Is being positive a load of old rubbish?


I read an article in Psychologies magazine recently which talked about Oliver Burkeman’s new book: ‘The Antidote‘.

In it he subscribes to the following 5 beliefs:

1. Visualising your goals can make them harder to achieve (because once you’ve tricked your mind in to thinking your goal has been achieved, it feels less motivated to take the required action)

2. We should focus on the worst case scenarios (stating that when the worse case doesn’t happen we get a great sense of relief and are therefore happier)

3. We shouldn’t fall victim to ‘goalodicy’ (arguing that inflexibility with regards the outcome can be detrimental if we continue on a course of action that is proving to be fruitless)

4. Follow a compass not a map (ie: don’t get bogged down with fixating on ONE outcome)

5. Trying too hard to feel upbeat can make us miserable (suggesting Affirmations can backfire because they can sound like lying)

Hmm, I’m sure the book contains many studies that prove this or that about his hypotheses, however, I’ve got a pretty good idea what works for me. Granted, people with low self esteem might have a different reaction to some strategies than a confident person, we’re all individuals after all. And certainly I agree that inflexibility when it comes to the outcomes of our actions can cause suffering – that’s why I always teach that we should not be attached to the outcomes of our actions, but rather accept, learn and then apply new actions. And I agree that Affirmations can be hard for some people and that’s why changing them to Afformations (read here) really improves them.

Over all though, for me, I prefer the attitude of positivity. When I visualise how I want the outcome to be I get a great rush of excitement AND ideas of how I can create that outcome. I can’t see how imagining the worse helps us have insights or moments of creativity.

Would love to hear your thoughts on it so please leave a comment below and let’s have a debate.




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Filed under Goals, Life changing, Relationships, Self help, Self Improvement, Success

32 responses to “Is being positive a load of old rubbish?

  1. Hi Stu! I am spending the summer writing my heart out and it’s all going well. Miss the blog-o-spehere a bit and tune in on some days to see what you are up to. This post really caught my eye and I would love to comment. First of all just going by personal experience, I don’t think that visualizing your goals makes them harder to acheive. And I seem to do better if I am willing to let the goal change and morph as I go along. It doesn’t have to be rigid. I have always found goals helpful in clarifying what I am doing in life. The caution would be, don’t be attached to outcome. The woman who taught me to pray always taught me to say, “this God, or something better…” The other statement that stuck out was “trying too hard to be upbeat.” Gotta agree with this one. What is important is authenticity and knowing that life is going to have sorrowful moments and joyful moments. Just be true to what is so in your life. Sometimes dissapointment and sorrow can grow compassion in our hearts. Overall, I’m with you Stu. A positive attitude mixed with gratitude just makes life better. Sending you love across the pond, my friend. Hope you are doing well.

    • Good points Stephanie, always lovely to see your comments. I agree we must feel what we’re really feeling, all of our emotions are valid. We just have to make sure we don’t dwell in the negative emotions for too long otherwise we risk them defining us. I’m definitely on the side of positivity. Take care and good luck with your writing. πŸ™‚

  2. I say total rubbish on Oliver’s book – something I wouldn’t even browse for why be negative when we have a choice of being positive. I’m with Stephanie and what she states. Of course, not everyone is positive all the time – we all have our ups and downs and in stating afformations – it’s about believing and having the FAITH that all is in our higher power’s hands…..the Universe listens to us and a thought particle travels faster than the speed of light – so what you put out there is what you get back.

    Great post my friend Stu,

    • Thanks Nancy, absolutely – we must have faith that what happens is going to be good for us. If we look back on our lives we will see many unwanted experiences actually helped us get to where we are today. Therefore we should embrace ALL experiences as being for our good – eventually. Love your presence here. πŸ™‚

  3. Hi Stu,
    I just discovered your blog, but already know I’m going to enjoy it. Today I learned about afformations by reading a previous post. I’ve never heard of afformations before. But the idea intrigues me so I know I will try it. Keep up the encouraging and inspiring work.
    Dauna Easley

  4. Love the premise of “…a thought particle traveling faster than the speed of light!” How cool is it to try and wrap you mind around that!

    • Quantum Physics is already hypothesising that twin particles galaxies apart influence each other instantaneously – maybe thought energy does the same!!?? That’s worth pondering. πŸ™‚

  5. Hi Stu ….
    I don’t think we need books how to tell us how to be πŸ™‚
    U know …..
    I think having a positive outlook/ perspective – for me at least –
    gets me through – i have made it the way i wanna be …..
    No matter what – i smile my way through it
    because the other option – is sooooo not an option ……. for me πŸ™‚
    Great Post πŸ™‚

  6. My hubby tells me I always look at the negative. I tell him I pray for the positive but prepare for the worst, That way when it doesn’t happen, I’m elated, and if it does, I’m not surprised. I can move on. There’s a plan in place and I can hit the ground running with whatever I need to do to make things right. As far as setting goals, I not only visualize them in my head but I put them on paper. Solid affirmations every day that I look at so when I feel defeated, I can look at them and remind myself why I’m on my journey to begin with. As to feigning happiness when you’re not happy…I don’t think that’s healthy. I believe we have to allow ourselves to feel what we feel. Denying our human emotions, suppressing them, can have devastating consequences, not only on us but those around us. There are times, however, we have to ‘buck up’, like at work. I find in times of sadness or depression, talking to friends, going out, watching movies, helps to get me back on track. We each have our own methods of coping and moving on. We just have to find them.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment Jenny, I agree, our feelings are valid and we must acknowledge them. For me, I try to accept my feelings, then question them (to find out what’s really behind them), then move on as quickly as I can. The control freak part of me wants to get back in control asap. πŸ™‚ Having a great support network really helps too.

  7. Good post Stu. I think it’s important for anyone to strike a balance between verbalizing positive affirmations (or afformations) and expecting the worse of a particular outcome. My philosophy with regard to this topic is to be an “optimistic realist.” Hope for the best but be prepared for the best not happening because we all know that Murphy’s Law will hit us when we least expect it. I enjoyed your post since it struck a chord with me with where I am at in my life currently. Cheers!

    • Thanks California Kid, I agree – visualise the best but don’t get hung up on it happening that way. Then, when it doesn’t pan out, you’re not devastated – which is what some people experience when they don’t reach a goal they expected. Please take advantage of the free 79 pages of my book, it’s not only receiving rave reviews from those having trouble in their life, but also, those that simply want to improve constantly. πŸ™‚

  8. Hey Stuart, Isn’t this how life is? More than once we see something going in one direction and everybody hops on the bandwagon, then when everyone is going in one direction someone comes along and does a 180…then that becomes the next BIG thing. Bell bottom jeans went to peg leg. Wide ties go to skinny ties. Gel hair goes to natural look. In business we see everything going to China, now it is coming back or going to Mexico. Once we had strong leaders, now teams. Once it was all about the sell, now it is story telling. Of course, if you stick around long enough you see it come in style, go out of style, come back in style. Sometimes it just gets old period.

    Be encouraged!

    • So true Stephen, at the end of the day we all have to choose what we believe at any one time For me, being positive works so I’m sticking to it. For others, try this try that and figure out what works for you. I always like to take a look at other perspectives and sift the evidence – sometimes I even change my mind about stuff!!! On this point though I’m rooted securely where I am. πŸ™‚

      • You know stuart the urge to get on the NY Times bestseller list can be a very powerful motive…sometimes I wonder when I read these “new” ideas that appear in books if the authors are just not looking to gain a little sales boost from their “controversial” message…of course I could always be completely wrong. πŸ™‚

        Be encouraged!

    • It’s true that being controversial is a marketing technique. I suppose at the end of the day if we write stuff that nobody reads was it worth doing? Ethically speaking a prefer to stick to my own thoughts and beliefs and leave others to decide whether they are controversial or not. Who knows whether Oliver Burkeman had one intention or another (his publisher probably!!). πŸ˜‰

      • Completely with you…have for several years now believed there is a tension in life that we need to maintain…blind positive thoughts, are not so good…constant negativity, not so good…rational understanding if where we are, with a good dose of where we want to go, not bad. πŸ™‚

        BTW…glad to see the book is doing well…wish you much success.

        Be encouraged!

    • Thanks for the encouragement Stephen – always good to see you here. πŸ™‚

  9. PMA! It’s a choice and for me, I’d rather er on the side of optimism. πŸ™‚

  10. Jo

    Oh wow Stu… what a negative sort of guy this Oliver is!! For one … if you don’t visualise your goals you don’t consolidate them… therefore they just remain floating around forever in ‘never never land’. Focusing on what you really want… your goals in life… helps you to stop wasting time on what isn’t really important. You helped me to recognise that one! Thank you. x

    Two!!! How much joy is wasted in worrying about what, most likely, will not happen sometime in the future!!!!! All the time we’re worrying about how bad a situation may be or become, we are missing out on how good THIS moment is.

    Three!!! My Dad always said… “The man who was afraid of making mistakes never made anything.” If we don’t set a goal we stagnate.
    And it’s by progressing towards our goals that we discover if we really wanted that particular goal in the first place. But at least we made the effort.

    Four. I love the saying of Byron Katie….. “I can’t wait to see the good that comes out of this”. Whether we achieve or not, there is ALWAYS A GIFT.

    Five…. We should never try to feel upbeat… something we’re not really feeling… that’s what got us into this predicament in the first place…(but that’s another story. LOL). What we could try to do instead is to ask ourselves ‘why do we feel the way we do?’ and then ask ourselves ‘Am I being a victim? and is that really true???’

    Well … that’s MY tenpen’orth. So much for my holiday ironing!! THAT was my goal this evening but this post was far more interesting. And I’m sure they’ve got an iron in Canada. x


    • Thanks Jo, you know I’m going to agree with every word you’ve said don’t you! Especially worrying about future failures – as you say, you miss the joy of the moment worrying about the future. And as for Byron Katie, that’s a great quote and I love her idea of questioning if what we’re feeling is actually true or not. I think the one thing I agree totally with Oliver on is your point 5 – trying to feel upbeat when we’re not. We must validate feelings. For me though, I like to step away from negative ones asap and Tony Robbins TRIAD is a brilliant tool for that.
      Have a great time in Canada and sod the ironing! Missing you already, who am I gonna strum with?? πŸ™‚

  11. Hi Stu, I tend to agree with you on the subject of visualization as I have found it helpful in having very positive outcomes in my goal to be a better public speaker or presenter. I do like the afformation idea also as you stated feeding ourselves questions makes us search for the true answers. Great topic thank you!

  12. loved the write up and so agree with you Stuart…
    the way i see it if we are in a pit we have only two choices..we can howl endlessly and blame everyone in the world
    or keep trying to get out..i prefer the second…
    positivity is not a choice .it is the only way..once in habbit you always see a new road a path which the negativity kept away from you all these years…

    • Thanks Soma, that is a great observation: positivity allows you to see a new path. Negativity certainly limits my view and that’s why I also choose positivity. Great comment. πŸ™‚

  13. #4 makes sense. Focus on process instead of product will probably result in better product.

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