Stress Relief Strategy: How To Overcome Negative Thinking (Part 3)

by Doc Orman, M.D.


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So far, in this 6-part series of blog posts on negative thinking, we’ve covered: 

In this post, I will explain why positive thinking doesn’t work and why, despite its popularity, it is a very flawed strategy for dealing with negative thinking.   

What Is Positive Thinking? 

Positive Thinking is a strategy for dealing with negative thinking.  It’s not a very good strategy, but it’s one that’s become popularized, nonetheless. 

When you use the strategy of positive thinking, you try to overpower your body’s tendency to think negatively by forcing yourself to think more positive thoughts. The theory behind this strategy is that you can overpower negative thinking with the sheer force of your willpower to cause yourself to think more positively. 

What’s Wrong With Positive Thinking? 

This strategy of trying to use Positive Thinking is flawed for several reasons.  The first is that it causes you to fight, resist, and try to overpower your body’s tendency to think in a negative fashion.  This is very hard work and requires a great deal of forceful, psychological effort. 

The second drawback is that this strategy assumes you can “push” your negative thinking out of existence (i.e. make it go away) by replacing it with more forceful positive thoughts.  Actually, your negative thinking doesn’t really go away.  It’s still there, deep within your body.  All you’ve managed to do with Positive Thinking is hide it from your view. 

The Influence Of “Internal Realities” 

The main problem with Positive Thinking is that it fails to take into account certain features of the human body.  One of the most important of these features is the way our automatic, conditioned ways of thinking produce “internal realities” that our bodies automatically “assume to be true.” 

Our bodies then react emotionally and physiologically to these “assumed to be true internal realities”—and not to the reality of whatever may have happened outside of us. 

When you try to use Positive Thinking to overpower your body’s automatic tendency to think negatively—and to assume your negative thinking is absolutely true—you do nothing to release the hold that your “internal realities” have on your body.  You just give yourself the false impression that they have actually been dealt with and have therefore gone away. 

But they’re still there—having effects upon your body—whether you’re aware of this or not. 

Challenging And Disproving Negative Thoughts 

As an alternative to Positive Thinking, you should try to challenge and disprove (or see beyond) your automatic negative thoughts.  This is very different from trying to suppress, avoid, or overpower them.  Instead, you simply let your negative thinking occur, bring your negative thoughts out into the open (as opposed to trying to suppress them), and then you critically examine them and ask yourself if they are either true or appropriate to your situation at hand. 

Often, when you do this, you will find that a more positive perspective emerges—but not because you forced yourself to adopt it (while your body was still holding on to an exclusively negative view).  What causes a more positive perspective to naturally emerge is that you successfully examined and “destroyed” a false negative “internal reality” that your body had been endorsing very strongly. 

For example, if you are feeling angry (about anything), you can be sure that certain “internal realities” became triggered within your body to produce your emotion of anger.  Now, you can force yourself to believe you are not angry (even though you are) through Positive Thinking if you want.  But your body will still be holding on to the assumed-to-be true internal realities that are driving your anger in the first place. So from you body’s standpoint, you would still be angry (and this can be documented physiologically). 

On the other hand, when you bring your anger-producing internal realities out into the open (instead of forcing them deep into the background), and when you successfully challenge and disprove them, your anger will lessen because you will have “destroyed” the internal driving forces that brought it about and that are responsible for maintaining it. 

I hope you can see that this is both a very different process, and a very different outcome, from what happens with Positive Thinking. 

In the next and final post in this 6-part series about negative thinking, I’ll explore a little more about how to know when your negative thinking may be mostly accurate and useful…and when it may not. 

Also, please be aware that while I have devoted two weeks of blog posts to the topic of how to overcome negative thinking, the same general principles we’ve been discussing in this series also apply to most other types of stress-generating thought patterns.  So you can take anything you’ve learned from this 6-part series and apply it to many other types of stress in your life as well.

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