Do you ever engage in fantasy to comfort yourself? Maybe you have a job interview coming up, or a speech, or a presentation. You’re feeling a little stressed so you let that power of positive thinking kick in: “There’s really no need to sweat it. I can handle myself.”

Unfortunately, the power of positive thinking is not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s great to be optimistic about life, but there’s a danger if your positive thinking, your optimism, is unrealistic.

A well-known psychologist once told me that growing up, he truly believed he could be a shortstop for the Chicago Cubs. “I played baseball in college and somewhere along the line I realized it wasn’t going to happen. Contrary to what my folks always told me, I came to the realization that living in America did not mean I could grow up to be anything I wanted to be. No dream was too big, they always said. Well, playing for the Cubbies was too big.”

What we see here is the distinction between what is and what should be. It’s nice to dwell on what should be, but if you can’t translate that thought into realistic action – that is, if you can’t turn what should be into what is — then you must discard what should be as unrealistic. Our Cubs wannabe realized that professional baseball was not realistic, so he discarded that fantasy and focused on his academics.

Do you allow your mind to become trapped in the comforting, self-indulgent fantasy of what should be? If you do, what is – also known as reality – will pass you by and you will have difficulty coping with all those what is things going on in your life.

The power of positive thinking is limited, but the power of positive actions is unlimited. One of the secrets to effective coping with stress is to engage in positive actions. By positive we mean actions that bring both you and others satisfaction and comfort. Seeing yourself perform these positive actions will give you a sense of empowerment, and will also invest you with optimistic thinking that is based on reality, not on a pipe-dream. If you want to be a positive thinker, then engage in positive actions in the here-and-now.

 

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