For this post, we’ll have a quick conversation on positivity.
The self-help industry has been around for a while. If you have been born for longer 5 or even earlier, chances are that you’ve been exposed to some lesson whose roots come from the self-help industry. The self-help movement is about many things, but if asked to break down this movement to a single word that word would be positivity. Positivity because it’s at the root of many of the most popular and powerful lessons taught by motivational speakers and life coaches.
From the title, you might assume that I’m a person who has just been exposed to these ideas of positivity and self-improvement, or a “veteran”. The truth however is complicated. I’m a bit of both. I realized that I’m both a veteran, in the sense that I have been aware of and adopted it to my life, and at the same time the person who learned that they can be better than yesterday two days ago. This post is about that.
Why being positive is the way to go
There are two kinds of people in the world we live in. The first is the kind that tends to be more biased towards following other people. They quickly adopt what’s currently popular, and they do it in a way that seems original. Think about clothing for example. New trends come and go each year. Each year the followers adopt the new fashion trend as if they created it, and like clockwork, they quickly abandon that particular style.
The second kind of people seeks originality and adopt new trends only if they truly make sense to them. Now you might think the second kind is the one to aspire to be, but the truth is more complicated. Every life strategy has its pros and cons, and one of the pros of being a blind follower is that you are more likely to be an early adopter of a world-changing invention, and as result, you can gain a competitive advantage over your peers who are not so quick to adopt the new.
The advantage the second kind of people gain is that lots of new things out there fail, and as a result, you make fewer mistakes. I adopt the new more slowly, with a few gulps of skepticism along the way. The same applies to positive thinking. I realized that over the years I’ve developed a love and hate relationship with the self-help movement/industry. While being a real proponent of self-improvement and growth I grew more and more skeptical about the idea of positivity as an effective strategy to success.
Can you succeed without being positive?
To keep things short my answer is likely not and this is my reason why. Being overly critical of yourself can definitely have a positive effect on your accomplishments in the short term. Your discontentment with the current state of affairs forces you to transcend your limitations even if the limitations feel comfortable. Over time, however, the negativity of self-criticism paired with no results can quickly wear you out.
The problem is that to succeed you often have to put in more effort than you expect. When you get to the point where you expected to succeed and you don’t, the already existent negativity quickly amplifies while urging you more and more to quit on your goals and dreams, and this is not the worst part of it. The worst part of it is the fact that with that much negativity you also slowly wear out your sense of self-worth.
Why being positive matters
Being positive matters more than what you think. It’s not just a source of motivation, because there is no such thing as “a mere form of motivation”. All motivation matters regardless of how small. Just think about the butterfly effect.
A small burst of motivation might lead you to write the first two sentences of your book or music, and who knows? Maybe even before the end of the burst you somehow manage to put yourself inflow, which in turn leads you to create a masterpiece.
Positivity is energetic and energy is required if you are to successfully defeat any obstacles that come your way. And trust me they will come.
I got to this realization when I read the book Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins.
On one of the passages the author finds that while in the middle of a marathon, the thing that got him going after feeling destroyed was what he named “The cookie jar”.
Put simply the cookie jar is a metaphor for motivation storage. Each cookie would be a memory of an instance in which he overcame obstacles. It’s a representation of how much he can do.
The impact of a negative mindset
The next thing to think about is the impact of the negative in the long run. The thing about the negative/pessimist is that he/she doesn’t see it for what it is. If anything they might even believe that their approach to life is realistic, while anyone who tries to see the good in life is just delusional.
While some positive thinking borders on the delusional the real question here is how useful is it to be realistic? I find that “being realistic” is only good to give you the feeling of being right. And what’s the point of being right?
As I said before, most of the things you set out to do will likely require more time, energy, and motivation than you think. Eventually, you’re likely to hit a wall and the decision to keep going or quit will be imposed onto you. If your goals and dreams are as important as you claim, it doesn’t really matter whether your positivity is delusional or grounded in reality, as long as the motivation and energy allow you to get what you want.
This is why my views on positivity and delusion changed.
The last thing I want to discuss is the idea of controlled delusion. Delusion of any kind is seen as a bad thing. But just like everything else in life, it has both positives and negatives. We would have to ask why people succumb to it so frequently if it resulted only in negatives.
What I propose here is not to just being carelessly delusional, but intentionally so. I got this idea too from David Goggins, who during his stay on the infamous Hell Week found himself manufacturing a victim/hero story between him and the instructors. He painted them as the villain trying to bring him down. By doing that he managed to generate enough energy to keep him on track and eventually complete the training.
As he said on one of his many interviews, he knew the instructors were not out for him, but thinking they did, to the point of almost believing gave him the motivation to push through.
Positivity is one of these things everybody talks about as if it were something they concluded by themselves, as opposed to just repeating what they learned from someone else.
Coming to a logical conclusion about a tool/strategy effectiveness is more important than just accepting they work. The reason for this is that the moment in which life puts you to test in such a way that the tool is the only way out doubting the effectiveness of the tool might lead you to not use it when you should.
There is also the problem of learning the wrong lessons. When we fail we got through a period of reflection in which we develop a theory for why we failed. We look for things to blame, and if we don’t believe in the tool/strategy effectiveness at a logical level we might mistakenly blame it for our poor results.
This post is an attempt to provide a more logical reason for why being positive really matters.
It is all about knowledge and experience 😉
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