A Negative Approach to Positive Thinking

Not everyone is able to make lemonade out of all the lemons life has dumped in their Cuisinart. Some of us were born looking for silver linings, while others trudge through the world perpetually shrouded in a dark cloud. Though science has shown that optimists live longer than pessimists, research has also proven that DNA predetermines whether you are more susceptible to chronic worry and gloom, or whether you flit about like Suzy Sunshine, bringing blue sky cheerfulness to every situation.

Recently the self-help community has begun to recognize that the fear and overwhelming hopelessness that many people feel can be used in a positive way. "There is a huge untapped market out there that we will never be able to transform with big smiley faces," says Rudolph Schlepp, counselor at the Highpeak Institute for Mental Miracles. "The access to transformation must begin with what is already available. Chance must come from fat chance. Doing can evolve from nothing doing. A negative approach to positive thinking may offer the best access to success to natural born cynics."

Norman Vincent Peale's treatise on optimism, The Power of Positive Thinking launched the multi-billion dollar self-help industry in 1952. His ideas are still at the core of self-improvement, with it's affirmation tapes, actualization videos, and success seminars.

Here are some quotes from The Power of Positive Thinking, along with the negative approaches to success now being espoused for the many of us who are genetically predisposed to chronic worry, dark moods, and ribald comedy.

"People become really quite remarkable when they start thinking that they can do things. When they believe in themselves they have the first secret of success." People also become quite remarkable when they start believing they can't do things. When their goals are impossible people become free to pursue them with unabashed glee, because they have no hope of success. The Little Engine That Could kept repeating, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can," until it finally got over the mountain and was able to coast down to deliver hard candy and vegetables to the good little boys and girls on the other side. Big deal. What if, instead, your impossible goal is to seduce Sarah Jessica Parker. You think you can? You really are living in a dream world, buddy. But so what. Feel free to dream on. You can try to do almost anything you put your mind to. You may never attain your goal, but you can have a heck of a lot of fun never getting there.

"It is of practical value to learn to like yourself. Since you must spend so much time with yourself you might as well get some satisfaction out of the relationship."

Maybe it's not such a great idea to like yourself too much. People who are overly fond of themselves tend not to get out a lot. They're so satisfied with their primary relationship, that, like Snow White's stepmother, they spend most of their free time in front of a mirror asking it questions. If you cultivate a little bit of self-doubt it might encourage you to go out into the world and talk to other people for positive re-enforcement. Even negative feedback is better than spending another night writing self-absorbed thoughts in your diary and surfing the Internet to buy more visualization tapes. Study this sample conversation:

A: I can really be a jerk sometime, don't you think?

B: Yea, I agree, you're really stuck up.

A: And when I act like I'm perfect, I may not always be a joy to be around.

B: Whatever gave you that idea, there's nothing I like better than being around someone who never makes a mistake.

A: Arguing with you really makes me appreciate what a great person I am!

B: Yes, I agree, you are a great person to argue with.

"If you want to get somewhere you have to know where you want to go and how to get there. Then never, never, never give up."

Not necessarily. How often do you really know where you want to go? When you go shopping do you know exactly which store you're going to, and what you're going to buy, and which shelf it'll be on, and how much you're going to pay for it? No. You go to the mall and wander around looking at stuff until something jumps out at you, and then you try it on, and then you try it on in a different color, and then maybe with some matching accessories and eventually you go home with a bag full of goodies. The next morning you realize what a huge mistake you made and you wind up taking everything back to the store except for one pair of socks. But they turn out to be the best socks you've ever owned. How would you have found them if you'd already known what you were looking for? What you really want to do is get some half-baked notion in your head, and then pursue it, and then change your mind, and pursue some other half-baked notion, and so on and so forth until it's time for bed.

"Every problem has in it the seeds of its own solution. If you don't have any problems, you don't get any seeds."

Wrong. If you don't have any problems it means you don't have any solution seeds. But you'll still have lots of problem seeds. The question is, do you want to plant a bunch of these seeds? If you had a bag full of weed seeds, would you be anxious to scatter them in your garden? Don't you have enough to do in life without planting a bunch of noxious weeds, in order to have the opportunity to come up with new ways to get rid of them? Do you really want to spend your life developing and testing weed killers or would you rather lay in your backyard getting a tan and reading the latest bestseller? If you don't have any problems, you can save yourself a lot of money on self-help books, and Human Alchemy training seminars


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