Insights into positive mental attitude (PMA) – part 1

Having bagged the notion of PMA in generalised way, I probably should be a bit more specific about my gripes. There are some benefits to be gained from PMA, but this does not exonerate those who have jumped on the positive thinking bandwagon. In fact I hope it reinforces the notion that the gospel of the positive attitude, as preached by the gurus who are enamoured by their own egos, is stupid and wrong – even dangerous to your mental health.

Being be the parent of high-achieving children (budding sports stars, I have been exposed to my fair share of PMA, goal setting gurus – believe me. And I can promise you some of the shit they teach can have a devastating effect on people.

PMA can play a role in people becoming more successful - if success is defined as the achievement of set goals. (That is a whole new debate: What is your definition of success?). But the human mind is like a finely balanced machine – you don’t want any hack mechanic to work on it – and almost definitely not anyone that you can buy for $29.95. There is no way that unique set of wires between your ears can be tuned with a generic set of ‘rules’ by anyone with a website and a few speaking engagements under the belt.

PMA should be viewed within the framework of cognitive dissonance theory (CDT). Have you ever made a major purchase (house/ car) and then suddenly felt overwhelmed with fear that it was the wrong decision? This is called post-purchase cognitive dissonance. On the flip-side, have you noticed that, when you are in the market for new tyres for your car, you suddenly seem to notice a plethora of ads for car tyres? And if this theory is applied to the notion of goal setting, you will see a possible benefit – which at least partially explains why it is so easy to believe the PMA myth.

It is not a big stretch to appreciate that, if you have an attitude adjustment, you will now become aware of the ‘positives’ in your environment. Just like you became aware of the car tyre advertisements, you will become aware of the opportunities that support your earlier decision. CDT postulates that people, “after making a decision, favoured the alternatives which they had selected more strongly” (Brehm, 1956). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance

In essence this means that, in order to not look like fools, people start looking for corroborating evidence to justify their decision and, now being attuned to seeking out certain signals that will support their thinking and filter out those that contradict the decision.

Jung's definition of attitude is a "readiness of the psyche to act or react in a certain way" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attitude_(psychology). If you have a certain ‘attitude’ you have basically programmed your psyche to react in a certain way. If you have programmed a Positive Mental Attitude, then you r mind will be ready to act in that way. You will certainly start noticing things in your environment that tend to reinforce that belief. By the same token, Christians like myself will see the Hand of God in things, because it concords with our beliefs. And racists will simply just see the bad things the ‘other race’ do, and be blind to the very same behaviours in their own race.

But it is a long, long way between simply noticing other (supporting) positives in the environment and actually achieving success. There is a major risk that often gets overlooked by the gurus who want to simplify things and give a shortcut to success.



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