A lot of people I talk to about positive or negative thinking, assure me that they do equal amounts of both and call themselves “realists”. There’s a biological reason why this is not true.
Your mission today is to understand why you’re not a realist and how to avoid the trap of unhealthy positivity.
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Task 1: Why you’re not a realist
If you just let your thoughts happen and you’re a fairly healthy person mentally and emotionally, you should end up with equal numbers of positive and negative thoughts – right?
The reason for this is evolutionary. Imagine when we were hunter/gatherers. There’s a beautiful sunset to the left. To the right, there’s an angry bear approaching. Which one did our ancestors need to pay attention to?
Our survival as a species used to depend on our negativity bias. It’s ingrained in us so that now we need to consciously focus on the positive to be “realistic”.
Task 2: Why positive thinking can be unhealthy
Unfortunately, the insight from task 1 has led to an unhealthy, even dangerous trend in personal development. Some gurus claim you should strive to always be positive. People feel like failures for completely normal feelings of anger, sadness, grief or frustration.
This has been proven to be very detrimental to your mental health. Apart from that: Why wouldn’t you experience the full range of human emotions? Don’t take the positivity focus too far.
Task 3: What positive thinking truly means
If we put the insights from Tasks 1 and 2 together, it’s clear that we need a healthy way to counter the evolutionary negativity bias. Here’s how to do this.
- Make space in your life for your emotions. Consciously welcome everything you feel.
- Instead of judging your emotions, look at them in terms of where you need to heal, what you need to pay attention to.
- Then, once you’ve established that habit, introduce ways of paying special attention to positive emotions, such as daily gratitude, affirmations, prioritising your passions, etc.