When most people hear the term “positive thinking” they think about the practice of positive affirmation. Basically telling yourself something positive over and over again until you start believing it’s true.
If you’ve ever tried this yourself though, you probably had less than stellar results. The thing is, your brain isn’t stupid. It believes what it believes for a reason. So if you have negative beliefs about yourself and your life, they didn’t happen by accident.
Your brain interpreted something in yourself or your environment in a negative way and over time it evolved into a habit of thought that now defines your reality. Just telling yourself it isn’t true and things are actually awesome isn’t really going to help very much.
But there is a process in positive psychology called “disputation” and it’s much more than just repeating random positive affirmations hoping you’ll start feeling better.
Your brain is like a truth seeking missile. If it believes something is true, even if that belief is completely toxic to your life, it will hold onto that belief until it has ample evidence to question it.
Disputation is about finding that evidence. Most of the time when a belief is negatively charged, it will also be a massive overreaction. It will often be based on assumptions that have no basis in reality. Simply looking at a negative belief objectively and questioning the evidence supporting it is often all it takes for it to begin to unravel.
We also need to look at the meaning we are assigning to things. This is the story we tell ourselves about our lives. The meaning you assign to an event completely defines how that event affects you.
This is why two people can be layed off from their job, one takes it as an opportunity to redefine their priorities and begin the next chapter of their life, while the other takes it as a sign of their diminished self worth and gives up.
It’s the same exact event, but the meaning they assigned was completely different, which made all the difference in how they handled it. And it’s not as though either of them did anything right or wrong. They just happen to have 2 different ways of processing bad events. One that works well and one that doesn’t.
If you happen to find yourself among those who process things badly, it’s not your fault. You don’t have to feel bad or embarrassed about it. I think that’s one of the things that keeps those afflicted with negativity, depression, anxiety, etc. from getting help.
It can be seen as a personal weakness, even as something that is morally wrong. People who don’t struggle with these sorts of problems simply can’t understand why those stuck in the mire of negativity choose to stay there.
But just like no one chooses cancer, no one really chooses depression, anxiety and negativity. The good news however is that extensive research on happiness has been conducted over the past 30 years, and if you find yourself on the low end of the scale, there is now a great deal you can do to raise your levels.