Deal with your negative thinking, but be careful with affirmations
Posted Jun 11 2009 10:12pm
The self-help ‘author’ Stuart Smalley, a fictional character created by satirist Al Franken on Saturday Night Live in the mid-90’s, had a certain goofy self-effacing charm, but a proclivity for psychobabble, using phrases often taken from common 12-step slogans, such as:
* “That’s just stinkin’ thinkin!” * “You’re should-ing all over yourself.” * “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt!” * “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”
Smalley’s not-so-wise sayings aside, we may really experience and even suffer in many ways from “stinking thinking” – for example, ideas we form or pick up from others about “the ways things are” and what we are capable of – ideas we “broadcast” inside our heads, that can deeply affect how much clarity and energy we have to realize our talents.
In her book on “recovering your creative self” – “The Artist’s Way” – Julia Cameron writes about “core negative beliefs” and notes that a cliche such as “artists are promiscuous” can have destructive variations for a woman thinking of pursuing life as an artist: “No man will ever love you if you are an artist. Artists are either celibate or gay.”
The point Cameron is making is that such beliefs, regardless of fact, can profoundly stifle creative expression and the life choices that enable creativity.
In his article Not good enough? Not smart enough? Not pretty enough?, Louis Alloro (Positive Psychology News Daily) notes these “voices in our heads can be real buzz-kills. ‘I’m not whatever enough. Or I should be (doing) X, I should be (doing) Y, I should be (doing) Z.
“Some call this voice “the gremlin” or saboteur. Others look at it is as a radio station that plays recurring tunes of self-limiting beliefs embedded into our subconscious minds.”
He adds, “Whatever you call it, these voices have harmful effects. Positive psychologists sometimes suggest that it is our own, self-deprecating mind chatter which holds us in the bonds of ordinance.
“Our thoughts and belief systems can become our realities. Limiting beliefs lead to procrastination and laziness, dampen and destroy dreams, and bring down morale.”
And, he notes, “Successful people who exhibit high levels of grit have learned to combat these limiting beliefs by changing the hardwired thinking patterns – replacing them with more constructive and positive ones.”
The self-help field thrives because of the many varieties of promises to do just that; books, workshops and products (see the Personal Growth Information site) offer strategies to change our negative and limiting self-talk.
One growing, research-based area is positive psychology – but this is not superficial “positive thinking” or fluffy affirmations.
These declarations are supposed to inspire and energize us, but one of the main problems is they tend to be so vague, generic and often unrealistic.
“But a new study suggests that despite its popularity, this particular brand of self-help may backfire badly. Ironically, it seems to be people with low self-esteem, who are most likely to rely on such statements, who are most likely to feel worse because of them.
“Joanne Wood from the University of Waterloo found that people with low self-esteem who repeated ‘I’m a lovable person’ to themselves felt worse than people who did neither.”
Yong points out, “The effect may be counter-intuitive, but the theory behind it is very straightforward. Everyone has a range of ideas they are prepared to accept.
“Messages that lie within this boundary are more persuasive than those that fall outside it – those meet the greatest resistance and can even lead to people holding onto their original position more strongly.
“If a person with low self-esteem says something that’s positive about themselves but is well beyond what they’ll actually believe, their immediate reaction is to dismiss the claim and draw even further into their own self-loathing convictions.”
> Propose solutions to human problems that are too simplistic: “Happiness is a choice”, or (from the movie “The Natural”): “Losing is a disease” or, “Thoughts are habits – you just have to change your habit.”
> Make unfalsifiable claims: “you succeed or you fail because of your thoughts” (prob: “you weren’t thinking positively enough”), “I create my reality”, “I create everything in my life.”
Using positive psychology
But many positive psychologists and personal success leaders suggest ways to actively engage our thinking in ways that can enhance personal development.
In his article How I Discarded My Negative Beliefs, Morty Lefkoe admits he “had a bunch of negative self-esteem beliefs, such as I’m not good enough and I’m not important,” and notes he had based his self-esteem on never giving up.
“I thought forging ahead no matter what is what made me good enough and important.
“If the way people’s lives turn out is the result of their beliefs, I thought, what would show up in my life if I believed ‘What makes me good enough is overcoming obstacles’?
“Obstacles, of course! Not success, because that wouldn’t give me an opportunity to demonstrate that I’d never give up. I needed obstacles to prove that nothing could ever stop me, which would make me a worthwhile person.”
Morty Lefkoe is the creator of The Lefkoe Method for overcoming such limiting thinking.
“If you challenge your mind to expand your comfort zone, you will naturally expand your wealth zone. By striving to grow your comfort zone, you are constantly taking risks and finding more opportunities, ideas, actions and growth than you ever imagined.
“What is the single most important skill you can master to increase your happiness and success? Training your mind.
“How do you train your mind? Start by observing your thought process. If you are like most people, your mind continuously produces both empowering thoughts, such as those that lead to success, and disempowering thoughts, including those that don’t support your wealth and happiness.”
Beside reading positive psychology books and articles there are some very intriguing computer and other technology-based programs, such as Live Happy – an iPhone app developed with Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of the book The How of Happiness.