“I can’t think positively. There has to be something wrong with me!”

To the surprise of many, positive thinking in some cases can eventually make you feel worse. In an earlier article we suggested that thinking more positive can aggravate the anxiety. Now in this short follow-up we'll explore this a bit more through some examples.
I am good enough! I look great! I can do it! It worked out before, so it will probably go well this time too! I love myself the way I am! I am strong, open-minded and happy! I am enough!

These are some examples of positive thoughts which you may believe will help when you are feel down or anxious. Also on social media we are often flooded with daily quotes meant to inspire well-being and success. "Just look at the bright side of life", and "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.".

In an earlier article we suggested that thinking more positive can aggravate the anxiety. Now in this short follow-up we'll explore this a bit more through an example. Let's say you are feeling anxious for an upcoming presentation at work - and you give yourself a little pep-talk. Something along the lines of "I've done this a million times before. I'm going to nail this!".

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The question is whether you truly believe this, or that there still is some doubt lurking in the shadow which you are trying to ignore. Almost always the latter is the case. And this is problematic because not only are you downplaying the challenge, you are also raising the bar for yourself. And we meet many who end up blaming themselves with thoughts such as:

  • If I can't even manage to do something as simple as this, then I must be hopeless
  • “It just won’t work for me, whatever I try”
  • “I’m never going to get better, this is just who I am.”

This is how positive thinking in some cases can eventually make you feel worse. Simply because it’s not doing what you hoped it would. Or it's not doing what you were told it should be doing.

The problem with positive thinking is that it assumes that you are capable of thinking your way out of a bad mood, or thinking yourself out of the nerves for a presentation, or gaining the motivation for a workout. But in many cases this is simply not feasible. As a result, things can start feel hopeless pretty fast.

The research is very clear on this one: it is simply not possible to control our thoughts and emotions in the way that our happiness-centered society would have you believe. Neither is it helpful (or even possible!) to exclusively think positive thoughts. As tempting as it may be, a negative thought cannot be transformed or balanced out by adding a positive thought. Another a common approach is where you try to transform a negative thought by relating to it in a different way. But many find that the negative thought simply comes back, stronger than ever before.

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Instead of trying to eliminate the negative though, a more sustainable solution is one where you learn how not to be bothered by having negative thoughts in the first place.

And this is where metacognitive therapy (MCT) offers an elegant solution. In an earlier article we wrote about 5 causes of anxiety - and what you can do to get better. The insights described in this article are based on the essential metacognitive principles, and our experience in the clinics. If you haven't read that you should definitely have a look!

I hope that this article gave you some deeper insights into why forceful positive thinking is not always a helpful exercise for those suffering from anxiety, and how in some cases it can make things worse. If you like this article feel free to subscribe to our email list where we periodically send out interesting tips and insights such as these to help you get over your anxiety. Good luck!

Want to learn more?

If you liked this article and want to learn more then consider downloading our free PDF '3 steps to less worry and anxiety' where we present our favorite strategies on how to reduce anxiety.

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