Positive thinking: is it really effective?

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in collaboration with

Dr. Saverio Tomasella (doctor in psychology and psychoanalyst)

Repeating to yourself that everything will be okay, that we are happy, comfortable in our own skin, is it really enough to achieve fulfillment? The psychoanalyst Saverio Tomasella, author of the book Dare your singularity (Eyrolles editions), invites us to take a step back from the ideology of positive thinking.

For Juliette, the question does not arise: positive thinking works! “With the law of attraction, if you think about the positive, positive things will happen to you, explains the young woman of 31 years. And if you decide to see the positive, you also visualize the simple pleasures and positivity of everyone much better.” However, this practice tends to annoy more and more and its effectiveness is called into question. Since the start of the Covid-19 epidemic, for example, many Internet users have criticized this trend when they have to deal with unemployment, illness, and even the loss of loved ones. So, should we give up telling ourselves that everything is going to be fine?

“Positive thinking can be effective under certain conditions”

“I would say that the practice of positive thinking can be effective in certain conditions but that it is not necessarily advisable, responds Saverio Tomasella, psychoanalyst and author of Dare your uniqueness (Editions Eyrolles). If I discover it through my therapy, a personal development course or a reading, decide to try it and realize how effective it is for me, that’s fine. But what made a large part of the population fed up with it, including us shrinks, is that we heard this injunction so much that we had to think positive that we ended up saturating. What happens to us at such and such a time and what we are going to do with it is our business.”

The specialist also explains that the notions of “positive” and “negative” are problematic. “Who decides what can be positive or negative? he asks. The risk, through this definition, is that there is indirectly a social norm imposed by the masses or the dominant thought. This ideology of positive thinking appeared not even ten years ago in France, with very strong marketing (books, conferences). It comes straight from the United States, but American puritanism offers a society where we want nothing to exceed, that everyone is well and follows the herd. And that really raises questions.” That being said, on the practical side, how does positive thinking work?

Beyond positive thinking: advice from a psychoanalyst to feel better

  • Take the time to smile: “In a very visual technical civilization, the brain begins to rest from the first second you close your eyes. Then you can lower your eyelids and smile big, it’s a very old exercise that induces a nervous reaction and physical”.
  • To put music on : “You can sing the songs you love, even the most cheesy, or dance without restraining yourself, it calms the autonomic nervous system”.
  • Say sweet words to each other: “There are pretty magical words like ‘I love you’ that you can say to yourself out loud or in your head whenever you want. It can also be a compliment – ‘this dress looks good on you’, for example – let’s repeat ourselves. Like a little mantra, repetition allows the rational brain to unhook”.
  • Finally, practice visualization: either by visualizing in advance a situation that scares us by creating the most optimistic scenario possible; or by looking back at something that was difficult and changing the course of things. “I take a big eraser and I erase, I mute the sound. Or I revisualize and I change the script to offer me a version of the story that I like more”.

What is positive thinking?

For those who are not familiar with the concept, positive thinking consists in focusing on what is going well rather than on what is going badly, on the qualities rather than the defects, the potentialities of a situation rather than on these missing. In fact, “in a situation that bothers us or makes us suffer, it’s about trying to thwart a kind of slide towards what’s wrong”, says Saverio Tomasella. “Besides, it is true that from the point of view of neuroscience, we know that the brain focuses more on criticism, reproach, and that the emotional impact is stronger when it comes to difficult emotions” .

The strategy that calls for memories of joy and pleasure to be summoned is not useless. “Yes, to counter this tendency of the brain, we can get into the habit of putting things into perspective, it works a little with an anxious person. If she says to herself ‘I’m calm, everything is fine’, even if that doesn’t basic anxiety, it takes the pressure off a bit”.

Good in your body, good in your head!

“I said to myself ‘now you are better’ and I left myself no choice”

Charlie is 29 years old and she discovered the power of positive thinking as a teenager, after a very painful breakup. “I was really hitting rock bottom, I spent three days crying secretly in my room and after the third day I was like ‘now you’re better, come on you’re better’ and I didn’t let myself go. the choice”. After this experience, she immediately realizes that it works. “Since then, I always apply this trick when something makes me very sad. But just before confinement, I experienced a big disappointment in love and I didn’t succeed. I no longer had the strength to apply it. , and I spent two weeks in my bed doing nothing. So it still requires resources to be able to shake yourself off!”.

According to Saverio Tomasella, the most important thing is to avoid drawing unfavorable conclusions about yourself and others. “In the face of trying situations, there is a tendency to generalize, says the psychoanalyst. We say to ourselves ‘I suck’, ‘I’ll never make it’, ‘life is hard’, ‘the world is rotten’. Despite everything, depending on the degree of suffering or pain of the person, even if you say positive words to yourself, it will not help your nervous system to free itself from what is disturbing it, especially if it has been traumatic. In this case, in addition to psychological support from a professional, other methods can help you feel better.

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Positive thinking: is it really effective?

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