MAKING POSITIVE STATEMENTS to yourself
when you feel down improves your mood but only slightly.
Thirty years ago, that was the best you could hope for. But since
then, an enormous amount of research has been done on exactly
how our thoughts affect the way we feel. This is the realm of
The most important insight from cognitive
research is this: When you feel angry, anxious, or depressed,
those feelings are largely caused by irrational (unreasonable)
Of course, circumstances call for some
kind of response, but your response will depend on your habits
of thinking. When youre in the habit of making faulty
(irrational, unreasonable, unjustifiable) assumptions in response
to certain kinds of events, youre likely to feel a lot
of anger, anxiety or sadness in that area of your life.
Cognitive science says, Rather than
trying to think positively, find out whats wrong with your
negative thinking. If youve got strong negative feelings,
your thinking is inevitably distorted, unsubstantiated and overgeneralized.
Criticizing the assumptions behind your negative feelings measurably
and significantly improves your mood. When you find yourself
making an unreasonable assumption and it makes you feel bad,
attack the assumption. Check it for illogic. See if youre
exaggerating or ignoring evidence.
Give your own negative thoughts the same
treatment you would give to the statements of a fast-talking
salesman: Question them without mercy. Dont assume that
something is true simply because you thought it. Check
your own thoughts against logic and evidence as skeptically as
you would the thoughts of someone else. You are fallible like
any other human being, and you are capable of thinking thoughts
that are not only untrue, but also counterproductive.
If youve got the time, criticize
your assumptions on paper. Write an assumption youre
making something you think is true about the situation,
some assessment or opinion you have and then write out
all the reasons why that assumption may not, in fact, be true,
and why it may be a supremely stupid thing to think. This is
one of my favorite methods. When I do this, I often use two pens
of different color, one for the assumptions and one for my criticisms
of those assumptions.
Old-style positive thinking the
kind of pollyanna, rose-colored glasses, everything-happens-for-a-reason
positive thinking ignores an important issue: truth. And
thats why it doesnt work very well. Thinking positively
only works if you believe it, and its very difficult
for a modern, educated, rational person (you, for instance) to
believe something just because its a nice thought.
Dont bother with positive thinking.
Something much better has been discovered. When you feel mad,
annoyed, frustrated, stressed, worried, or down-in-the-dumps,
pay attention to your thoughts and then argue with those thoughts
on the basis of evidence and reason. At the moment you recognize
one of your negative thoughts as irrational, youll feel
You may have to argue with the same thoughts
over and over again, sometimes for months, but eventually youll
get in the habit of making more rational assumptions, and the
more rational your thoughts, the less youll be troubled
by the negative emotions your thoughts were causing. When youre
no longer burdened by unnecessary feelings of sadness, anger,
and fear, youll find your general mood and sense of well-being
will rise to a new level. Cut yourself free of needless negative
emotions with the blade of rationality.
Criticize the assumptions behind
your negative feelings.