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The Limitations Of Positive Thinking

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Hyderabad: Positive thinking is so firmly enshrined in our culture that knocking it is a little like attacking motherhood or apple pie. Many persons swear by positive thinking and quite a few have been helped by it. Nevertheless, it is not a very effective tool and can be downright harmful in some cases. There are much better ways to get the benefits that positive thinking allegedly provides.

Positive thinking and striving for happiness are common goals associated with self-improvement. It seems that they’re becoming more pervasive within company cultures, too, as employee happiness, customer happiness, and a focus on productivity pop up in more company culture documents and mission statements.

No matter what happens to us in life we tend to think of it as “good” or “bad”. And most of us tend to use the “bad” label three to ten times as often as the “good” label. And when we say something is bad, the odds grow overwhelming that we will experience it as such. And that is when we need positive thinking. We have been given something bad, a real lemon, and we better scramble and make some lemonade out of it and salvage something out of this “bad” situation.

When Is Positivity Good for Us?

During performance reviews, criticism and focusing on problems can make it hard for employees to see possibilities for improvement. Negative thinking tends to narrow our focus and block out other options, so we can end up stuck in the negativity without finding a way to move forward.

Positive encouragement that focuses on goals, and finding opportunities for improvement, however, can open our minds to options and alternatives. Moderate levels of happiness and a positive mindset can help us solve problems by fostering creative thinking.

And the feelings of happiness can often continue past what initiated them, since feeling happy tends to increase our focus on other positive aspects of our lives. It also opens us up to taking more risks and helps us to feel less inhibitied.

However, the act of striving for happiness itself has actually been shown to make us more unhappy. It seems like the more we force positive emotions, the less we truly feel them.

A tendency to think negatively can also be beneficial in terms of reducing suffering of negative events. For instance, imagining worst-case scenarios in advance can help us prepare for those events and better deal with them if they arise. Whereas trying to “correct” negative thoughts can actually make them worse.

But too much negative thinking is no good for us either. Negative emotions can suppress the immune system, increase stress levels, and increase our blood pressure.

Finding Balance

Positivity and negativity both clearly have a place in our lives. The trick, as with so many things, is to find a healthy balance. While being optimistic can be good for us it’s important that we don’t lose our handle on what’s realistic and what’s not. Psychologist Christopher Peterson calls this realistic optimism.

Another suggestion is to avoid positive affirmations. Lastly, avoid pressuring friends, family, employees or colleagues into positive thinking. If a pessimist uses negative thinking as a coping strategy, removing that strategy by forcing them into positive thinking can hinder their performance.

So let yourself-and others-experience and appreciate the downs that are part of life, as well as the ups.

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