The end of the year is a hopeful time for me. I approach every new year with a sense of excitement and optimism. And if you read this column with any regularity, you know I’m a big believer in the power of optimism.
I have a copy of “The Optimist Creed” above my desk—and begin every day by reading it. So I was surprised to see a recent article in the New York Times called “The Problem With Positive Thinking.” The author, a psychology professor at NYU, says, “The truth is that positive thinking often hinders us…dreaming of the future can drain you of the energy you need to take action in pursuit of your goals.”
I agree that merely imagining a positive future is not going to get you where you want to go. It is a misconception popularized by the book, The Secret. I’m paraphrasing here, but the book suggests that to receive something, you have to visualize yourself having it, then “Ask, Believe, Receive.” First ask the universe for what you want. Then, believe what you want is yours, then you receive it.
The Missing Step
It would be nice if things really worked this way. But they don’t. My take on the advice in The Secret: A step is missing between believing and receiving. It’s called “work your butt off.”
Point 4 in The Optimist Creed reads: “Promise yourself to look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.” The key word here is “make.” Positive thinking in action means actively looking for the positive in everything—even rejection and failure—then doing whatever it takes to make things work out.
It’s certainly difficult to look at the sunny side when you’re mired in a problem. However, if you focus on what you can learn, you are already looking at the sunny side. More importantly, you’ll be on your way to making your optimism come true.
Back to the Times article. It suggests that while positive thinking calms you down, it drains you of the energy you need to achieve your goals. I don’t buy this. I have found that optimistic, positive thinking energizes people, not the other way around.
The author’s suggestion is to engage in “mental contrasting.” It works this way: First, imagine a positive outcome. Then imagine the obstacles you’ll face as you move toward that outcome. Doing this will make you work harder. In other words, do what you need to do to make your optimism come true.
My advice to you as 2014 comes to an end is simple. Choose optimism. Believe things will turn out well. See failure and defeat as temporary and treat them as learning opportunities. Know that wishing will not make your dreams come true. Be willing to put in the time and effort necessary to turn your dreams into reality. That’s optimism and positive thinking in action.