Is Positive Thinking Bad for Your Audience?

If you listen to most motivation speakers, Law of Attraction hawkers, and just about any self-help guru you can find, you would think that positive thinking is all that you need to accomplish your goals. Many of you probably think the same way. Many of you in your motivational speech tell people to dream big and think up big hairy goals, and then those goals will become a reality.  However, the research says otherwise. In fact, these kinds of speeches could actually be hurting people in the long run.


Inspiration By Itself Leads to Less Action

There is a saying by Chris Guillebeau from the Side Hustle School which goes like this: “Inspiration is good, but inspiration combined with action is so much better.”

I thought too that inspiration is a good thing, but little did I know that inspiration by itself can actually be a not so good thing.

There was a scientific study by Gabriel Oettingen in 1991 show that ladies who dreamed about losing weight.  According to that study the women who visualized the most strongly about losing weight, what they would do with their slim bodies etc., where the least likely to actually lose weight. The even more interesting thing is that she repeated this study in various countries in various age groups across several years and came up with the same conclusion each time. If you want to know more please read “Rethinking Positive Thinking”

The reason behind this is that your brain sends dopamine when you are visualizing these events, and you can feel satisfied by just picturing them. Sometime so much so that you do not take any action. You feel satisfied with only the thought of the thing you are dreaming about.


The Dream Trap

In fact, making your dreams a reality is a lot work. There is plenty of room for failure and embarrassment. It is much safer for your ego to just fantasize that your can shoot for the moon and imagine that if you fail, you fall among the stars. By just imagining that you can take that moonshot, you always have the warm fuzzy dream that you have the right stuff to make it.  After all, finding out that you do not have what it takes to make the cut is way too scary.

If you want inspire people, you need to be aware of this trap. Dream and goals are very powerful motivators, but they are not just enough. So, what is?  I looked further at Gabriel Oettingen`s work, and she suggest the following things: Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan. In other words W.O.O.P.


Almost there with W.O.O.P

In this case in your motivational speech you need to get your audience to first imagine their wish. So, for example “I want to win the World Champion of Public Speaking!” Then the next step is to imagine the outcome. You are center stage in Vancouver. You hold the trophy in your hands, you see the adoring smiles from the audience. You imagine being invited to different countries to hear you speak. Every day is exciting. Every day is a different city.

The next step is the obstacle. This is not the external obstacle like the other competitors, bad judges, or even your boss who will not give you extra time. This is internal obstacles. The force inside you that holds your back and keeps you small.  You need to face this. You can overcome it.  Finally, there is the Plan. This is what you will do to accomplish your Wish, vanquish your obstacle and make sure you experience your outcome.  That sounds like a great process, doesn’t it? Except it is not compete.


Wanting to Be Champion is Not Enough

The problem come to do from Imagining the problem to actually doing something about it. If I you were to say “I want to win the World Champion of Public Speaking!” I would ask you two questions. First is “Why?” The second is “How bad do you want it?”

If you answer, because I want to the fame and attention, the popularity it will bring me, I will say that is not enough. “There many different ways you can accomplish the same thing without becoming a World Champion of Public Speaking. Why is this route so important for you?” I would wonder.

To the second question, if you said, “Only, so-so. I am very busy at work. If I could get extra time I would want to work at it.” I would think that you really do not want it. There is not enough inside to make putting in the time and effort to become a champion. For this to really work, it needs to be more painful not to be the champion than what it takes to work towards becoming the champion. If it is not, there is no forward flow.

What I see missing from Mrs. Oettingen`s work, is imagining what life would be life if you did not change. If you stayed on the same path. The pain has to be real. You have to feel it or your body will not move. Biologically, our bodies and our brain are built to avoid pain and help of survive.


Add This, It is Enough

Take the previous example. “I want to win the World Champion of Public Speaking!” What if you did not even try? Where is the pain? The daily grind of your life not changing. Your presentation skill only every so slowly improving. All the money, and fame, and missed opportunity that will never reach your fingers, because you did not try.  You could look back at your life. There stands an infinite sea of regret. All the greatness that you could have become, but it was all a waste. No lives changed. You`re not a good role model for your children or grandchildren. You have not changed anything. That hurts, doesn`t it?


The Power of Positive and Negative Thinking

In conclusion, I still say we need positive thinking. We need to dream big. We need to come up with wild outcomes. But it not enough. We to not only inspire our audience with the height of our vision, but we need to get them to truly feel bottom of the valley that they are in. This could be the slow death of mediocracy or a truly big problem. Whatever it is, by getting people to feel that pain you can get them to move to facing the obstacle and creating the plan. If you remember this than you too, can become a truly great motivational speaker. There is only one life to live and we a short time to live it. So it, make it count.