The Power of Positive Thought

Just read an amazing post by Seth Godin on his blog titled the “Problem with Positive Thinking”.

Seth says the problem with positive thinking that we don’t think positively more often because it’s harder to think positively than it is to think negatively.

Balloon Juice!

Can you tell I don’t agree with Seth’s premise? Seems to me this is like saying that smoking is just easier to do than not smoking. The logic behind the argument sounds correct but the statement is still based on a flawed assumption that one kind of thinking is more difficult than another because of human nature.

Negative thinking is a learned behavior and has become a habit through a great deal of reinforcement and practice. The pattern has been learned from an early age and is strongly reinforced by family, school and society at large. If the behavior is learned, it can be unlearned (B. F. Skinner and his operant conditioning model of learning theory).

But what really caught my attention was not the postulate that it is easier and more natural to think negatively, but a statement Seth made about the true power of positive thought and I quote,

“Give someone an easy math problem, watch them get it right and then they’ll do better on the ensuing standardized test than someone who just failed a difficult practice test.

No, positive thinking doesn’t allow you to do anything, but it’s been shown over and over again that it improves performance over negative thinking.

Stop a moment and think about that. The person who succeeds on a test question prior to taking a standardized test scores better than “someone who just failed a difficult practice test.

Why? The success and/or failure experience realigns the mind to a ‘set’ of parameters that determines the way it responds to events following the success and/or failure by triggering strong emotional memories of other failure or success events. This change in mind-set realigns the mind to that emotional memory which is based on a belief in probable outcomes.

If the mind has just experienced a success, it realigns with the ‘success set’ parameters and will be primed to use this mind-set to process and understand events until another major shift occurs in the mind-set. Keep in mind that there is a belief upon which any mind-set is based. The belief is probably that success is more plausible than not.

What determines a shift in mind-set? A shift in attention. This shift is preceded by a stimulus that is noticeably different from current ‘background noise’. Perhaps it’s a bright colored insect floating by or the color of the sky, or a startling sound. Anything different from the background noise can ‘grab’ our attention. But the shift occurs when that stimulus is associated with a strong emotion – either positive or negative in nature.

So, when I succeed in solving the easy math problem, I associate that success with other successes I’ve had and I feel more confident about solving the next problem. I believe that I can succeed. But, if I fail a difficult practice test, I then score below my own average score on that same standardized test because I believe I will fail. I’ve now shifted to a failure mind-set. I’m feeling unsure, mentally down about having just failed to answer a difficult question and a little fearful about my ability to solve other problems. Now, I’m more focused on my feelings of sadness, frustration and fear than I am on understanding and solving the next problem. My mind-set  is actually causing me to have a greater chance of failing.

In the first scenario, I’m feeling confident, comfortable and alert and expecting to succeed. In the second, I’m feeling fearful, uncomfortable and unsure of my ability to succeed so I am expecting to fail. I believe that my chance to succeed is lower than my chance to fail.

This leads me back to the positive thinking stuff. If I believe I can succeed, I will succeed more often than not. If I believe I will fail, I will fail more often than not.

So, what I really have to do is change my belief. How can I do that? This is fodder for another blog.

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