So, December is proving to be a terrible month to do an anything “of the month”, but I’ve been trying to fulfill my intentions to read up on the subject of positive thinking, and to inform myself on the evidence for its efficacy. I hope to go more in depth at what science says about positive thinking, but for now here are some of my initial thoughts on the topic.
When I told my husband that I would be doing positive thinking as my skeptical topic of the month, he thought it was a little bit strange because of his experience as an athlete. He plays and coaches hockey, so he’s familiar with the effects that a positive attitude can have on the outcome of a game. If your team is convinced that they’re going to lose, they aren’t going to over-exert themselves to try in futility to score. It’s easier for the players to get over their own insecurities and to play their best if they’re feeling confident.
I was an athlete myself back in my highschool and university days. I was a competitive swimmer, and my best event lasted less than 30 seconds. I had to be positive about my training and abilities, otherwise I would get caught up in making sure my hands were positioned correctly or making sure I didn’t breathe too often. But here’s the thing, no amount of positive thinking would have allowed me to go faster than I was physically able to go. If I hadn’t worked hard enough in practice I couldn’t count on my optimistic brain to push me into the lead. I could visualize myself springing from the blocks the moment the gun went off, but it wouldn’t change the fact that I had terrible reaction time.
Thinking about something doesn’t make it happen, no matter what Oprah tells you.
Out of curiosity I Googled “Positive thinking can”, and here are some of the results that came up:
· Help you feel better, longer
· Reduce stress
· Ease back pain
· Change your life
· Increase your wealth, health and happiness
· Help you attract success
· Help children feel confident
· Help you lose weight
How can thinking possibly do all of this magic? I have back issues myself, and let me tell you no amount of positive thinking is going to dull that sharp pain like loads of ice and an anti-inflammatory. Though I might be able to distract myself from the pain by thinking about how annoying Deepak Chopra is…
Positive thinking may be helpful in some of these instances. Being a positive person might make people want to be around you, which will increase your chances of having a friend that can help you find wealth or success. But looking at websites and videos that promote positive thinking make it seem as though if only you start to think more positively you’ll suddenly find yourself in a beautiful green meadow with a big blue sky and rolling clouds, basking in your own success while you spin around with your arms in the air in loose, white clothing.
Thoughts aren’t magical. Conjuring something up in your mind isn’t going to make it happen. Positive thinking isn’t going to help you pass that test unless you study. A good attitude won’t shrink that tumor. Optimism won’t give you the money you need to buy your dream home.
Yet there’s an entire industry out there of people who want to sell you the idea that you can get anything you want by sending your positive thoughts out into the universe. On the surface it’s a nice idea. Just be positive! Your dreams will come true! But what really disgusts me about these ideas is the implication that if good things don’t happen for you it’s your fault.
Terminally ill? Maybe you should have a better attitude. Didn’t get the job? Keep sending those positive vibes and you’ll get a job eventually. Depressed? Well maybe you should smile more.
This is what protects the cult of positive thinking: it’s immune to criticism. If it doesn’t work for you it’s because you weren’t doing it right.