When does uncritical thinking usually take place?

Drug positive thinking: from ineffective to dangerous

A large part of the so-called self-help literature recommends “positive thinking” as an effective measure to overcome life crises or generally as a tool for greater satisfaction and success. Every problem should be able to be brought under control solely through the power of one's own thoughts. However, the reality is different: Excessively uncritical positive thinking can even become dangerous. You can find out why this is so in the article.

The promise:
Positive thinking solves all problems

Problematic phases and crises are just as much a part of life as contentment and happiness. In contrast to the latter, you want to get past the unpleasant times as quickly as possible and undamaged. That is normal and understandable.

A special area of ​​the self-help or advice genre promises the ultimate weapon for everyone who is currently going through a problematic phase of life and, to top it all, has a negative attitude towards life.

The magic formula of positive thinking

This “weapon” can be referred to in its manifestations and techniques under the term "Positive thinking" sum up. Positive thinking believers are convinced that one can solve almost any problem by aligning one's thoughts in a positive way.

Relationship crises, health or financial problems can be brought under control in this way. The same applies to overcoming fears and depression.

Normally, anyone should immediately get the impression that these promises are far too good to even begin to be true. Amazingly, publications in this genre are often extremely successful. And that even over many decades!

Unrealistic promises and still successful

A positive thinking classic like "Don't Worry - Live!" By Dale Carnegie was published back in 1948. Since then, this book has been translated into 38 languages ​​and sold millions of times. Can so many readers be wrong?

"(...) try these new methods and see what miracles they work."

Dale Carnegie:
Do not worry - live! P. 21

Let's take a closer look at some of the promises. If you want to get a detailed and critical picture, I recommend Günter Scheich's book "Positive Thinking Makes You Sick"*. The following arguments in the post are based in large part on his book.

Positive thinking -
Ineffective to dangerous

Positive thinking is about imposing a positive attitude on your thoughts. And at any price, no matter how big the problems may actually be.

Positive thinking thus goes far beyond ordinary optimism. This is because this always has a relation to actually existing aspects of real life.

If I z. If, for example, I start a marathon, I can only be optimistic about my position and time if I have trained accordingly beforehand. If the preparation was rather undisciplined, positive expectations have no basis - they are then pure wishful thinking.

Positive thinking is similar to wishful thinking

Without at least a minimum of grounding in reality, there is therefore no optimism, but wishful thinking. In fact, wishful thinking and positive thinking have quite a lot in common.

In both cases, unpleasant thoughts are simply hidden. It is obvious that so is the risk of disaster Escape from reality increases massively. Dangers are simply ignored. The disaster can then take its course unchecked.

Anyone who also has problems with procrastination - that is, the compulsive procrastination - will calm down again and again by means of positive thinking; everything will be fine. In fact, one remains trapped in a web of passivity, lethargy, and self-doubt. For the mechanism of procrastination, I recommend the article Overcoming procrastination.


Positive thinking doesn't work!

The concept provides a simple solution for a complicated, chaotic world. That in itself should cause skepticism. Hardly achievable ideals are almost always promised.

And as if that weren't already unrealistic enough, it should work right out of the deepest crises. It then goes from zero to one hundred

  • with cancer too healthy,
  • totally broke for riches,
  • from the fearful outsider to the popular and gifted speaker.

Most positive thinking assumptions do not stand up to critical scrutiny. The following points are intended to illustrate this.

Self-help is only possible to a limited extent

Anyone who gets a guide like “Don't worry - live!” Probably has one or more problem (s) and has now decided to take matters into their own hands. But how promising is this attempt at self-help?

Of course, people always manage to overcome crises, solve problems and manage sensitive situations. In general, it can be said that the bigger the problems, the smaller the chances of success. This is especially true for psychological problems such as depression or anxiety disorders.

How should the patient treat himself?

The crux of the matter is that it is hardly possible to judge yourself objectively with the problems mentioned. But how should you treat yourself if you can't even grasp the problem with certainty?The whole thing somehow has the character of the Münchhausen story, in which the baron of lies pulls himself out of the swamp by his own hair.

Presumably, a good friend whom you turn to for advice brings significantly more than attempting self-therapy. In addition, if it is a 70-year-old advisor who deliberately ignores scientific knowledge.

Professional help will often be necessary. At the latest when basic areas of life (social contacts, job) are impaired over a long period of time, it is high time for them.

Overestimation of the power of thoughts

The basic assumption of the proponents of positive thinking is that thoughts have the power to solve all-encompassing problems. You just have to convince yourself that everything is fine.

But can that even work? Can happiness be the result of an isolated chamber game in our gray cells? Hardly likely. Our personality is determined by much more than just thinking and language.

People are more than just thoughts and language

Genetic aspects as well as early childhood and everything that was experienced more or less consciously at some point determine who we are and therefore how we feel.

I can say to myself all day that I am fine - but it will not help me in the crisis. This also requires a portion of positive reality.

Persuading yourself that all is well, that fear and problems are void, will not help in overcoming deficits or trauma when the reality is really bad.

If there is a lack of suitable coping strategies or if there are poor general or living conditions, positive thinking does not help.

Overcoming fear = defeating cancer?

“Anyway, I experienced a miracle, I was healed. I have never been healthier than in the past few years, not least thanks to the forceful words: 'Face the facts! Stop being afraid! '"

Dale Carnegie:
Do not worry - live! ibid.

It is not easy to understand why one should be cured of cancer through positive thinking. Carnegie provides several individual cases in his book in which serious illnesses are cured quickly. And it actually works very simply: switch off fear, switch on the will to live, get well - done!

The stupid thing is that fears (and especially cancer cells) are largely beyond the reach of language and thought. Especially when they are deeply anchored - i.e. conditioned - through repetition.

If the sweat of fear comes on the forehead in spiders, confined spaces or large crowds, no "I-make-myself-courage-mantra" will take away the fear. And certainly not with the idea of ​​approaching death as a result of a cruel illness.

Manifest the better you

Another recommendation goes back to Vincent Peale. As a pastor and also a pioneer of positive thinking, he put forward some very daring theses. Physical illnesses are z. B. always attributed to spiritual causes.

Which then of course implies the dangerous reverse conclusion that medical treatments could become superfluous through positive thinking.

He requested that one be mental image of the fully developed personality should shape. The question arises as to how one can achieve this as a not yet fully developed (and thus incomplete) personality.

It is obvious that an idea of ​​this stage of development can only be possible when one is no longer too far removed from it. Development happens in small steps.

To imagine the “fully developed” personality at the age of 18 at 38 may be very funny. Most of all, this exercise is completely useless for actual development.

No discussion of the causes

Positive thinking techniques have another serious deficit. There is no real confrontation with the underlying problems.

It is precisely this deficiency that can even exacerbate the existing deficits. This is especially true for pathological manifestations of the psyche such as fears and depression.

The representatives of positive thinking propagate primarily Displacement strategies. Neither the burdened past nor the problematic present is dealt with. Not to mention that strenuous future work on yourself would be an issue.

The danger:
When things get worse

False optimism can have serious consequences. Assuming that a positive attitude alone can avert negative developments, this quickly results in an attitude based on the motto "It will-be-somehow-alright".

Dangerous fading out of reality

However, this can be extremely dangerous if it helps to mask out real dangers. Daring financial adventures can endanger the whole of existence when optimism no longer has a real basis and mutates into wishful thinking.

Positive thinking in extreme forms does exactly that: it blocks out reality and also cements psychological immaturity. People who already have a mental disorder are particularly susceptible to the completely exaggerated promises of the self-help gurus.

They are promised a comfortable path to paradise (health, wealth, love, etc.). Without any strenuous work on yourself, therapy or medication.

Those seeking help are always to blame for failure

When paradise is a long time coming - and that is exactly what always happens - the gurus provide a perfidious reason for this: One simply had too negative an attitude, i.e. H. positive thinking advice has not been followed consistently enough.

The advice reader seeking help is always to blame if the lofty promises do not come true. Which can lead to frustration and even feelings of guilt.

It is not uncommon for those seeking help to have built up an entire self-help library over the years. And after the initial euphoria, the frustration rises with every new, promising book.

Conclusion: promises with potential for addiction

It is obvious that people, especially when they are going through a difficult time, are receptive to simple and also promising solutions.

When the control of life slips and the problems grow beyond one's head, one longs for the paradisiacal states that prevail in the world of positive thoughts. The representatives of positive thinking promise their readers the blue of the sky without batting an eyelid:

  • Wishes are fulfilled in a comfortable way
  • No need to deal with personal weaknesses and deficits
  • Negative experiences and bad experiences are suppressed
  • Simplification of a complex world that is difficult to understand
  • Promise of absolute happiness

If none of this comes true, it increases the frustration and crisis of those seeking help. They also lose valuable time that they could use for effective work-up and problem-solving. Ideal with the help and support of others such as friends, family members or in serious cases also from therapists.

Positive thinking at all costs prevents professional help and usually makes the situation worse. In addition, one increasingly maneuvers into the dependence of euphoric promises of salvation from charlatans.

The bottom line is that these are the only ones who really benefit from their promises. Their ineffective and often harmful tips only ensure prosperity for them (and their publishers). A review from the FAZ in 1997 is very aptQuote about Dale Carnegie:

“He had failed in many other professions, such as a cowboy, an actor, a car dealer or a novelist. His success was to offer other unsuccessful recipes for success. "

Source: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung,
February 1, 1997, No. 27 / page B2

Smart instead of positive thinking!

The post does not intend to devalue any positive point of view. Rather, it should be shown that as a rule no problem disappears into thin air simply because everything is viewed through the rose-tinted glasses of positive thinking. You don't need a “positive” but rather smart thinking.

Those who include the available facts in their considerations, draw appropriately well-founded conclusions and also derive sensible actions from them are on the right track. In addition, a portion of trust in your own abilities and healthy optimism comes naturally.

Positive thinking: reality-denying and passive

The techniques of positive thinking is a deeply reality-negating and also passive strategy. Seriously: what should repeated dream dreams change in a problematic life situation?

The promise of an easily accessible paradise on earth works like a drug: After a short euphoria, there is always disillusionment because nothing has changed or everything has got worse.

And like a junkie, you buy the next guide that presents the same untenable promises in a slightly different guise. The only thing that helps here is cold withdrawal: Quickly move all the worthless self-help trash into the blue bin and avoid this “literature” from now on!

Serious popular science alternatives

Anyone looking for suitable strategies for achieving goals or behavioral changes will find excellent publications in the popular scientific literature.

The emphasis here should be on the scientific aspect: the authors have an academic background and provide solid evidence for their theses. In one of the next posts I will focus on The Psychology of Success* from Gabriele Oettingen.

There, too, criticism of the exaggeratedly positive perspective or daydreaming of goals that have already been achieved is exercised. Problems and obstacles, however, are seen as opportunities that, with the right approach, can be turned into successes. Later more.

Note on the Amazon advertisements

For the sake of completeness and for information: The advertisements or with asterisks (*) marked product links on this page belong to the Amazon partner program. If you click on such a link and then buy something, you probably won't make me rich - but I'll get a small commission;-) Of course, none of this has any effect on the purchase price. The links are deliberately selected products that I often own myself. In short: Interesting purchase suggestions that are closely related to the blog posts.