A lot has been made of the power of positive thinking. We have all
heard the idea that thinking positively has a beneficial effect on
Optimism, one form of positive thinking, has actually been found to
both promote healthy behavior and to undermine healthy behavior. The
distinction here is based on whether the optimism a person exhibits is
"defensive" or "functional".
Defensive optimism is exemplified by the person who believes she is in less
danger of disease than others. With functional optimism, a person might
see herself as capable of coping effectively with challenges and
adversity. The functional optimist takes care of her health by engaging
in disease-preventing behaviors. The defensive optimist does not take
these same precautions, because she sees herself (unrealistically) as
less vulnerable to disease than other people.
Thus, you can' t say that thinking positively if you are a defensive
optimist is an adaptive strategy when it comes to matters of your
What kind of positive thinker are you when it comes to dieting and
losing weight? Are you the defensive optimist or the functional
Here is a typical declaration from someone who wants to lose weight: Next week, I' m definitely going on a diet, and this time I' ll stay on it.
Now that' s a pretty optimistic statement. Is it functional or
defensive? Is it defensive—not realistic—or is it functional, meaning
realistically positive? How can you tell?
You can tell if you look below the surface of the resolution, dig a
little deeper, ask questions which will show if she is just blindly
optimistic or if she has good reasons for being optimistic.
Here are the questions:
Has she set a goal that is within the realm of possibility?
Has she spent time creating a plan of action?
Does she anticipate challenges along the way?
Does she have plans in place to help her meet those challenges?
Does she believe in her ability to follow through?
It takes realism PLUS optimism to reach a goal.
In other words, if it is to work, this woman needs to back up the
resolution "next week I' m definitely going on a diet, and this
time I' ll stay on it".