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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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