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Positive Thinking, Debunked

April 26, 2011 Leave a comment

I heard an interview recently on the NPR show To the Best of Our Knowledge (it starts around 29:20 in the show)with author Barbara Ehrenreich about her new book Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.  The basic premise of the book is that positive thinking in and of itself is a bad thing. I had a few issues with the conclusions she shared.

1.Ehrenreich began by talking about her battle with Breast Cancer and how she was told she should think positively during her treatment.  She thought this NEGATIVELY affected her treatment and actually criticizes people that have Cancer and “buy in” to positive thinking. She goes so far as to say that positive thinking is NOT GOOD for Cancer patients.

This is a big issue; In a Cancer patient’s head, what alternative is there to positive thinking? Basically, the answer is depression. Seeing yourself as a victim and retreating into the ”Why did this happen to me?” mentality will not help your treatment at all. Finding inspiration in others’ stories, embracing their success, and using it to fuel your own positive viewpoint can’t hurt whatsoever.

2.The interview continues focusing on positive thinking as a means of corporate control. Ehrenreich believes that corporations are using positive thinking speakers to keep workers complacent and resist questioning authority. She even says positive thinking was used in the Soviet Union to brainwash workers into accepting their roles.

Ehrenreich is way off the mark here, in my opinion. I haven’t been part of a major corporation, but I seriously doubt the primary purpose of positive, motivational speakers is to keep workers down. The priority of these type of speakers is to inspire people. Inspiration breeds productivity and creativity. If anything, positivity creates ambition which, in turn, causes workers to want MORE from their jobs rather than settle for what they have.

3.Ehrenreich criticizes “The Secret” and the simplicity of the “Law of attraction”. She cuts down the idea that our thoughts control the universe.

I agree with her on this point. “The Secret” is much too simple to actually work for people, and is seemingly pandering to the lowest common denominator in our country. However, there is definitely still value in recognizing your vision for success; Ehrenreich is unwilling to recognize this. By clearly defining where you want to be in life,  you can start thinking about the steps you need to take to achieve those goals.

Begin with the end in mind, create a strategy, and work tirelessly toward your goal. Starting with a sense of realism or determination (without positivity) which is what Ehrenreich advocates is going to lead to failure. Realism is the antitheses of ambition. This is realism talking: “I want to create a successful business but only one in 500 businesses are ever profitable. I’ll just be realistic and quit now.”

To achieve remarkable sucess you must be unrealistic starting out. You must believe in yourself (especially when other people don’t) even when it results in failure. Persistence after failure is an integral component to success. Without positivity during that process, failure will derail your ambition.

4.At the conclusion Ehrenreich refuses to concede there is anything valuable about positive thinking. She offers determination as a solution.

I agree that determination is a good thing, but she says:

“You can have determination even when you don’t think realistically that you might succeed.”

Not at all. You have to believe in the success of a project on some level to create determination. Otherwise what are you working for?

Is positivity the ONLY thing that will lead you to success? Of course not.  Constant evaluation, evolution, and critical thinking (among other behaviors) are all necessary for success. But entering into projects without a positive attitude is a great recipe for failure.

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A Few of My Favorite Nuggets From My 30 Day Plan

April 20, 2011 Leave a comment

How to Win Friends and Influence People:

Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain: This may be the most promising nugget of information that I can use over and over in the entirety of the material I have gone through. The idea here is basically: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” An extremely simple concept that many of us forget each day.

It’s easy to fall into criticizing a boss/friend/co-worker/significant other behind their backs or shoot down someone’s ideas without thinking about it and without offering any better alternatives. This type of behavior is counter productive and fosters a lot of negativity.

I am going to try my hardest to avoid criticizing, condemning, and complaining for all 30 days and and at least recognize when it is happening to stop it in the future.

Smile: This is also so basic but still so important. Find ways to genuinely smile, it will make you happier and make it easier for the people around you to get along with you. It’s easy to forget the most basic things like smiling and joking around when you get caught up in projects, but that is the spirit that helps keep you energized and avoid burning out.

Think and Grow Rich:

Napolean Hill’s Self-Confidence formula: The formula involves creating thoughts based around the goals you want to achieve. The idea here is to envision your future successful self for 30 minutes a day. Write a script that you repeat to yourself twice a day describing and helping you visualize your ultimate goals. This will, in turn, naturally influence your thoughts and actions in the direction of the goals you hope to achieve.

It sounds a little gimmicky and it reads like a very basic version of “The Secret,” but I have never followed a prescription like this before so I am going into it with an open mind. At the very least it will keep me goal oriented.

Awaken the Giant Within:

I already shared the conviction creation system from ATGW. I will be focusing on fostering one conviction a week spending a few minutes concentrating on it each day.

AWTG’s empowering morning and evening questions: Ask yourself about five questions in the morning and five more in the evening with content along the lines of: “What am I happy/excited/grateful for in my life right now?”

This is a technique that I have used in the past that I had forgotten. It worked very well to keep my thoughts focused on positive things in my life and it genuinely made me happier.

Getting Things Done:

I will be doing my best to follow David Allen’s comprehensive organization system. The system is pretty rigid so I will try use it to the tee for a while, and then adapt it to my own level of comfort, filtering what works and what doesn’t.

The Power of Now:

Tolle’s concept of observing the thinker: The basic assumption of the book is that we are always thinking, even when it is not productive to do so, and that we have a lot to gain by simply “shutting off” when thought isn’t necessary.

Observing the thinker is the process of “watching” your thoughts and recognizing when you don’t need to be thinking. This means all the random things that come into your head, distracting you from focusing on the here and now. After you recognize this excessive thought, try to stop it and bring yourself into the moment. This will help you avoid being lost in your head. It helps clear your mind and restore focus into what you are doing.

Overall a lot of the things I am going to be focusing on are done in an effort to avoid negative thinking and focus on positive goals and being a happier, more productive person. I am excited to get this experiment underway and I’ll let you know how it is going along the way!
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Creating a Conviction

April 5, 2011 1 comment

One of the best ways to drive yourself that I have read about so far is creating a conviction in your belief system. A conviction will create such a positive connection in your head with a certain behavior it will lead you to take massive action. There is a four step process to creating a conviction that sounds simple to follow but takes a significant amount of work to achieve.

Step 1: Create a basic belief that you want to turn into conviction. A belief is just a thought in your head that is powerful enough that you do not question it. For our purposes right now say the belief you are trying to achieve is: “I am a skilled programer.”

Step 2: Create references for that belief. This is integral, use your experiences, imagination, and knowledge to create different references that will shape the belief. One of the great things about this step is these references don’t necessarily have to be true, you just have to believe them.In our programming example think of times in your head where you have created great projects that you were especially proud of. Imagine the type of projects you WILL create with your skill set. Think about winning contests and the excitement and joy it caused you. Also, associate massive pain with not achieving your new conviction. Imagine all the areas of your life that will suffer as a result of not having that conviction.

Step 3: Find a triggering event. Create one event that “fire’s up” that belief. It can be a small start but make sure you DO start. Do not be afraid to jump in even if you’re not quite sure what you are doing. Commit yourself to taking action. In the case of programming it could be as simple as creating a basic HTML page.

Step 4: TAKE ACTION. This is the most important step. Do anything you can to associate your experiences with your new belief. Practice, create, compose, whatever it is that you are trying to accomplish, and do it often. The more you do this the stronger your conviction will become. Associate great enjoyment and pleasure from carrying out your new belief. Attach positive emotions to strengthen your belief to the level of conviction. Know that you are living how you want to live and you are directing your own path rather than letting your environment control you.

One thing to keep in mind: We can create references from other peoples opinions of us. This is called social proof and it is something that could severely hurt your chances of achieving your conviction. If you take limiting criticism’s to heart it will diminish and possibly stop your path to conviction.

So ignore the haters, tune them out. Acknowledge what they say, then disregard it. These are the people that are trying to see you fail. They don’t want you to rise above their level so they try to bring you down. These are the people you want to distance yourself from eventually because they can become toxic in the long run.
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Reading Plan Update

April 5, 2011 Leave a comment

My reading project has taken more time than I anticipated, mostly because I am actively pursuing getting the most out of my reading. I want to understand and retain the material in these books as best I can. I am also taking the most comprehensive notes I have taken on any books in my life.

I am using the “read to lead” mentality and so far it is working out great but the major side effect is what I gain in understanding, I lose in speed. My goal is to finish reading an outlining each book by April 16th. At that point I will post about my 30 plan of action into the world of uber-productivity.