If you’ve even grazed the surface of self-help or get-better literature or media, you’ve heard some version of “Positive thinking will bring you health and happiness”.
Maybe. But maybe not. Turns out there’s a catch: A study done in 2009 discovered that, for people who are already feeling good about themselves (i.e. high self-esteem) it does seem to help. But, for those of us with a more negative ongoing judgment about ourselves (i.e. low self-esteem), overly positive thoughts actually make us worse.
Why? If you say to yourself “I am 100% healthy”, or “I will cure my cancer by the end of the year” or any number of 100% absolute positive affirmations, the contradictions or possible obstacles to that statement may come flooding in, taking your mood and your hope in the opposite direction. It’s too unreal and unlike the truth you’re living right now.
In her book Chronic Resilience, Danae Horn speaks of “honest thinking”. Her conclusion of this phenomena is, “You can’t lie to yourself to feel better”. My understanding of good self esteem is a realistic appraisal of strengths and weaknesses, abilities and disabilities. Lying doesn’t seem to fit there, does it?
Life is not all good or all bad – your circumstances are not 100% positive or negative. So try out some aspirations that are doable and some self-talk that is honest. Tell yourself the truth and COMMIT to the next realistic goal or step – e.g. “I’ve been taking my meds and eating well, but not getting enough sleep. So, I will get more sleep tonight” or this week, or whatever… PICK ONE THING RIGHT NOW BEFORE READING FURTHER!
You can handle the truth. Your body already is anyway – might as well let your mind catch up… ~Z