Positive v Purposeful Thinking (Does Positive Thinking Work?)

By John Brant | 17th April 2016
A photo of a group in front of the clear blue sky, standing calmly and confidently in the sunshine.

It can be really difficult for anyone to be around negative people. Being around negativity can send us all off into our own spirals of judgement and condemnation. This is doubly so if we feel that we’re the source of the negative cycle! Negativity seems to attract negativity – so it can easily knock us out of balance.

Some say that the answer is to encourage positive thinking to help us feel better about ourselves – it can have the important effect of breaking a negative cycle and bringing balance back between negative and positive states of mind – but is positive thinking all we need to do if we are feeling down? This article examines how positive thinking may not always be the silver bullet that it is presented as and suggests a more complete approach to working with negativity and negative thinking – one which helps us to align ourselves with an inner sense of balance and purpose.

There is a myth that is perpetuated that happiness and wellbeing are synonymous with positive thinking. The myth implies that if we are not thinking positively then we are not supporting our happiness and wellbeing. We believe that this kind of philosophy is likely to keep you from finding your true happiness and we explain this below.

Dr John DeMartini (find his website here), has written numerous books on consciousness and leadership, once carried out an experiment. He was told that the source of his problems was negative thinking and so he tested the hypothesis. The experiment went something like this: It was split into two phases. For several weeks he set an alarm on his clock which went off several times a day. In phase 1 he would document at each time the bell sounded whether he was thinking positively or negatively (or somewhere in between on a scale of 1 to 10) and do the same with how he was feeling (negative or positive). The second part of his experiment (phase 2) was to include positive affirmations. He would repeat positive statements about himself and life several hundred times a day (forcing himself to “think” positively during this time) and he would continue documenting each time the bell sounded whether his thoughts were positive or negative. What he found was that in phase 1 amazingly the number of positive thoughts and negative thoughts were about the same. In the second phase he found exactly the same thing – the number of positive and negative thoughts were the same and his positive and negative emotions were “in balance” too. This forced him into the conclusion that forcing positive thinking had no long impact on his longer term happiness and wellbeing. In fact his findings point towards another amazing finding: our positive and negative sides are always in balance.

This finding is fascinating. It also suggests that positive things that are perceived to happen in our lives are balanced by negative things. If you have followed us so far, this experiment really suggests that it is pointless to resist our negative side. Our philosophy here at La Crisalida is that the true way to finding peace is to accept that we have both a positive and negative side to us (we could call this self-acceptance). An inner sense of balance and purpose starts to emerge if we are mature enough to recognize that everything has a place, including negative thoughts and feelings.

Being stuck in negative emotions such as guilt, anger or sadness indicates that balance needs to be restored. Physical pleasure and the associated emotional states are ways people use to naturally balance negativity and stress. This is why so many search out sensual pleasure for alcohol or food – they search for artificially created positive emotions. However, if the searching out positive emotional states becomes resistance of the negative side this can repress/hide negativity rather than balance it. If this is the case, any repressed negativity patterns will not be released and therefore the pleasure inducing behavior will remain and become a habit or addiction.

True happiness is “permanent”, has nothing to do with sensual pleasure and comes from your inner self. It is indirect and comes from within (it can´t be superficially created). At La Crisalida Retreats we believe it emerges from an inner sense of balance and purpose.

What is thinking on purpose?

We have seen so far that when we are considering our own personal happiness positive thinking can help, but only to a limited extent. At the retreat we run a life makeover workshop called “Finding Your Life´s Purpose”. (Read more about our Life Makeover retreats here). Our experience is that happiness emerges from a balanced approach to life and we define “Balance” as being “in tune with yourself”. We have seen from many of our guests that once they are able to quieten our minds, they feel more calm and clear.

Living a life on purpose is making life choices based upon your inner voice. Living a life on purpose is synonymous with clarity. Your inner voice only emerges once the (often confusing and contradictory) mind-chatter quietens. This is why we teach yoga and meditation at the retreat so our guests can get back in touch with themselves and their inner voice. In this months articles we look at how mindfulness of thoughts can help us to find calm and how to harness your self-talk in yoga as a practice for life.

Purposeful thinking cannot be forced. It is a natural result of the clarity that comes from becoming in tune with yourself. Purposeful thinking is clear, certain and efficient. There is little or no wasted energy on negative things and no need to compensate through being overly positive (or pleasure seeking distractions).

When we are truly aligned with our purpose, we can feel it. We feel certain and congruent with our inner-selves. When this happens we allow ideas to come to us – there is no overthinking and striving becomes pointless. Thoughts arise from within that are calm and clear. When we are thinking and being on purpose we can see that there are negative and positive results emerging from everything we do. Somehow we are able to see the inherent balance in everything.

So next time you feel the need to tell someone to just be positive, we suggest you consider how the negative side can be accepted because it may have a place. In the same way, if someone is being blindly positive, it can often benefit them to see the downsides. We suggest you listen to your inner voice and search for the balanced way forward whenever you can.

We hope that this article and the others this month help you to find balance in your thinking, and to find the peace and calm that lies within.

Headshot of John Brant - Retreat Founder at La Crisalida Retreats
John Brant

John is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. He leads our life makeover programme as well as overseeing the retreats.

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