We hear it and read about it all the time.
The power of positive thinking.
Most of it centers around affirmations we’re supposed to tell ourselves:
‘I am doing this.’
‘I am a good parent.’
‘I am successful.’
It’s the process of affirming or declaring something to be, if you will.
We’ve all also had those moments when we try to pump ourselves up for a task or challenge ahead:
‘I know I can do this.’
But does positive thinking really work??
Some researchers say no…
Professor Dolores Albarracin and Assistant Professor Ibrahim Senay from the University of Illinois, along with Kenji Noguchi, Assistant Professor at Southern Mississippi University, performed a research study that suggests ‘normal’ affirmations are ineffective and that those who ask themselves whether they will perform a task generally do better than those who tell themselves that they will:
Albarracin’s team tested this kind of motivation in 50 study participants, encouraging them explicitly to either spend a minute wondering whether they would complete a task or telling themselves they would. The participants showed more success on an anagram task, rearranging set words to create different words, when they asked themselves whether they would complete it than when they told themselves they would.
Further experimentation had students in a seemingly unrelated task simply write two ostensibly unrelated sentences, either “I Will” or “Will I,” and then work on the same task. Participants did better when they wrote, “Will” followed by “I” even though they had no idea that the word writing related to the anagram task.
What happens is when we ask ourselves the question, rather than the affirmation, the brain goes to work trying to solve it.
‘Can I make $100,000 dollars next year?’
Your brain, in theory, will now try to solve the question of can you make that money. As a result, you’ll will have more internal motivation:
In a follow-up experiment, participants were once again parsed into the “I will” and “Will I” categories, but this time were then asked how much they intended to exercise in the following week. They were also made to fill out a psychological scale meant to measure intrinsic motivation. The results of this experiment showed that participants not only did better as a result of the question, but that asking themselves a question did indeed increase their intrinsic motivation.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that positive thinking doesn’t work. I am merely putting out an alternative view on the subject that I’ll admit…makes some sense.
Who knows? The brain is a complex thing!
For me, I have starting using this technique in my daily brain training ritual (yes I have one!) to see how it affects me. Like anything else, you need to test to see what works and what doesn’t.
What do you think? I’m eager to hear other people’s viewpoints on this so leave me a comment below.
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