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When thinking positively isn’t all its cracked up to be

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When thinking positively isn’t all its cracked up to be

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There has been a litany of self help guides over the years, and indeed I have written myself about the value of giving people positive, or at least constructive, feedback.  A new study suggests that positive thinking may have a few downsides however.

The research was looking specifically at how our brain responds to both positive and negative thinking.  The study asked participants to look at distressing images, after which they were told to put a positive spin on them.

It emerged that people with a generally positive disposition found this task much easier than those of a more measured nature.  Researchers began to notice something quite interesting within these naysayers.  It emerged that the brains of these folk went a bit wonky when they were asked to buck their natural behaviours.

“The worriers actually showed a paradoxical backfiring effect in their brains when asked to decrease their negative emotions. This suggests they have a really hard time putting a positive spin on difficult situations and actually make their negative emotions worse even when they are asked to think positively,” the researchers said.

There were no such issues for those of a normally positive bent, and therefore their brains responded to the task quite well.  It suggests that it’s pretty tough to change the behaviours we each have naturally, and attempting to do so will generally prove counter productive.

“You can’t just tell your friend to think positively or to not worry — that’s probably not going to help them. So you need to take another tack and perhaps ask them to think about the problem in a different way, to use different strategies,” the researchers concluded.

So what can you do?  Other than understanding, and respecting, our natural behaviours, if you want to really change to a more positive mentality, you’ll need to go much deeper so that people come to terms with their present anxieties and can thus challenge them accordingly.

Either that, or you can accept that purveyors of bad news can often be a positive thing in any organization, especially if they have the courage to communicate the kind of things that others shirk away from.  Having such frank feedback is often critical to the improvement process.

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