When Positive Thinking Fails

When Positive Thinking Fails

written by: Rev. Allen Hacker
by: Rev. Allen Hacker


Allen, Speaker ÷ May 29 1996; June 16, 1996

Positive Thinking: Visualization; Affirmations; Creative Visualization; See-it,Do-it,Be-it; Act-as-if; Live-as-though; even our own Affirmative Imaging. Each of these is the name of a powerful, even life-changing technique. Yet sooner or later, with someone or another, each of these fails. More than once. Why?

It may be that the answer to this question is based in metaphysics (each of us is an aspect or part of the universal consciousness and therefore participates in the creation of the universe, but there's something that goes wrong and we need to take it into account). Or something more materialistic (reality is absolute, but each of us perceives it differently, and we also make perceptual mistakes that need to be taken into account). Either way, there's some error that messes up the process, and we need to deal with it.

Positive Thinking Works, But...

There is no error in the idea that positive thinking works. Affirmations and visualizations do lead to change, to replacement worlds. No, the problem is not that positive thinking doesn't work, or even that it doesn't always work. The problem is that it always works. Even when it is contaminated by a negative focus.

That's the problem. All actualization is affirmative. That's great if you're affirming world peace and universal happiness. But it's not so great if you're thinking about war and famine. Either way, you get what your attention is on. Attention is the creative catalyst, the glue that brings perspective into experience.

There are two degrees of error. This is the part that is not normally taken into account. Most instruction in positive thinking goes after the habitual routine "conscious" negative focuses, and replaces them with exercises for focusing on more desirable alternatives. And when this is done correctly, it can have spectacular results. Of course, it can be done incorrectly, and that's a problem we will discuss, but it's only the first degree of error.

Structural Errors

The first degree of error in positive thinking techniques is one of structure. Mis-worded affirmations and contaminated visualizations are the most common examples.

Affirmations can be mis-worded simply by including deniers in the statement. "I am no longer afraid" is one. To think the concepts described in this affirmation requires one to consider being afraid. Thus, one still affirms the fear. Deniers are almost always constructed around the word No. If you find any form of No: not, don't, won't, can't, etc., in an affirmation, you have found a time-bomb waiting to backfire. So, instead of admonishing someone to "Drive Safely", which implies having accidents, wish her a happy arrival.

Visualizations can be misconstructed in the same way. Seeing oneself as strong enough to stand up to a bully still includes bullies. So, instead of seeing yourself able to handle threats, see yourself confidently exercising a natural dominion over your path through life. That way, instead of having to detour through "tests", you just take a wonderful walk into the future.

Hidden Thinking

The second degree of error happens when one has thoughts of which one is not aware. Actually, it's deeper than that. We all have trivial unnoticed details in our opinions, attitudes and understandings. Most of these get brushed away without fanfare in the normal course of simple changes of mind. The rest, where they even count at all, are easy prey for positive thinking. It's the closely held, "precious" thoughts that we build up during intense moments but never review later that give us the trouble. We call these `attachment ideas'.

Attachment ideas are usually either intense definitions or highly valued policy decisions. They are formulated in adversity and perpetuated by unwillingness. They stand as sentries to make certain that bad things are foreseen in time to get out of the way, or whatever. But that's the problem. Like real sentries to whom one has delegated the task of watching out for falling rocks in left turns, they remain continually attentive to the possibility. Single-minded in their operation, they are actually intense affirmations and visualizations, but they affirm and visualize disaster. And all this happens while we're not looking, trusting our sentries to keep us out of the very trouble they inadvertently draw in.

They are attachment ideas because they attach attention to negativity. Think of Scarlett O'Hara (Gone With The Wind) vowing to never be hungry again. Then watch her do whatever she has to, to get fed. Is she fighting toward food, or away from hunger? You can't know by watching her. But on close examination, you can find the affirmation: "Hunger is horrible - it hurts and kills me, and I hate it!" Where's Scarlett's attention? On getting fed? No! It's on being hungry. By fighting against something, by resisting it so heavily that she must always stand guard against it, she invests a tremendous allocation of attention into the project. And leaves it attached to, and perpetually validating, the very thing she despises the most.

Attachment ideas are not unconscious. But they are unnoticed. Sliced into our thinking in almost infinitely tiny instants of time, between all the other volume and noise with which we occupy ourselves, they don't get questioned. This is particularly true since each one carries as part of itself a dose of resistance that gives us an impulse to look away every time we start to get close to one. After all, we don't want to experience that again, do we? Not even in our imaginations!

Bringing Darkness Into the Light of Day

Here we are, spending an entire memo on what's wrong. Isn't that negative? Fatalistic? No, if it resolves into a constructive solution. And it does: Semantic Adjustment.

Semantics is the division of linguistics that deals with how we define things. And define things, we do. We define everything. All though our lives, we travel along giving things meaning and labels, classifying and differentiating everything, sometimes to ridiculous levels. But sometimes we get things wrong. We misclassify a This as a That. We generalize individual items into masses. Then we try to use that whole mess as an overview of life and an instruction manual for living. In short, we draw crooked maps of misunderstood terrain, and spend a lot of time tripping over bumpy trails.

Semantic Adjustment is a procedure for finding and releasing attachment ideas. That's all it is, and this memo is not the place to discuss how it works or why. At the same time, it's not a replacement for positive thinking. In fact, Semantic Adjustment is best delivered in the format of what we call a "Condition Assessment", which itself begins and ends with affirmations and visualization. The Condition Assessment clarifies and diffuses the underlying thinking behind negative conditions, and replaces it with constructive intentional thought.

The role of the Condition Assessment is to handle things that don't resolve in the face of normal positive thinking techniques. Behaviors that don't change no matter what, nagging fantasies and attitudes that come back no matter what, anything one doesn't want in life that won't fade away when affirmations and visualization are properly applied.

The Condition Assessment and Semantic Adjustment are not replacements for structured thinking. They are tools for achieving structured thinking when simply changing one's mind just won't do it.

They are just the tools for when positive thinking fails.

written by: Rev. Allen Hacker

share this