I was recently a guest on Alex Levy’s “The Spirit Guided Life” podcast.
Alex invited me on to talk about the reasons why positive thinking won't work. He’d read an article on my blog about it and thought it would make an excellent topic for his show.
I wrote a complete and brand new article on this topic below. If you're serious about understanding this topic, then I would recommend both reading this article and listening to the podcast.
If you're really digging into this, here's the original article on the problem with positive thinking that inspired Alex to invite me onto his show.
You can listen to the podcast below and bookmark this article to read later. Scroll down further to read my article or click on the links in Quick Navigation.
In A Nutshell, The 5 Reasons Why Positive Thinking Won't Work Are...
1. The “Thinker” Is Not Real.
This is the number one reason that it won’t sustain you. The thought based entity in the head who most of us unconsciously identify with is not real. It’s an image in our head based upon conditioning. These days many people refer to this thought based entity as “ego.”
This is actually the one and only reason that positive thinking doesn’t really work in the long run. The reasons that I unpack below are all interrelated and reinforce this main fundamental point.
2. Thought Is An Effect Not A Cause
By the way, don’t believe me on any of this. Take a few moments right now to check for yourself. Relax and look within. Watch your thoughts. If “you” are your thoughts, then who or what is watching your thoughts? Would there not need to be space for your thoughts to appear in? Just as any object in your room requires space around it in order to be?
3. Even Positive Thoughts Are Limited.
They are confined to what they are and what they are not. For example, cold is cold because it is not hot. Even lukewarm — although subjective — is neither boiling hot nor is it freezing cold. But neither is it luxuriously warm or anything suitable for a hot bath. An orange is a piece of fruit but it’s not an apple or a pear. It’s orange — not blue or red, etc. The word is a limited concept but it is not the actual fruit itself.
Any thought is based upon a word. A word is a concept. It’s the map — not the actual terrain. So even if you use positive thoughts, they are limited in their power. Truthfully, most thoughts have very little power.
4. Joy, Peace, Love, Intuition and Courage Arise From Beyond The Mind
Joy, peace, love, intuition, courage — these are not thought based. These are states of being that arise from beyond the mind. The mind (thought) actually covers these states over with it’s opaque and dense filters of concepts and noise.
This spacious and silent Intelligence that gives life to the mind and body does not require the mind or body in order to be.
When we think less — athletes and performers can attest to this — we are more intelligent and effective. This is because we are no longer confined to the little “me” with all of it’s petty fears and concerns about what others might think, etc. We are free it do whatever is best or appropriate in the moment.
However, what's interesting and useful here is that making a choice to use a tool or any technique you’ve learned comes from this deeper and more intelligent dimension. The mind-made-sense of self (ego) resists choices to use tools that shine a light on it. This is because they mean death to the illusions that ego perpetuates. So there may be times when choosing a positive thought is actually a conscious choice.
An example would be with your spouse or partner. Perhaps you notice you’re feeling irritable toward something they did or said. Instead of believing that thought/feeling, you could notice that this reaction is not you — the “watcher” or subject — but is an object in consciousness.
In this case, choosing to think something more positive like remembering something beautiful and loving about this person would work. BUT this is only because the thought is connected and comes from your deeper, silent and limitless intelligence. It informs the thought in this case.
The vast majority of our thinking is utterly divorced from any intelligence. It is mechanical and repetitive.
Don’t believe me? Spend a few minutes watching your thoughts. Really observing. No judgement — simply observe.
5. Your Essential Nature Is From Beyond The Mind
As outlined in reason number 4, our positive states of being are already who and what we are. Thinking and mind obscure this. A much more powerful and effective way of accessing true power and abundance is to actually let go of identifying with thinking!
Wait a minute! No. I don’t mean you should stop thinking. This would be one fragmented thought (thoughts are limited, remember?) fighting against the stream of thought that is already happening.
And if you recall from number 4 above, I also said that when thought is informed by this formless and silent field that simply IS (some traditions call it Christ Consciousness or Buddha nature for example) it is actually creative, fresh and new.
But this can only happen when there is space. When we aren’t living through the thinker constantly.
Here’s the solution — and this has been said in many ways by mystics and sages throughout known history — when you align with watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness is becoming active.
You will probably go back and forth from being lost in thought to becoming aware of thought many times throughout a given day. That’s ok. Everytime you realize you’re lost in thought, you’ve created more awareness. More Light. You can only move forward with this practice.
When the mind is really quiet, you’ll get a sense of “being aware of being aware.” You’re alive now!
Thoughts and emotions — especially emotional pain from the past — will still overcome you many times. But your realization that you are not your thoughts or your mind will get stronger and stronger.
Eventually, if you persevere (because you are truly tired of suffering) your past pain won’t overcome you everytime.
Then you'll reach a point where you’ll persevere because you are feeling better. You want even more inner peace. Keep going. You are helping everyone on this planet with this.
The Fool Card At The Top
The Fool archetype has also alternatively been called The Idiot or The Jester.
I thought the naivete and innocence of The Fool was a great illustration of the points I attempt to make in this article.
You don't even need to be an experienced tarot practitioner to understand the basic meaning of The Fool. There are layers and deeper meanings to this archetype of course, but I won't go into it here.
Just contemplate the image along with what you read in the article and I'll think you'll get even more out of it.
Bonus Problem With Positive Thinking
There’s one more bonus reason as to why positive thinking won't work. Most positive thinking is initiated because the egoic self wants things to change. Wants to stop suffering and feel better about itself.
There’s nothing wrong with that!
However, as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In other words, although the intentions are good, they are misguided.
This is because the egoic self can only see things in terms of it’s desires, fears and tendencies. It’s all about “me, me, me!”
I want the perfect lover or mate. I want to have worldly power and status. I want to be rich. I want to be famous. I want to have an easy life with no challenges or upsets, etc.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with any of these things. If they come down the river of life, accept them and enjoy them — while you can.
But when we (I say this because I’ve been there!) believe we need these things in order to be happy, we’re sabotaging our actual happiness and inner peace.
Not only that but our egos, being built upon limited concepts and thought, have no idea of what is truly in our best interest or highest good.
This is not about being pessimistic.
You can still honour your heart’s desires. Go for your goals. Achieve what you feel inspired to achieve. That’s what a lot of the fun and challenge of being here in the physical is all about!
The key is to have a sense of space about it. Don’t believe that who you are is based upon a successful outcome.
This will create a lot of stress — especially when things may not be going your way.
Whereas if you have a sense of space and lightness around your dreams and goals, it will be more like a fun game.
If you get it, awesome! If you don’t, you know deep down that you’re ok. It won’t devastate you. And when you’re not devastated, guess what? You have more energy and resilience to get back up and try again — whether it’s the same goal or a new one.
Our egos, being built upon limited concepts and thought, haven't the scope of what is truly in our best interest or highest good.
2 Solutions When Positive Thinking Doesn't Work...
When we consciously practice gratitude it actually influences our brain. The latest research has demonstrated that there is a "plasticity" to our brains. In other words, they can be changed. The area of the mind is still not understood scientifically -- but for now, researchers are saying the the brain and mind influence one another.
So as you practice gratitude, you change the shape of your brain for the better. This in turn allows the mind to work on shaping the brain in more positive directions of growth.
My understanding in a way that relates to my article is that real gratitude requires a conscious connection. It can't be mechanical gratitude where you're doing it because you think you should. You actually need to find the space for gratitude.
This act connects you to the source of your Being. As I outlined above, all the higher qualities that matter are states of being that are always available beyond the opaque and noisy filters of the mind.
2. Watching The Thinker.
This is something I already discussed above but it bears repeating. If you don't have much experience with meditation, don't worry. It's not required. Simply find a quiet spot -- indoors, outdoors it doesn't matter -- just a place where you can relax and focus.
Start by noticing your breathing. You can notice the sensations around your nostrils as the air comes in and goes out. Or, you can notice your diaphragm moving as you inhale and exhale. Allow your breathing to happen naturally. Simply notice the sensations.
Now, begin to feel your body from within if you can. Scan your hands and feel them from within. Then your feet. Then legs, arms, torso and head. Just feel the body from within. This is an amazing practice that comes from Eckhart Tolle. It works really well if powerful emotions come up. It can save you from saying harsh words, acting out in a destructive manner or shutting down emotionally.
Once you're aware of your breathing and can maintain at least some of your awareness on this and the inner energy field of your body, you can begin to watch your thoughts.
Don't judge them -- that's just the thinker coming back in. Just watch them. You'll start to see them for what they are. An object appearing in space with no inherent meaning except what you give to it. If you give nothing to it, it has no real meaning.
Do this for a few minutes every day. Do it several times a day if possible. It will transform your life.
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