have control over which film gets placed into the projector.
Where Our Thoughts Actually Come From
This remains a mystery. This mystery is what religion, mystics, and spiritual leaders try to put into words that which cannot be described with words.
What we do know is that we don’t create our thoughts, we receive them and we observe them. Similarly to how we listen to a radio, and if we don’t control what is on the radio, what control do we have?
What Control We Really Have
We don’t have the power to decide what plays on the radio, but we do have control over which station we decide to listen to. Similarly, we have control over which thoughts we choose to listen to, but we don’t control which ones get placed in our head.
Just as we have zero control over being able to stop thoughts from popping into our head, we have zero control over which thoughts pop into our head.
An even more important distinction to recognize is that we have control over which thoughts we choose to believe.
To play devil’s advocate to what I just said, for those who believe in fate, it can even be argued that we don’t even choose our thoughts. Who told us to choose a certain thought? To believe a certain thought? It can be said that it’s part of our destiny and that the script is already written and we’re just playing it out.
It’s estimated that we have 60,000 – 100,000 thoughts swirl around in our head on any given day. Most of these thoughts are regurgitated and go unnoticed, none of these thoughts were placed in our head by choice, wrap your head around that.
Confused? Try reading this: 2 Of The Biggest Myths About Meditation And Finding Peace Of Mind
We Don’t Have The Power To Create A Positive Thought
If I presented you a blue ball in my hand and told you to choose the red one, could you do it?
Similarly, if you were presented with a negative thought and I told you to choose the positive one, could you do it?
Understanding that we don’t create our thoughts is probably the most important aspect of truly seeing why positive thinking doesn’t work. We have zero control over initiating the process.
Since I’ve pointed to the understanding we don’t create our thinking, this also points towards the understanding that we can’t create a positive thought. Sure, one could argue and say “OK, I’m going to decide to think a positive thought” Yet, that sentence alone is a thought that they didn’t create, they just listened to it.
I think this is where the distinction between choosing a thought and creating a thought really needs to be distinguished.
Here’s an example I received recently:
“At any time, I can recognize I am being hard on myself and then consciously choose to think, “I deserve a little credit for everything I did right today.” That’s an example of consciously choosing to create an empowering thought, and I’ve actually done this many times!”
I can see this confusing many people, as it confused the heck out of me at one point as well.
Who placed the thought “I deserve a little credit for everything I did right today.” into their head?
Where did that thought come from? Once again, this remains a mystery.
This person chose to give that thought attention and bring it to life with belief, but only after the thought was created and delivered as an option in the mind’s eye. If we had the power to consciously create “positive” and empowering thoughts then we would do it all the time, but I’m sure based on our experiences we can all agree that this is just not true.
Why is it that when we need an empowering thought the most it doesn’t seem to come? If we had the power to create one then we surely would. Instead, we wait until one pops into our head. And, if we’re too distracted or overwhelmed, we’ll completely miss the thought altogether.
As fascinating as the mind is, it is limited to only one thought at a time. One thought that we didn’t create but the one thought that we chose.
I understand that this is a hard concept to grasp, and one that can completely rock your world. Especially for those who want to think they’re in control, it can be earth shattering to even fathom the idea that you’re not in control of which thoughts get created and place into your head. That all you have control of is which thoughts you choose to give attention.
The opposite of control is freedom, free from the need or desire to control. This is when we will experience true freedom of mind.
Where Freedom Lay
There’s no freedom in condemnation. Freedom lay not with judgement but with non-judgement. A mind that condemns a thought due to a negative judgement is not a free mind.
This is a mind that is on edge, constantly on the lookout for the enemy. A mind that fears harm upon itself is not a free mind, this is a paranoid mind.
A liberated mind does not judge itself; it accepts what arises and understands that it does not need to attempt to control the uncontrollable.
True freedom of mind lay not without certain thoughts but with all thoughts. True freedom of mind lay not with fear of certain thoughts but with love for all thought.
A More Peaceful Approach To Our Thoughts And Emotions
Typically, negative thoughts are judged as negative due to the feeling they induce. Common feelings such as anger, guilt, frustration and resentment are regularly judged as negative emotions leading us to believe that our thinking is negative.
What if there is no such thing as a negative thought?
I like to view our emotions as indicators sending us messages. An innocent indicator that points us toward our thinking that has led to that emotion. Not to judge the thoughts, but to see the innocence and harmlessness in the thoughts, and to see the thoughts with compassion.
“Feelings are a barometer of our thoughts at any given time”
– George Pransky, The Relationship Handbook
The messages we receive are always a reflection of our thoughts at the moment since each one of our thoughts gives birth to a corresponding emotion. Therefore, the benefit of any thought, whether we judge it as positive or negative, is that it will generate a feeling which we can use to better understand our thinking at the moment.
If you pay attention to your feelings without judgement, you’ll see that they’re a great indicator to which thoughts you’re giving the most attention.
In my experience, understanding is a much more peaceful approach than constantly judging.
The Repercussions Of Always Trying To Think Positive
Firstly, if your expectation is that you should always think positive then you will be thoroughly disappointed. You’re setting yourself up for failure, this is one battle you will never, ever win.
Your frustrations during this battle will generate their own negative thoughts by way of continuous judgement of yourself for not gaining control. This will ultimately lead to the creation of an ongoing teeter-totter between positive and negative thinking.
This constant battle is exhausting, it takes up so much mental energy. This is wasted energy that could arguably be better spent on creativity or imagination, among other things.
How Positive Thinking Teaches Us To Become More Judgmental
In order to distinguish the so-called positive and negative thoughts, we must judge them as one or the other. To be on the look-out for the bad guys all day (negative thoughts), this requires us to be judging our thoughts all day.
This teaches us to analyze our thinking, then segmenting each thought into positive or negative categories. I’m exhausted just thinking about doing this each day.
We don’t see the world as our experience, we experience our thoughts as the world we see.
Therefore, the more we judge ourselves, which includes the thoughts in our head, the more we judge the world outside of us, including others. This is not the way of a more peaceful and joyful life.
As soon as we judge a thought as negative we’ve given it life, quite the opposite of our intentions. If we don’t judge the thought, it passes by all on its’ own like a cloud in the sky. Letting the thought go with judgement allows room for the next thought to pass by.
If we hold our attention on a negative thought, it leaves no room for the next thought to come through, not until we let that one go.
Being able to see your thoughts without judgement is ultimately what brings peace. Trying to think positive all the time takes you further away from this and more woven into a neurotic and judgmental world.
A Healthier Way To Know If Your Thinking Is Off
Rather than constantly judging our thinking, I propose a much more peaceful and non-judgmental way to explore our thoughts. There are two powerful questions I like to ask myself that help me see with more clarity, they are:
Is this thought really true?
Does this thought the greater good?
I wrote an article explaining why these two questions are so life changing here.
Learn from all of your experiences, opportunities are everywhere.
Hey! Rob Kish here. I have the best job in the world. I wake people up and transform lives for a living, as a health coach and through my written word. Visit my website to sign up for my newsletter and receive frequent words of wisdom plus my newest posts straight to your inbox!
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