Mind Training: Positive vs. Optimistic Thinking

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Welcome to the New Year. This is the time when many people make resolutions for self-improvement to achieve a new, improved ‘you’. Whether it is a new exercise regimen or a new diet craze that you must stick to 7 days a week, the truth is that most resolutions fail before February even begins. Many of us get stuck in unrealistic thoughts and beliefs that lead to disappointment, anxiety, and stress when our expectation doesn’t come to fruition. To fix this, I’d like to suggest a New Year resolution that involves mind training to foster healthy, realistic thoughts and emotions for many years to come… Not just for 2013. I call this “optimistic thinking”.

We’ve all heard the term positive thinking or positive affirmations. Many of you have even been advised to practice more of it. However, to attain healthy, realistic thoughts, positive thinking won’t get you there. Positive thinking is not the same as optimistic thinking. Let’s compare two scenarios of a positive versus an optimistic thinker to illustrate the difference.

The positive thinker wakes up in the morning with affirmations saying, “Today is going to be a wonderful day and everything will go smoothly. I am strong and confident. I choose to be happy. I am worthy, and joy overflows in my life. People respect and admire me. I only have positive mental thoughts. I love and accept all parts of myself. I deserve to succeed. My wealth is increasing more and more. My future looks great.”

So what is wrong with the positive thoughts? For one, they’re too dichotomous and delusional to be based in reality. Unless you are looking to be a narcissist, the affirmations are not substantiated and only give a false sense of reality. When your beliefs are distorted in this categorical black & white fashion, they do not prepare you to deal with life in the real world.

In fact, what will happen to the positive thinker if all hell breaks loose on this “wonderful day” where everything was supposed to go smoothly? Since the positive thinker did not make room for life to happen, chances are he did not expect hell to break loose on this wonderful day. As such, he also is unlikely to be prepared to deal with any unforeseen situations. When you fall short unexpectedly, it has a negative impact on your self-esteem and confidence to manage future obstacles effectively. This lack of self-assurance only reinforces your need to further rely on a false reality. And so, this vicious pattern recycles.

On the other hand, the optimistic thinker wakes up saying, “I am grateful to awake to another day where I am given the opportunity to meet life’s challenges. When I fall, I know how to get back up, because I have failed and triumphed over many obstacles in my lifetime. I do not know what the future holds. However, I know I have the strength to tolerate and overcome whatever life has to offer.”

How is this different from the positive thinker? The optimistic thinker does not have to rely on a false reality to feel confident. He anticipates the uncertainty of life and believes in his own capacity to deal with life’s curve balls. He lives in the grey of not knowing what the future holds, and is prepared to face challenges that naturally come with life. Moreover, he accepts that there will be failures as well as successes, and is open to learning from the failures to be better equipped to manage future obstacles.

If you regularly practice optimistic thinking taking reality into account, then you will begin to feel better about yourself and your world. Rather than kid yourself with a false reality that you do not truly believe in anyways, be true and honest with yourself. The sooner you can accept your failures AND successes, the sooner you can free yourself from the constraints of fabricated beliefs.

Applying this to your New Year’s resolutions, be honest and accept that you will not likely meet all of your regimens 100% every single week. Just because you exercised 3 out of the 7 days this week does not mean you have failed and should get off the wagon completely.

Most importantly, any change including mind training takes time. Expecting overnight change is the first delusional thought to correct.

Happy New Resolution!