Here’s the trick to positive thinking:

On any given day our plans will produce good results, bad results, results we expect and/or unintended consequences.

People who expect bad things to happen too often focus on the bad things and find them.

The same with people who expect only good things to happen.

The realist understands good things happen but shit falls too. They also understand they can (too some extent)[1] choose how to respond. Just because shit falls on their heads it doesn’t mean they should give up. Just because good things happen doesn’t mean they controlled the outcome. So they ask, how much of this is my doing and what was beyond my control? This allows them to correct course.

The problem with most descriptions of positive thinking is the underlying assumption that your attitude produces the results and not your actions and decisions. The real measure of positive thinking is the extent to which it helps us improve our lives and, just as important, the lives of others as opposed to blinding our perception to the damage we and others around us cause.

Let’s say you stumble onto a forest fire. You will not stop it with a bucket of water and visualizing green trees. You will kill yourself if you rush into the flames with a bucket and say, “I can stop the fire. I can stop the fire.” You can and should alert the authorities and ask, “what can I do to help?” Odds are, unless you have experience fighting fires, they’ll send you home. But if they ask you to take water bottles to firefighters or call the volunteers on their registry, you shouldn’t say, “I can do so much more.” You should say, “hand me the water bottle and where do I recycle when the firefighters finish drinking?”

That’s not positive thinking, some would say. But it is. It reflects the belief that you can make a positive outcome if you realistically assess the situation and do what is needed rather than what you want.

[1] A paraplegic cannot think her way to health. She can adapt her life and lifestyle. An illiterate tenant will not be able to fight a landlord with a complex contract. He can find legal assistance and follow their advice until the dispute is resolved.

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Living metaphor. Follow me @stephens_pt.

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