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When Positive Thinking is Not So Positive

A while ago I was treating a woman whilst she went through an IVF procedure. She was telling me that a friend of hers was encouraging her to ‘think positive’. This seemed to mean believing that the procedure was going to be successful, but I could sense a tension in my patient; after all, she knew that the chances of it being successful were some way below being 100% – so, how could she believe it was definitely going to work? It seemed to me that she was trying to make herself believe. This made me wonder about what we mean by the phrase ‘positive thinking’.

Can it really be so positive to ignore what we actually know (in this case, that the chances of success was somewhere between 20% and 30%)? To me, a key aspect of being in a positive frame of mind involves being as realistic as possible, being clear and objective about our situation. And then it involves responding to that clearly perceived situation as positively as we can.

Thus it seems to me that ‘positive thinking’ in a situation like this involves a clear acceptance that our chances of success are 20%-30%. It involves doing everything we can to maximize those chances (like having acupuncture treatment!), and then it’s in the lap of the gods, so to speak. We can neither believe that it is definitely going to work, or believe that it is definitely not going to work. We have to learn to dwell with the uncertainty of that, happy that we have done everything we can to get the result we want, reconciled to the end result being out of our control.

In a way it is the same with all sorts of health issues. Suppose we have some serious disease. Positive thinking does not mean we make ourselves believe that we are going to recover; it does not mean we pretend that this is the case. It means facing our situation as clearly and as honestly as we can, bringing as much of love and courage and patience to bear as we can, and doing what we can to heal ourselves. After all, forcing ourselves to believe something that deep down we know we cannot be sure of surely creates an unhealthy internal conflict which negates being in a truly positive frame of mind.

Written by Vimalaprabha

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