Contrary to popular belief, positive thinking might harm you more than it helps.
Oettingen & Mayer prompted 80-odd students to rate the extent to which they experienced positive thoughts about graduating from school and finding a job. Following-up two-years later, researchers found the same students who indicated positive thoughts were less successful (applied to fewer jobs; received fewer offers; earned less money).
Heather Barry Kappes posits that positive thinking may ‘dull the will to succeed.’
More recent research suggests a possible connection between expressions of positive outlook in mainstream media and later results. Sevincer, et al examined twenty-one inaugural addresses of US Presidents. They found that Chiefs who “waxed optimistic about the future saw a rise in unemployment and a slowdown in economic growth during their terms in office.”
Oliver Burkeman observes that “Ceaseless optimism about the future only makes for a greater shock when things go wrong; by fighting to maintain only positive beliefs about the future, the positive thinker ends up being less prepared, and more acutely distressed, when things eventually happen that he can’t persuade himself to believe are good.”
What does this mean for leaders, especially vis-a-vis the prevailing confidence in positive psychology?
From, Adam Alter’s, “The Powerlessness of Positive Thinking.”
Oliver Burkeman, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking (Faber & Faber, 2013)
Gabriele Oettingen & Doris Mayer, “The Motivating Function of Thinking About the Future: Expectations Versus Fantasies,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 83, No. 5) 2002: 1198-1212.
Sevincer, et al, “Positive Thinking About the Future in Newspaper Reports and Presidential Addresses Predicts Economic Downturn,” Pscyhological Science (25.6) 2014.