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The Daily Tar Heel

Feeling better can be dangerous

You’ve probably heard about the power of positive thinking. In a nutshell, the theory states that when we affirm something and believe in ourselves, it’s more likely that we will achieve our goals.

So it comes as no surprise that the reverse process works just as well.

Thinking about the negative parts of something in your life can change your beliefs and actions toward it.

This can have good and bad results.

Say you have had some really strong positive feelings about summer. But as it turns out, you won’t be able to enjoy the sun and the beach because you’ll be working an internship in Siberia from May to August.

What you will probably start doing immediately, and what you should start doing to become happier about your situation, is start focusing on the positives of Siberia and the negatives of summer here.

It can be really humid here during the summer, and there are bugs. Plus you get bored just hanging out with your siblings for months. And Siberia won’t be too bad. This internship really pushes your career aspirations and it will be exciting and interesting. Who cares if you don’t speak Russian?

Boom. All of a sudden you feel better about your prospects. The mixture of focusing on the positive and casting doubt on the previously good prospect helps you feel better.

But feeling better, as we’ll see, can be dangerous.

Not everyone can be as lucky as you to land that pivotal internship in Siberia, so let’s choose an example that hits closer to home.

Pretend for a moment that you have an 8 a.m. class in Peabody Hall.

It’s a struggle to get there some mornings; it’s so tempting to skip instead.

One morning you lie in bed and consider whether or not you’ll go.

It’s really early in the morning and exceedingly far away, so other people probably are going to miss it, right?

You normally contribute to class, so since the professor knows you care she won’t be too angry with you.

The last time you were in class it was particularly slow. Your friend leaned over and whispered: “Wow, we pretty much never learn anything in this class. Why are we even here?”

Watch out for phrases like that, because they are some of the most influential in the armory of negative thinking.

When you give yourself an excuse to not do something that can last for a whole semester, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

Imagine if you instead had thought to yourself about the greatest time you’ve ever had in that class.

You were on fire and answered several questions. You made a joke and the professor laughed and you got your latest essay back with a perfect score.

Right now you’re feeling pretty content to go back to sleep for a couple of hours, but that contentment is not a sign that you’re making the right decision.

So keep in mind that negative thinking can have a big effect on your actions. If you focus on the good parts of something, be it your class, the gym or your significant other, then you can disempower negative thinking and probably lead a happier, more successful life.

Reed Watson is a  junior philosophy and psychology major from Raleigh.  E-mail him at


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