Quite often I will do a talk or workshop with young people and ask what things they have got out of it at the end. Often I get the response:
Or something similar. Thing is though, I never say that. Not exactly.
It's just so ingrained that some people hear it anyway
Although it's a nice thing, the "be more positive" approach is causing more and more problems in this world. If this was the solution to our mental ills, then surely we would be seeing the fruits of our labour (spoiler: we're not!).
The incessant hammering home of the need to be thinking positively all the time has pervaded the minds of kids from a young age. So surely we must be winning that war against emotional suffering.
No. Things are getting worse. People are struggling more.
One of the main problems is that the focus is on avoiding discomfort rather than going toward what's important.
This avoidance takes place within our own thinking brain.
For a sport example, let's say you stuffed up and lost an important match or competition. Some scary thoughts might come up like: "I'm a failure" or "I'm a loser and things never work out for me."
You'll know your own flavour.
Then suppose you try and remind yourself that you are in fact very good! You're not those things, you're the best in the world and no one can stop you! You're a champion!
Sounds logical right? What could be the problem?
Well-intentioned people will also tell you this stuff. It's the logical, rational way to deal with this negative thinking.
But is it working? Not likely. Not long term anyway.
If you're thinking positive thoughts just to avoid negative ones, you're still caught up in that battle. You head becomes a war zone. You're not doing or living in the moment, you're in your head.
AND... it has been shown that these positive thoughts can actually remind you of the very thoughts that you hoped to avoid. Whaaat?
A interesting study also showed how positive affirmations like "I'm a good person" work great as long as we don't really need them.
When we really do, when we are feeling really down on ourselves: These affirmations make us feel and do worse.
People who swear by the positive pick-me-ups are often the people who probably aren't too deep into the swamp of negative thinking.
So beware of advice like this.
And anyway, if this is the solution, why have rates of depression continued to increase dramatically (during Covid Pandemic yes, but before that also). Anxiety disorders are also steadily increasing.
Why the hell aren't we just positive thinking our way out of this?
Are these people just not doing the affirmations correctly?
Is this trap causing more and more distress as people feel more and more helpless because they can't seem to keep this monkey brain in positive mode all day long. Like everyone told them that they should be doing, all the time, from when they were 3 years old.
So yep. They then feel like they failed at that too. Then comes more labelling. More self loathing, more low mood. "I couldn't even succeed at feeling better about myself"
But Zane! You're talking about mental illness now, not performance in Sport?
Well, a bit, but many Sport Psychology interventions and approaches are based on clinical models that have been proven to work in severe mental health cases, as well as in performance domain.
Wouldn't you want to approach your mental training with something that works across the spectrum of severity and human experience?