Saturday, March 5, 2011

The power of delusional thinking

Things have been going pretty well for Cinder Bridge lately. And yet, I feel a vague sense of dissatisfaction. I crave something bigger for us. Grander. Why have we not yet achieved major stardom?

A popular philosophy is that we attract things into our lives through our thoughts. Believe all sorts of goodies are coming our way, and they will. Doubt, and they won't.

This means I've been keeping the band down by not fully embracing the belief that we'll hit the big time. In fact, I've been keeping us down simply by saying things like "Why have we not achieved major stardom?" When you think about what you don't have, you attract not having it.

So it's time for me to utilize the power of positive thinking. Ready? Here we go!

I can achieve whatever my mind can conceive.

Cool. Hey, I'm visualizing myself flapping my arms and flying. Think that'll work?

People will pay tons of money for our CDs because the universe is full of abundance and wealth. There is more than enough to go around.

Yeah! Except for the poor people in third-world dictatorships who have to toil endlessly just to keep starvation at bay.

I am a rock star.

I am? Why are we not playing 15,000-seat arenas? Why do I not hear us on the radio?

I suck at affirmations.

Wow, I really do.

Lookit, I have no problem using optimistic statements to psych myself up. Thinking OK, I can do this before embarking on something scary is better than ruminating on all the ways I could screw it up. Where I get stuck is the idea that all you have to do is think certain thoughts, and the universe will rewrite the laws of physics so it can drop shiny things into your lap.

Do I strike you as overly cynical? Read Barbara Ehrenreich's Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America for a few insightful reality checks. A belief that you can't fail doesn't always lead to success. Sometimes it leads to the subprime mortgage fiasco. Oh, and it turns out that a positive attitude doesn't make you any more likely to survive breast cancer.

Still not convinced? Skim a few blogs written by people with ME/CFS, a neuroimmune disease that causes serious pain and crushing exhaustion. Most of these bloggers refused to believe that their lives could be permanently sidelined when they first got sick. So with pluck and a can-do spirit, they pushed through the pain and crushing exhaustion to achieve their goals ... and made themselves much worse.

I'm pretty sure these guys want to get better more than I want to be a rock star.

Which brings us back to the point. If the think-and-you-shall-have brand of positive thinking amounts to delusion, I'm going to invent a delusional affirmation that can't be contradicted by harsh reality.

My failure to become a rock star thus far has nothing to do with a lack of talent, stage presence, or ability to market myself. The reason I haven't become a rock star yet is because I am a MISUNDERSTOOD GENIUS.

Yes. I feel much better now.

13 comments:

DeppityBob said...

Brilliant. Very nicely structured and expressed. I love it.

James said...

Reality is more than a mere construct. :) Sometimes the "Oh! Feel well and you get well" mindset is really nothing more than... wishing upon a star.

Lots of People said...

But . . . dreams really do come true. (I heard it in a song once.)

Tom Walker said...

I don't know about your status as a rock star, but you've succeeded in making me smile with your writing. And that doesn't happen all the time.

offcenterlarry said...

Skillfully written. I do, however, disagree with your basic premise. (Anything can be discounted by oversimplification, though I doubt that was your intention.) I believe that the energy of thought, whether we refer to it as prayer, meditation, or positive thinking, is actually capable of changing matter. I won't get into my personal religious beliefs, which include divine intervention, but certainly there has been sufficient investigation into meditation as to preclude the impossibility. Unless, of course, you're talking about scientific provability, which I'm convinced includes semantic controversy. (Is "love" provable? Does that make it unreal? No, but it is by definition intangible. Etc.) Check out Cheepak Dobro (as I like to mangle his name), or Rev. Don Piper, for different ends of this spectrum.

Priscilla said...

Love it.

Probably you've read my related essay: http://www.heaveninmyfoot.com/2007/11/follow-your-dreams-to-hell_15.html .

cinderkeys said...

Thanks for the comments thus far, guys. Keep 'em coming! :)

@offcenterlarry: The vast majority of us have experienced love and agree that it exists. However, if you ask different people whether they've effected change through prayer, meditation, or positive thinking, you'll get different answers.

And this IS scientifically testable:

http://www.freethoughtpedia.com/wiki/Harvard_prayer_experiment

Somebody could easily do a similar experiment using positive thinking or meditation in the place of prayer.

@Priscilla: Not only did I read your essay, I thought it was one of the best things I've ever read. I was actually hoping you'd read mine. If you've noticed your essay's influence, I hope you're flattered rather than annoyed by the thematic plagiarism. :)

Brian said...

If you think good thoughts, and good things happen, it's totally because of you! If bad things happen, well, you didn't want it bad enough, or someone else's negativity brought you down, or something like that.

I think the "power of positive thinking" is more like the "power of positive rationalization".

Pris said...

Fantastic essay. It's time we tempered this mad rush into 'the mind can provide anything'.

Chef E said...

Wonderful. As if you delved into my mind this weekend. Thrown into the chaos of being 'almost' 50 and all its wondrous knowledge tagging behind me, I was thinking about how my husband kept saying "My famous poet wife"- which lead to how he said a similar thing with such love as I graduated culinary school. We are famous in our own living room as the cliche goes. I can live with that, but do want to get noticed for my talents. So I keep the positive thoughts going by cooking up good work!

John Wenger said...

This is a terrific essay.

Of course it is true that positive thinking can bring good things about given the right circumstances, but this contradicts nothing you said. The problem comes when think-good-thoughters hype themselves (and others) into believing that this is sufficient. There are plenty of times when it is necessary, but as your illustrations about flying and illness demonstrate, it is often not close to being sufficient and can be downright dangerous: false hope can be as bad as unrealistic pessimism.

I taught calculus for decades, and there came times when I had to tell students they weren't going to pass the course and should drop before it was too late. Most would listen to me, but I cannot tell you how many times some of them looked me straight in the eye and told me with a sort of religious fervor that they would not fail. It was inconceivable. They would not allow it to happen.

Those students always failed. I can't think of a single exception in all those years. None of them even came close. What a waste of positive energy.

Helene said...

To my thinking, you _are_ a rock star.

cinderkeys said...

Thanks, Helene. :)

Yeah, the kind of positive thinking where you psych yourself up into DOING something is great. When you try to influence anybody or anything besides yourself solely through thinking, though, you may run into trouble.

Thinking positive thoughts about studying or doing good work and then actually doing the work can yield great results. Thinking positive thoughts alone, and you're pretty much relying on luck.