The core misunderstanding
We are all familiar with the concept of “positive thinking”. It’s what we’re supposed to do, say the self-help gurus, to turn our lives around and become happier, healthier.
So how is it that all those affirmations and positive thoughts that initially inspire and excite us so much wear off after a relatively short time and we fall back in old habits and unresourceful behavior? Where is the catch, and why doesn’t this “Positive Psychology” work?
In short: Because it’s not really Positive Psychology.
So what is Positive Psychology?
Positive psychology is a powerful, scientifically researched approach to living a life in which you can thrive. It goes way beyond any motivational/inspirational talk and lets you recognize and acknowledge the strengths you already possess. It is one of many tools at the coach’s disposal that can turn your life into an empowering one. Positive psychology’s basic concepts have been around for quite some time, but they have been brought into the spotlight by University of Pennsylvania’s Martin Seligman. In his own words, it is “the study of what constitutes the pleasant life, the engaged life, the meaningful life.” It is a strength-based approach, focusing not on what’s not working (yet) but on what does (already).
We all have positive character traits; they are expressed in varying degrees in all of us. Positive psychology is a way of remembering and therefore accessing the resourceful, healthy things that already exist in us.
Positive thinking, on the other hand, is a short-sighted approach to self-improvement. While affirmations and positive thoughts certainly have benefits, the problem with them is that their effects are almost never lasting. Applying positive thinking while neglecting the unconscious processes that give rise to our unhealthy thoughts and attitudes in the first place is like building a shiny, brand-new house on a muddy foundation somewhere in the swamp. How lasting do you think that house will be? Ask any smoker who ever tried to quit using willpower and affirmations. They will most likely tell you it didn’t work. And even if it did for some, the silent, underlying craving never completely goes away. That’s because a beautiful house was erected on muddy ground.
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