The Limits Of Positive Thinking

By Rudra Shivananda

There continues to be a proliferation of workshops, seminars, audios and books on the power of positive thought and the techniques of positive affirmations. These can be very misleading especially for those who have these “secrets” as their initial exposure to spirituality. I utilize affirmations in some of my workshops and so they certainly have a place on the spiritual path but they also have severe practical limitations that must be recognized.

Those who espouse the miracle of positive thinking point to the many testimonial successes that abound in print and in cyberspace. It is true that there is a certain percentage of those taking these workshops who initially report significant changes in their well-being and life-styles. However, when reality sets in, these initial successes are followed by disillusionment and even failure. There are basic psychological barriers that are deep in everyone’s psyche that blocks the effectiveness of even the best examples of positive thinking and powerful affirmations.

The first factor is doubt and skepticism. No matter how much one tries to foster a set of positive beliefs, there is a part of our minds that will focus on the first sign that the power of positive thinking may not be working. Since it is not possible for everything to work out exactly perfectly due to external factors, the doubting mind has plenty of fuel to undermine the effects of positive thinking. Once it has ‘proof’ that it does not work, it will keep at it until one’s confidence is gradually undermined over time – this is an inevitable vicious cycle because once undermined, the positive beliefs system becomes less and less effective and so more and more examples of its failure fuels the doubting mind.

The second mental factor that will reduce the effectiveness of any positive belief system is the negative self-esteem. This is the part of our mind that keeps whispering to us that we are not worthy for whatever the power of the new belief system promises. This is the voice that warns that things are going to go wrong, that we are not doing something right, or that everyone hates us etc.  Even when something positive happens, it will whisper that it’s not going to last! This negative voice is very difficult to silence once it gets going.

The above two factors keep our consciousness at a lower level and prevent us from achieving the promised potential of our humanity.  That is the reason that Masters have given more powerful tools to overcome these barriers and many others that are obstacles to realization of our true Being. However, those tools require more effort and discipline and a regular practice to manifest their effectiveness – therefore, the need for a spiritual path such as yoga.

It is important to realize the difference between merely trying to foster a mental belief system through the power of positive thinking and a spiritual practice that eliminates the negative mental factors that hold us back from our true potential.

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