Why positive thinking does NOT work & why rational thinking does

Most of us have heard that if we change the way we think about things, then we will feel better. Unfortunately, for most of us, myself included, when I first heard this, I began to engage in overly positive thinking and at times magical thinking. I initially, thought to myself some of these common overly positive thoughts when faced with difficult situations, stressful times, or trying to realize my goals.

I must be happy at all times to be spiritual and or psychologically healthy.

I am a millionaire.

I am a best selling author.

I am always going to be happy, otherwise something is wrong with me.

I am not afraid of anything and fear, anger, or sadness is a sign that I am doing something wrong and will cause me to attact more fear and failure into my life.

If I am not achieving all of my goals right now, then the universe is not supporting me or I made a mistake.

Everybody will like me all of the time.

There are no problems in my life and there never will be any problems in my life.

Life must always be easy or else my consciousness is a little low today.

I must be happy and feel good to attract good things into my life.

I must feel better right now.

The scale must say I am at a certain weight.

I need this person’s love and approval.

I need to feel better fast.

I need to succeed and do well at ___

These type of thoughts may provide a temporary sense of euphoria. But, for many people, they are setting themselves up for unhappiness, inauthenticity, avoiding their feelings, numbing themselves, and/or not recognizing legitimate problems that can be solved through rational thinking and the appropriate behavior. It also may lead them away from being in touch with their humanity or authentic self….The video below shows why these thoughts may lead you to also feeling behind in life…

Similarly, overly negative or pessimistic thoughts are not helpful either. Some of these common pessimistic thoughts I have thought at times include the following:

I can’t stand this situation.

I can’t tolerate this.

This person should like me.

That person is wrong.

He is an asshole.

This person should not do that.

Others should be like I want them to be, otherwise it’s awful and whoever is responsible is no damn good.

If something bad happens to me, it is because I attracted it, deserved it, and it’s all my fault.

I can’t tolerate any pain, discomfort, or deprivation.

It’s all this person’s fault and this person made the mistake.

I need something else to happen to be okay.

Both overly positive and overly negative thoughts can be problematic because they actually may make us feel worse and lead to unhealthy behavior and worse relationships. However, this does not mean we should throw the baby out with the bath water. Our thoughts can and do have a big influence on the way we feel and how we behave, which in turn can directly influence our relationships and ability to acheive our goals in our life. What is important is that we engage in the most helpful or useful form of thinking. Psychologist Albert Ellis called this type of thinking Rational Thinking and used Rational Thinking to help people decrease their anxiety, manage their depression, and improve their interpersonal relationships in a form of psychotherapy called Rational Emotive Therapy. In short rational thinking are thoughts that:

1. Thoughts that are in our long term best interest

2. Thoughts that we can prove are true

For example, if the thought is in our long term best interest and we can prove that the thought is true, then it is a rational thought and can help us feel better and act in a more efficient or effective manner, which will in turn increase the likelihood of helping us improve our relationships and increase the chances of us reaching our goals…However, rational thinking is not magical or positive or wishful thinking because it does not eliminate negative emotions or guarantee that we will get our results. It simply makes us feel a little bit better or a little less bad and improves our ability to take more conscious and helpful actions. It tends to decrease the intensity of a negative emotion, but it doesn’t make the negative emotion completely go away:

Examples of these rational thinking are:

a. I may not like this situation, but I can handle it

b. I may not like what happened to be, but I am willing to learn from this situation

c. I would like this person’s love or approval, but I don’t need this person’s love or approval

d. It’s not worth it to lose my temper or get out of control in this situation.

e. I am going to focus on what I can control and realize that I can not control everything

f. Perhaps there is  another reason this person is acting this way that I do not realize

These those are rational thoughts because all of them are in our long term best interest AND we can prove the thought is true. If you look at the initial overly positive thoughts or overly negative thoughts, they are either NOT in our long term best interest nor can we prove they are true.

Engaging in rational thinking can and does change the way we feel for the better, which improves our behavior and often increases, but doesn’t guarantee, the likelihood that we will achieve our goals in life.

If you have any questions about rational emotive therapy, you can look it up or read more about it from Albert Ellis…Or, you can ask me because I have studied it and practiced it…And, it has helped me feel better and improve the results I wanted to get in my life…