Have you ever been told to just “think positive” and your problems will go away?
Or that to achieve your goals, all you have to visualize them with positive intent?
It’s a philosophy that’s grown incredibly popular thanks to books like The Secret and Law of Attraction.
In fact, famous celebrities such as Will Smith, Jim Carey, and Oprah Winfrey have publicly said that their success is largely the result of implementing positive thinking and the Law of Attraction.
But what about the rest of us? Does it really help us live better lives?
Why positive thinking might be bad advice
In an interview with the Verge, psychologist Tasha Eurich says that one of the most common causes of unhappiness is deluding ourselves by avoiding reality.
Specifically, she says that just embracing the brighter side of life causes us to lose self-awareness, which is the real cause of unhappiness:
“When we delude ourselves from seeing true reality, we tend to be less happy, less successful and equally importantly, the people around them tend to view them pretty negatively.”
What’s the problem?
Eurich says that deluding yourself can lead to repercussions down the line. She uses an example of someone who is super deluded about their singing ability:
“They’re a pre-med student and going to quit their pre-med program to audition for The Voice, but they don’t make it past the first round. They feel horrible. They’ve changed the course of their life for this and it wasn’t a good choice. It’s a silly example, but when we don’t have a clear understanding of who we are, we tend to make choices that aren’t in our best interest.”
Eurich says that the key to feeling happier and more fulfilled is through better self-awareness:
“People who see themselves clearly are more forgiving and they’re gentle and compassionate toward both themselves and others. People who are self-aware are higher in empathy and perspective-taking. It kind of does make sense because part of truly being self-aware is understanding how you come across to other people and the impact you have on them. And to be able to do that you kind of have to put yourself in their shoes.”
(Also Read: Science Explains How Being Creative Keeps You Happy )
So The Question Is, How Do You Become More Self-aware?
Despite what you may think, Eurich says it has nothing to do with self-reflection.
In fact, people who think more about themselves are less likely to be happy, and more anxious with their lives and relationships.
It’s not explicitly that self reflection isn’t effective, it’s just that many of us fall into these pitfalls of overthinking which causes us to be anxious and depressed.
Sigmund Freud described it best.
He said there was an unconscious self, with certain thoughts and feelings and emotions we don’t have access to consciously.
So the problem is that when people try to a lot of self-reflecting, we ask ourselves why we keep destroying our relationships…but we can’t look into the unconscious awareness to analyze why we keep performing these behaviors.
Then we’re often wrong when we assume we’ve found the answer. Eurich says this tends to happen to a lot to people who blame childhood experiences for why they act a certain way.
Eurich says we should still definitely self-reflect, but we need to question how we’re doing it.
Eurich says that what we can starting doing is asking ourselves “what” questions instead of “why” questions.
Instead of “why am I like this”, you can say “What am I going to do about it…Why do I want out of this relationship.”
This enables you to focus more on action.
According to Eurich, one thing we really need to be wary of is falling into the trap of overthinking.
“When we do that, there are certain parts of our brains that are activated that prevent us from being cool and detached and curious and instead they rile us up and get us upset.”
So How Can We Become More Self-aware?
Eurich says one of the best ways to increase self-awareness is to ask your friends…”Why are you with me?” “What do you like about me?”
And also ask them, “What do you find most annoying about me?”
Often times, you’ll be completely taken aback by their answers.
However, Eurich says it’s important to remember that you’ll never be completely self-aware:
“And to be perfectly honest, no one will ever become completely self-aware. One of the really self-aware people explained it by saying that the process of self-exploration is like exploring space: there’s so much we don’t know, and that’s what makes it so exciting.”