Neuroscience tells us that our pre-programmed subconscious mind dictates 95 percent of our thoughts. This means we don’t treat each situation with a blank slate. Instead, we dig up past experiences, disappointments, results and mix it all in with our expectations and current emotional state to decide what’s worth fighting for and to predict an outcome.
In just the last couple of years, nearly a thousand academic papers have been published studying dispositional optimism, which is academia’s fancy way of describing one’s expectation that good things will happen. These studies found a direct link between positive outlook and feelings of inclusiveness, pain tolerance and self-confidence. It also showed that positivity increases creativity, problem-solving skills, critical thinking and the ability to see the “big picture.” For the same reason hard-drug users crave PCP, those who’ve adopted positivity as their go-to become addicted to achievement because of the feeling that anything is possible. The difference between addiction to achievement and addiction to PCP is that you avoid the rotting teeth, zombie-esque behavior and impending homelessness.
In Charles S. Carver and Michael F. Scheier’s widely-published study “Optimism, Coping, and Health: Assessment and Implications of Generalized Outcome Expectancies,” situations where people encountered barriers were studied. It was discovered that each time a person faces a barrier, the brain starts to calculate probabilities of success. The conclusion of this process (the brain’s outcome expectancy) dictates the person’s behavior, thus, dictating the likelihood of each outcome.
For instance, in the midst of having an argument with your significant other, emotion could consume you to such an extent that you become so focused on how you’ve been wronged and proving your point, that any potential remedies zoom right past your overly occupied mind. Similarly, if you feel like a bucket of lard for eating a whole pizza by yourself, never exercising and feel plagued by feelings of hopelessness, then there is no room for you to create a solution to your problems.
Some people argue that they’ve concentrated all their mental energy on visualizing winning the lottery, getting their dream car, or finally getting their crush to like them, but have seen no positive results. In this, there’s truth: positive thinking while sitting on the couch watching YouTube videos will likely not result in success. That is, it is very important to realize that positive thought is a required supplement to persistent effort, not something that will act on its own. In other words:
Positive thought --> Belief that goal is attainable --> Necessary steps to achieve --> Goal achieved
Notice the third step in the process to achieving your goal—it’s the get-your-butt-to-work step. It’s the action behind what was thought up in the first two steps. It’s acting on the belief—no, the knowledge—that you can attain what you’ve been dreaming of. Without the willingness to put in the work, one will just stay sitting on that couch, fantasizing about what they could become.