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Positive Thinking -
Illusion vs. Reality

Is positive thinking a form of brainwashing? Is the sheer willfulness of mind power enough to change negative thinking to positive thinking? Can a self-imposed positive attitude actually change how I feel? Can I just decide to think positively and genuinely feel better now? These are some of the questions I have when I wonder whether my positive thoughts can have the power to genuinely change who I am - or whether they are just tricks I play in my own mind.

I've had various times in my life where I've used positive affirmations regularly and often in order to change how I feel. Many of the "affirmations experts" tell me that positive affirmations are most effective when I can truly conjure up the feeling of the positive affirmations while I repeat them often enough to accomplish the desired results. While it makes sense to combine a strong feeling with the affirmations, it can be difficult to summon up a genuine feeling at will. It seems to lack integrity for me to "Fake it until I make it". I don't like the internal conflict I feel when "faking it". How can I create a feeling out of thin air to complement my positive thought?

While feelings don't exactly come out of thin air, they are actually pretty thin in their substance. If you were stopped at a stoplight in your car and someone bumped your car from behind, you might feel rather angry. But what if the driver was having a heart attack? Would you still feel the same? Chances are that letting go of your anger (back into thin air presumably) would happen quickly. Your dominant feeling might now be compassion for the other driver, or anxiety about remembering your CPR skills.

This is a good example of how your feelings fleetingly come and go with the circumstances. Changing your feelings through sheer will power is a different story. The ego doesn't care what it feels, it only wants things to remain the same - to hold on to whatever feeling it is currently immersed in.

"The ego is a lot like a two year old hanging on to a toy. It doesn't matter what the toy is, only that the toy (or feeling) stays in his tight little fist."

As shown in the car accident example above, letting go of one feeling can be easy to do - either through a change in circumstances, or a change in your perceptions and focus. When you let go of your need to hang on tightly to a feeling, there is a seeming void left by the diminishing feeling. That void provides the perfect time to use the positive thinking mind power of your pre-frontal cortex to find another more desirable feeling.

You can feel honesty and integrity between your feelings, thoughts and actions. The forced use of positive thinking ends up being Pollyanna-ish with a pasted on smile. But when you monitor your feelings and thoughts, you can take advantage of the natural ebb and flow within your life experiences. You'll be ready to pounce on the opportunities that naturally arise when it's easier to let go of one feeling and replace it with a more positive attitude.

"A man is but the product of his thoughts - what he thinks, he becomes"  - Mahatma Gandhi

Another approach to positive thinking is to basically ignore or at least stop focusing on the parts of your life you don't like and only focus on the parts that genuinely feel good. Appreciation of the many wonderful things and people in my life is a great way to feel better now. This approach has some distinct advantages:

  • It feels internally honest and in alignment with my integrity.
  • It has the power to diminish undesirable feelings and replace them with a more positive attitude of appreciation.
  • It trains your mind to keep a more positive perspective more of the time.

The one drawback to this approach is that it doesn't train your brain to deal specifically with an habitual or all-consuming problem in your life. More and more research shows that problem focused approaches aren't the most effective. But by combining the two positive thinking approaches outlined above, you can:

  • Train your brain to take advantage of specific circumstances and feelings in a focused and deliberate way.
  • Train your brain to focus on good feelings more of the time.

Positive thinking does not mean you are acting like an ostrich with its head in the sand. You can still realistically appraise each situation in your life and take appropriate action without attaching some dark or ominous feeling to it. For example, if you don't have much money, that doesn't mean you just appreciate other things first and then carelessly spend money until your credit card starts smoking. Instead, you simply take focused and deliberate action without attaching an emotional downer to it.

Using positive thinking as a tool for my self improvement gives me a more powerful platform or context from which to take action. For instance, if I feel depressed and hopeless, it is nearly impossible to tap into the flow of creative inspiration from that place. But if I'm feeling joyful and hopeful, it's much easier to get into the flow and produce something that is vibrant and effective. The feelings alone don't create the change, it's the whole context or perspective from which I take focused action that produces the desired results. Using a varied approach to positive thinking will produce the most enduring changes that are truly in alignment with who you are.

Would you like to explore more "resources of possibility"?

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