Positive Thinking, Fact or Fiction?

by Bruce W. Hall

Shakespeare wrote, ďThere is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.Ē Are you an optimist, a positive thinker? Can you get through one day without complaining, criticizing, condemning, or getting angry or upset about anything or anybody? For many people, itís not easy. However, with steady practice, over time, you can refine your thoughts, words, and actions to trigger positive emotions.

Those who succeed at developing a positive mindset say it creates a tremendous feeling of empowerment. They feel confident, in greater control. When everyday events happen to create stress, anger, or frustration they recognize choices are available. They can take action, move forward, change things, or simply walk away.

There are certain natural, immutable laws or principles that exist, which, once understood and mastered, can directly help you exercise greater control over your thinking, your feelings, and your experiences. Brian Tracy writes about these laws in his book Maximum Achievement. “The Law of Expectation says whatever you expect with confidence becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Law of Belief says that whatever you believe, with feeling, becomes your reality. The Law of Control says that you feel positive about yourself to the degree to which you feel you are in control of your own life.”

People who conscientiously practice these laws understand that itís also easy, sometimes, to get sidetracked, interrupted, or blocked. However, anyone who has mastered them is always looking for specific ways to gain greater control of their life, rather than allow themselves to be controlled by some external pressure, situation, or influence.

In the field of Positive Psychology?the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive?research shows that, ďOptimism is associated with better health, performance, longevity and social success.Ē The field was founded on the belief that people want to lead fulfilling, meaningful lives, to develop their potential, and to enhance their daily living experiences. People who are optimistic perform better in work and other activities, are less depressed, display fewer health challenges, and engage in more mature relationships.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, skeptics view positive thinking as naÔve; hope in a bottle, colorful water purchased in an alchemist's shop. They see life as hard and tragic, with lots of suffering. They feel that happiness in the face of such misery is foolish and unrealistic. They believe itís an oversimplification to suggest that complicated human psychological problems can be so easily resolved.

They might have a point. Negative thinking, in certain situations, can lead to greater risk assessment, revealing the more appropriate course of action. For example, a positive thinking driver who drinks is still a menace to society and we do not want an optimistic airline pilot deciding to take off in the middle of a severe storm.

Positive thinking is not wishful thinking; itís a form of healthy psychological functioning that takes time to study and practice. It requires thoughtfulness, patience, and the development of a new realization. It means we become more alert, aware, and awake. It does not require surrendering who we are, but rather bringing into sharper focus our own unique individuation.

Goal setting is a vital first step. In fact, the willingness to establish goals and consciously work toward their achievement is the cornerstone of positive thinking. From my years of observation and experience, this premise has merit. Set a goal for yourself. Make it something very simple and easy to attain. Perhaps something youíve wanted to do for quite a while. Write it down! Wrap it in a time frame. Think about it. Reflect upon it. The very thought of your intention and resolve to follow through will be inherently uplifting.

Sir Isaac Newton, in his later years, was once asked how he managed to attain such remarkable breakthroughs in mathematics and physics. ďBy thinking of nothing else,Ē he responded.

Positive thinking can steady and powerfully focus oneís attention, especially during times of great personal crisis when self-discipline, self-mastery, and self-control are vitally important.

Barnett is a perfect illustration. The first thing you notice upon meeting him are his eyes. There is an inquiring sense of purpose even in the loose, easy way they wash over and embrace your every move.

The next thing you notice about him is the shaking, the unsteadiness, the cane; some of the many ways in which Parkinsonís has transformed his life.

Finally, and most importantly, as time unfolds and Barnett wishes to speak, you become aware of the towering intellect behind a transcendent mind as it proceeds cautiously to reveal itself in conversational rhythms.

Barnett has great reason for outrage. He is wrapped in an agonizing situation from which there is no retreat. Desire alone is not enough to transform his reality. His hands are no longer steady enough to sculpt in the precise manner of years ago. There are frequent periods of rest. His words are measured. His life controlled. There is little defense against many kinds of ills, but surely, Parkinsonís is one of the more frightening and specialized prisons.

However, Barnett a 77-year-old artist and former documentary filmmaker for UCLA still thinks about, sets and achieves goals. Recently, he started painting small, delicate, white and silver abstract images dripped and brushed against a dark background. Through force of will, creativity, and the involuntary movement of his hands, an intense and extraordinary series of paintings has emerged. They are stunning!

I am confident Barnett would agree positive thinking is not foremost in his mind; Parkinsonís has seen to that. However, I do think he would concede there is ample evidence in the choices he makes to reasonably suggest each day is lived with conscious intent and efficacy.

Can we learn from experience? Can we retrain our thinking? Do we have to entrust our happiness and peace of mind to outside circumstances? Positivism works! Negativism works, too. How much or how little they exert influence is the great challenge for each of us, and the great opportunity in our lives.

Copyright © 2008, by Bruce W. Hall. All rights reserved.

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