Saturday, January 2, 2010

Sitting in the corner with a half empty glass

If there's one thing that makes me feel negative, it's positive thinking. I've always felt that the idea that if you wish for something hard enough you'll get it and that you can somehow control your destiny by the force of your own will is dubious at best. The orthodoxy of the positive thinking gurus is that somehow you can make yourself happy, successful, prosperous, desirable etc just through having the right mind set.

Personally I find this deeply flawed; of course we can all make choices about whether we are cruel, lazy and abuse our bodies but shit happens and it happens to nice people who don't deserve it and can't prevent it - no matter how hard they try. No, I think 'positive thinking' is an idea that rather than liberate people traps them into feeling an onerous sense of responsibility for things beyond their control.

So I was glad on reading '59 seconds: Think a little, change a lot' by Professor Richard Wiseman, to see that science actually supports me, concluding that creative visualisation exercises are 'at best ineffective and, at worst, harmful'. He cites a case often used by 'positive thinkers' in which a team of researchers interviewed a number of graduating seniors at Yale in 1953. Twenty years later they followed up these individuals and found that those who had specific goals at that time had achieved more than their colleagues who had not, thus providing proof of the power of goal setting. The problem is there is no evidence that the experiment actually took place and it may in fact be apocryphal.

About a year ago I won the chance to have some life coaching. In the middle of a very difficult period in my life, just getting myself back together after a hellish divorce, I thought it might be interesting and so approached the idea with an open mind. My life coach was a lovely and credible lady who has done very well for herself. I have enormous respect for her achievements but I found her ideas difficult to accept. She asked me visualise where I wanted to be in five years time , telling me that we have control over what happens to us and whether we get the things we want through the power of positive thinking. She called this concept 'vibrational escrows'

Vibrational whats I hear you cry? The idea apparently comes from a woman caller Esther Hicks.

'You have in your vibrational escrow all those things you want and you could pick any one thing on the planet that's going wrong or in your life and give it your undivided attention and you could keep all of those things that you want from happening because you've activated such a vibration of lack over this one thing....'

I thought about this very deeply; it seemed to be a barmy idea and one I found difficult to swallow. I asked her about a situation in my own life. My baby son was stillborn at term. I had no warning of this, I didn't take illicit substances, smoke or drink during my pregnancy, I ate the right foods and went to all my appointments. I never for a second had negative thoughts about my baby and yet he died. For years afterI tortured myself trying to think what I might have done to 'make it' happen. Over time I came to accept that I could have done nothing and that it was simply 'one of those things'. It didn't happen because I was bad, any more than the women I saw as I left the hospital smoking like chimneys while heavily pregnant, kept their babies because they were somehow good or better.

My coach listened to me and said that maybe it was too early for me to understand and accept the concept of 'vibrational escrows'. I had to agree and didn't go back for more. To be honest I feel I have more control over my life by being rational, active and thoughtful about it. Positive thinking seems to me to be another way of delegating responsibility for your life to another 'being' and to me that's the beginning of where it all goes wrong.

Nah, I'm happy with my half empty glass thank you.

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