Positive Thinking YES but a touch of Realism is usually what’s called for

I become rather irritated when I enter the sugary world portrayed by the Happiness movement and the average self-help book. The message is clear : Think positively and the world will be a better place, riches and happiness will follow and you will never have a negative thought again. Nice as this thought is, it is totally unrealistic in practice and usually a more realistic view on life is a better angle to take.

As a CBT therapist, I deal in realism. What that means is that in therapy, my clients are made to realize that life is mostly difficult with various ups and downs and things are not going to be great all the time. It is how we deal with the downs that determine how good the ups will be. This is an essential mindset to take if recovery is to take place. If we can be mostly satisfied with who we are, what we are doing and who with are with most of the time, then life is not so bad and maybe that is all we can ask for. Contrast that with the unreal, perfectionist world portrayed in self-help literature. Please don’t get me wrong at this point. I am all for positive thinking but only when it is realistically applied.

When I take on a new client, one of the first assignments they get is to fill in Daily Mood Sheets. This is a wonderful instrument that charts reaction to negative triggers, looks at the automatic thoughts and behavior that follows and then gives the client a chance to look at the situation from a different angle. The biggest hurdle to these sheets is the ability to look at things realistically in the context that the situation took place. Once this is learnt, a mindset clicks in that is one of acceptance that things won’t and can’t always go our way, people do not always (though sometimes) set out to offend us and not every situation we find ourselves in (though some) is aimed at us personally. This is the idea behind realistic thinking, that we accept that life will not always be as we want it to be but mostly will.

Certainly, it’s important to maintain a positive attitude, but this is different from positive thinking. Positive thinking in a way puts unrealistic goals in our path, which when they fail to materialize after so much emotional investment, can be devastating. Conversely, a positive attitude gives us the energy to deal with either success or failure in a meaningful way. Positive thinking can be considered somewhat of a trap, looking at things with a black or white stance , giving us an attachment to outcomes which has an effect on our self-worth.  It also closes the door to awareness of what it is to learn from failure and hence a chance to enjoy success.

The Tao doesn’t take sides;
it gives birth to both good and evil.
The Master doesn’t take sides;
she welcomes both saints and sinners.
The Tao is like a bellows:
it is empty yet infinitely capable.
The more you use it, the more it produces;
the more you talk of it, the less you understand.
Hold on to the center.
– Tao Te Ching verse 5

Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a Counseling psychologist in private practice working with individuals, couples, groups and companies. Apart from seeing clients face-to-face, Dr Jenner also runs a thriving online therapy business bringing help to those who are housebound or located in rural locations where therapy is difficult to find. He can be booked for online sessions from anywhere in the world. First consultation free. For more information , follow the link to his website HERE

Want to know more about Dr Nicholas Jenner? Check out what his clients say….HERE

  10 comments for “Positive Thinking YES but a touch of Realism is usually what’s called for

  1. September 3, 2012 at 9:58 am

    So true, I seek contentment not happiness. Contentment is often a mindset and happiness more often follows. The saying I hate the very most is live each day as if it is your last. Whoever thought that one up was an idiot..( tell me it wasn’t you 🙂 I mean life just isn’t like that, what about the mother battering flu and having to care for her kids? Or a rainy week mid feb? 🙂

    • September 3, 2012 at 10:00 am

      HI…You are safe..it wasn’t me but whoever wrote this has made money 🙂 I have always found there is a fine line between negativity and realism and one which must be defined carefully. As I said, a positive, realistic attitude is really what’s called for

  2. September 3, 2012 at 10:00 am

    I can’t get past the image… In my experience, it should say: sometimes the opposite of “positivity” isn’t negativity, it’s reality….

  3. Fiona
    September 3, 2012 at 10:07 am

    Wise words! I believe you have to FIND things in life that make you happy. That way, when you go through the downs, you still have the things that make you happy to fall back on. After my brother’s recent suicide, I have started kayaking and interior decorating my apartment. Two things I really enjoy – to try and keep my spirits up. It helps a lot while I’m actually doing these activities, but when I’m not (which is most of the time), I need to find and use the strength in my mind to get through the difficulties. Sometimes easier said than done!

    • September 3, 2012 at 10:10 am

      These are extreme circumstances that many people do not have to face but as you can see, your attitude is correct. Life must go on, despite everything you seem to believe that enjoying a positive attitude will help you realistically look at the inevitable lows of life.

      • Fiona
        September 3, 2012 at 10:33 am

        I’m glad you said they’re extreme circumstances than many people do not have to face. The other day I said to someone that I have this constant feeling of sadness and “it’s not fair” but I try not to voice it. My friend said (nicely) that everyone has ups and downs in their life and often a feeling of it’s not fair. I agreed and it made me feel a bit better at the time. But deep down I’m sure most people don’t have this “it’s not fair” feeling as much as I do!! (Considering my father also committed suicide a few years back). Or maybe I’m just feeling sorry for myself? I’m not sure! It’s certainly a battle though and I’m having to use every ounce of my mental strength to stay afloat.

      • September 3, 2012 at 10:38 am

        Fiona…these are certainly extreme circumstances but your attitude through this can be seen as an example for others who have much less to be negative about!

      • Fiona
        September 3, 2012 at 11:01 am

        Thank you! I’ll keep persisting then with my current tactics!

      • September 3, 2012 at 11:02 am


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: