The positive thinking can be a very powerful tool. It can help us face difficult challenges in life and inspire us when we are about to collapse. However, it also has a dark side: the excess of positivism can become counterproductive or even harmful.
The dangers of naive optimism
In the area of personal growth it is much easier to encourage people to replace their negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Negative thoughts make us feel bad, so if we want to feel better we should replace them with positive thoughts. This is the logic that many people understand and try to apply.
But it is not enough to replace some thoughts with others, the transformation at the base must be much deeper. Positive thinking is powerful when it is completed with objectivity and is based on a solid concept of self, if it is based exclusively on optimistic phrases it can cause damage.
Every person and every event contains positive and negative aspects. Sometimes it is convenient to focus on the positive ones, but exaggerating them can lead to idealization, a very dangerous phenomenon that can move us away from the real world. For example, we can be proud of a work well done, but thinking that we are “geniuses” is an exaggeration of the reality that can also limit us because if we believe that we are perfect we will not strive to improve.
Likewise, those who seek only the good in the others, tend to excuse the defects of the character or are involved in toxic relationships where they are manipulated or subdued. See the good and the positive has nothing wrong, on the contrary, but exaggerating it can make us lose the objectivity.
Trusting too much your abilities
Self-confidence is important for undertaking any project. If you do not believe in yourself, it is likely that the project is doomed to fail before it starts. However, overconfidence, believing you are a kind of superhero, can make you lose perspective and equally condemn you to failure.
In life, it is just as important to be aware of our limitations as to have a high self-esteem. In fact, sometimes the exaggerated self-confidence can prevent us from preparing sufficiently, which will inevitably lead us to failure. On the contrary, knowing our weaknesses, defects and limitations will allow us to be sufficiently far-sighted and even compensate the difficulties with other strengths.
Overestimating the chances of success
In order for a project to succeed, you must believe it is possible. However, convincing yourself that nothing will go wrong or being sure that the new investment will give you huge returns, will make you forget the potential risks you may encounter along the way.
If you do not take the time to think about the things that could go wrong, you will not be able to prevent them and will not be ready when that happens, so their impact will be even greater. In fact, a study conducted at the University of New York revealed that fantasizing about all the good we can get can be very dangerous because it will ensure that we develop an excessive self-confidence. What is the solution? These psychologists have shown that we achieve better results when we visualize the steps we must take one by one, instead of focusing only on the goal.
Mental strength comes from realistic thinking
Believing that the more positive the thought, the better it is, is a mistake that we can end up paying through the nose. Our thoughts must include both emotions and rationality. We can maintain objectivity by giving an optimistic turn to thinking. In fact, the true mental force, the one that even the Stoic philosophers spoke about, derives from realist thinking, not from unrealistic statements or improbable dreams.
This means that instead of thinking: “I will get the best score in this test” it is better to say: “I will do my best to get the best score”. This perspective takes away part of the tension and stress that you might experience by demanding too much of yourself, generating a tremendous calm while allowing you to stay focused on what is really important. Only in this way you are honest with yourself and reach your maximum potential.
Oettingen, G. & Mayer, D. (2002) The motivating function of thinking about the future: expectations versus fantasies. J Pers Soc Psychol; 83(5): 1198-1212.