Volume 3, Issue 23
People are always saying to me, “Bill, you’re one of the most positive people around.” While I take it as a high compliment, I am always thinking “How do I convey that positive thinking is not enough?”
Positive thinking is one of the cornerstones of success, Zone level performance, ability to withstand and meet challenges, ability to be happy… it is necessary but positive thinking alone is not sufficient to achieve all these things: there is more to psychotechnology.
The other cornerstone is mindfulness. The two main threads running through my book Mind Magic and through me might be summed up as combining those two mind techniques. That would be reductionism but it would not be way off base.
The thing about positive thinking is that it’s an idea all of us know by now, and it is not easy for most people to practice it. Many of the books on the subject exhort people to think positively and prove why it is important but they don’t tell the reader how to stay positive in the face of perceived threats, disappointments or other mood negators.
Actually achieving and maintaining a state of positive thinking as the natural equilibrium of the individual requires a number of component accomplishments including the toning down of excessive attachment to specific outcomes.
I didn’t set out to be a positive thinker. A philosopher by nature, like all children I wondered about everything, I just wondered more systematically, and in a bulldog fashion. I really wanted to figure things out. The positive thinking came along with a lot of other discoveries.
As a philosopher I am attracted to pragmatism. This moves the mind toward positive thinking as a side effect. From a pragmatic point of view, one does not start with positive thinking, but with questions as to what is our goal or purpose, and then what means will get us there. In the context of pragmatism, anything but positive thinking is an obvious waste of time and energy; negative handwringing for example is staying in the problem definition phase when it’s time to move on to the solution phase.
Having been led to positive thinking via pragmatism, I was then able to see the value of projecting positively, pre-visualizing positively, and communicating positively as simply more effective at achieving goals. I didn’t do those things out of a belief in thinking positively, but because I saw that they worked.
It might be more accurate (and less reductionist) to say that I took the best things I saw in all philosophies to bake my own philosophy. Pragmatism, operationalism, the stoicism of Epictetus, Hemingway’s fatalism, the Vedas, Kabbalah, Taoism, Buddhism, John Stuart Mill’s “greatest good for the greatest number”, and Zen (with apologies to all the others not mentioned for space/time reasons).
Still, pragmatism runs deep. What am I trying to accomplish? It sometimes can be simply to have fun — fun being conducive to the Flow state. Encourage the development of long-term goals to help people supervene short-term goals. What can I control and what must I accept? Non-attachment to outcome is key. Take the right action and let the chips fall as they may. Pre-visualize success.
Positive thinking is a corollary of pragmatism.
Mindfulness is something else again and another necessary component though insufficient without positive thinking. More on mindfulness in the next post.
Best to all,