When optimism fails

When optimism fails

by Muhaimin X 12 Apr 2018

"For an optimist, I'm pretty pessimistic."


I adopted this mantra when I realised the Internet failed me with its #positivevibes messaging and realised a harsh truth of life – there are some goals and challenges that I just cannot achieve nor overcome.


"I am worthy."


"I am successful and abundant.”


“The best preparation for tomorrow is what you do today."


These blanket statements about positive affirmations are what inspirational Instagram handles, pseudo-life coaches on YouTube and self-help books on Amazon have been preaching to the masses. The end goal is altruistic enough – to encourage people to "be the best versions of themselves".


Unfortunately, there's a growing cause for concern because research suggests that affirmations can cause some individuals more harm than good. A surprising study published in the Journal of Psychological Science by the University of Waterloo found that for those who struggle with low self-esteem should tread carefully when it comes to positive affirmations.


During the study, psychologists asked the participants to list negative and positive thoughts about themselves. Ironically, people with low self-esteem were found to be in a better mood when they were allowed to have negative thoughts about themselves rather than when they were asked to focus exclusively on happy feelings.


What to do with this information

If you hold negative thoughts about yourself, there’s no need to excise them from your life completely. The thing about these seemingly “bad” feelings is that they act as a conduit to an inconvenient but ultimately necessary truth. Maybe you truly lack the affinity for a particular project or were more deeply hurt by the words of others than you admitted. Some things are just not meant to be. It’s okay to not be okay – reach out to a friend or seek help from a licensed professional who can assist you with cognitive behavioural therapy path.


The best thing you can do is to go with an emotional reset. Just like how electronic devices can be reverted back to their original factory settings, wiping your emotional slate clean can be the ticket to ridding yourself of any bugs and giving you a fresh start. For some, this might seem more difficult than it sounds. We spend so much of our lives drifting from one of the spectrum to the other that we’ve forgotten how to be balanced. Start by taking a big step back from all the things that have been vexing you as of late. From here, be objective about the relationship you share with these constructs. If you’re unable to, get a trustworthy and capable friend to assist you in this assessment. Get rid of the things that are indefinitely futile or toxic. For the works-in-progress, you will have to decide on your own terms whether they’re worth pursuing or not.


You can also try the 7/10 rule. Make sure your affirmation is believable when you are ready to go positive. The idea is to be able to rate it with a 7 or above on a 1-to-10 believability scale whenever you come up with a positive affirmation, with ten being the most believable and 1 being the least. Instead of saying "I am loved by everyone," try finding something you love about yourself, for example, "I love that I am a good friend to Tom and Bella." These believable affirmations will help you find more and more evidence that is similar and moves you toward a new core belief that lasts.


An overdose of optimism can be a dangerous thing. While optimism is a crucial tool in self-belief, it can lead to disaster if an individual is driven to a false sense of confidence. By remaining in a neutral state, you remind yourself that you are still a work in progress. Master your self-confidence. If you do this, optimism becomes a powerful tool, and not a ticking time-bomb.