It’s a mantra of the modern age. The idea that just by using positive thinking, positive affirmations, positive visualisation, you can change your life.
But do you really believe that by telling yourself that love, luck, or success, will come your way just by thinking about it, that it will happen? That affirmations and visualisations are all it takes. There is something that the positive thinking brigade likes to ignore. The creativity and achievements of people who aren’t positive. Those who maybe even have mental health issues.
Just look at a self-help section in a book store or online. Or listen to anyone who has ‘succeeded’ (whatever success is). They’ll all tell you the same thing. That you have to think positive and by doing so all will be right with your world. That if you are not thinking those nice positive thoughts you will not have a chance of success. That you will not achieve anything. That positivity is almost a requirement for achievement.
If you’re a person who has ever suffered from depression or negative thoughts you’ll smell that crap a mile away.
Positivity and Mindset
You might think that someone who says that Carol S Dweck’s ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success’ has been a life-changer that I’m being a bit hypocritical.
The difference with positive thinking and mindset is that having what Dweck calls a ‘growth mindset’ isn’t about denying your feelings. It’s not about blindly trying to feel positive. It’s not about reaffirming yourself with empty words. Trying to fake it to you make it.
In Dweck’s studies she even shows how depressed people with a ‘growth’ mindset still manage to get what they need to done. There’s a difference.
So whilst I try and shift my perspective to being more hopeful, and appreciative, and trying to improve myself. I’m not deluding myself to the other parts of my reality. I’m certainly not thinking everything is great all the time.
Truth is, there are times I feel like crap. There have been a few days just this week when I didn’t even want to get out of bed. That mentally I’ve struggled. No positive thinking is going to change that. There’s only one thing that helps me then. Getting up and getting on with it.
The Problem With Positive Thinking
The modern origins of positive thinking seem to have stemmed from the New Thought Movement in the 19th Century and as a concept it was firmly solidified in the 20th Century with the release of ‘Think And Grow Rich’ by Napoleon Hill (1937). ‘How To Win Friends and Influence People’ by Dale Carnegie (1936), and ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ by Norman Vincent Peale (1952). Three books which are widely popular to this day.
Now I know a quick Google search will show you a lot of contradictory evidence in relation to positive thinking. Some will show you the benefits of positive thinking. Others will show you the problems with positive thinking. So which is right? Being positive or not? Is positivity really a requirement for achievement?
I think a big problem with positive thinking, and also its counterpart the Law of Attraction, is something called confirmation bias. Where someone thinks in a certain way, or takes a certain action, and then something good happens. Then they attribute what they did to the result. Possibly ignoring all the hard work and effort they have put in, or that maybe they just got lucky. Or ignoring the countless others who it hasn’t worked out for.
Achievement Is About Action
But what about the people who struggle with positive thinking. The people who suffer depressive episodes. I know I do. I know I’m not the only one. Sometimes things can get a bit overwhelming. It feels like there’s no way to think yourself out of it. Sometimes something will suck so bad that it will do nothing but make you feel low.
I know someone telling you to just get on with it is the last thing you want to hear when you are feeling bad and your mental health is suffering. I’ve been in that position. I’ve heard those words. I might not have agreed with them at the time. Thing is, I think it’s true.
As hard as it may be to take any sort of action. I do think it is possible. But not only is it possible just to take action. It’s also possible to succeed, to achieve, even to change the world.
Achievement Without Positivity
Don’t believe me? Let’s just take a look at some of the people who excelled in their field. People that we still remember today after many years. We have famous scientists, artists, musicians, even a president. All with mental health issues. And all before positive thinking even existed or was commonly known. Yet they all achieved greatness.
Take the great American President Abraham Lincoln who said he was subject to ‘a tendency to melancholy’ and reportedly experienced severe, debilitating depression.
Famous Artist Vincent Van Gogh is believed to have had epileptic seizures due to his prolonged use of the highly alcoholic absinthe. It is also believed he suffered from bipolar disorder.
Noted writer Ernest Hemingway, a Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning author, suffered from depression and alcoholism.
Michelangelo, the famous painter of the Sistine chapel is believed to have suffered from autism.
Sir Isaac Newton is believed to have suffered from a number of mental conditions including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and autism.
Other notables in the area of very un-positive ways of thinking include Leo Tolstoy, Kurt Godel, Charles Dickens, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Edgar Allan Poe, and Tennessee Williams.
Your Life. Your Choice.
Do you think that all the people that we still venerate today that created great things, achieved so much, were walking around thinking positive all the time? Of course not. Van Gogh chopped his ear off and that was before he committed suicide. Some people, especially creative types it seems, have issues. Some issues get resolved, some don’t. We all have some sort of shit to deal with after all.
What I’m trying to make clear is that you don’t need to let it take over. Don’t let it give you an excuse to put off either doing what you need to do, or for not achieving what you want to achieve. Maybe the shit that’s within you is exactly what you need to help you create the things in your life that you want. Maybe that darkness will help you connect with people in a way no one else can.
You don’t have to think positive. Leave that to the positive thinkers who want to ignore their reality. You don’t have to be all fluffy clouds and rainbows. You don’t have to be a fluttering butterfly of positivity.
All that matters is that whatever issue you have, you try. You try your best to do the things you really want to do. You take action.
It doesn’t matter if your life is hard. Or if you find daily living a struggle. You can still make a difference. And that difference might not just be for you. It might be a difference that benefits many others. It might be a difference that gets etched in history. It’s your life. Your choice. What’s it going to be?
p.s. Mental health is a very serious issue. Sometimes your mind might not be in any state to do anything. If you do have any problems please seek professional help.