I often get the feeling that many people still underestimate the value of positive thinking and optimism. Some even think it's similar to brainwashing: even if you managed to convince yourself that everything is and will be great, it wouldn't get you anywhere, it's all just pretend. Fortunately, psychologists have gathered lots and lots of data to show that a positive mindset makes a huge difference and leads to measurably more achievements and other good stuff. Here's why: Two common criticisms of optimism:
"Being optimistic is not going to change anything, you can't just pretend everything will work out, you'd be lying to yourself."
"I'd rather expect things to go badly to save myself from disappointment."
Neither of the above sentiments are helpful. Psychological research has shown time and time again...
- Positive thinking does lead to more success/ good outcomes
- Negative thinking makes good outcomes less likely
Enter: THE SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECY 'simply expecting an event to happen makes it much more likely'
Why? because your belief causes you to subconsciously adjust your behaviour in a way that makes your initial prediction come true. Some examples:
You have a job interview
POSITIVE MINDSET Belief: You believe it will go well Behaviour: You feel confident and excited during the interview Outcome: You manage to show your full potential and improve your chances of getting the job
NEGATIVE MINDSET Belief: You believe it will go badly Behaviour: You feel inhibited, unmotivated and anxious during the interview Outcome: You can’t show your full potential and are less likely to get the job
POSITIVE MINDSET Belief: You believe your relationship is meant to last Behaviour: You are able to form a secure attachment and are more willing to work through problems Outcome: Your relationship is more likely to last
NEGATIVE MINDSET Belief: You believe your relationship will fail eventually Behaviour: You are hesitant to form a deep attachment and are less willing to work through problems Outcome: Your relationship is more likely to fail
You have big plans (like write a book/ run a marathon/ start your own business)
POSITIVE MINDSET Belief: You think: It won’t be easy but I know I have it in me Behaviour: You are excited which gives you enough energy to persevere Outcome: You write a book/ run a marathon/ start your own business
NEGATIVE MINDSET Belief: You think: Lots of people want to write a book/ run a marathon/ start their own business, and fail Behaviour: You get discouraged and have no motivation to give it your best try Outcome: You didn’t make your big plan happen
Self-fulfilling prophecies are so powerful because they promote a constant reinforcement of your initial prediction
So... What's the moral of the story?
YOUR THOUGHTS CAN REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE
- Practice being positive, because in most situations optimism can only improve things, while pessimism definitely won't.
- Start small: A small positive belief leads to a small positive outcome, which leads to a bigger positive belief and so on.
- An easy way to become more positive is to focus your attention on the positive aspects of any situation.
- Tend your mind like a garden - Don't let the bad stuff take over, fill it with good stuff.
- Encourage others, especially kids. People sometimes assume it their job to keep relatives, children and friends 'in check', i.e. keep them from pursuing ambitious goals/ being too positive so they won't become arrogant or idealistic. However, most people's problems stem from a lack of confidence and negativity, not from 'arrogance'. So don't discourage - a positive attitude counts for a lot!