4 Things Pop Psychology Gets Wrong

Popular psychology advice that's problematic.

Posted Mar 25, 2013

Visualizing Having Achieved Your Goals. "Many self-help books advise people that to achieve their goals they should vividly imagine that they already have what they want to achieve. Actually, research has found that imagining you already have achieved a goal weakens your motivation to work towards it because when you feel like you already have something it's natural to feel like nothing more needs to be done. On the other hand, imagining yourself actually doing the things needed to achieve a goal helps increase your motivation to do them. See for example, Harnessing the imagination: Mental simulation, self-regulation, and coping." - Scott McGreal, MSc.

Personal Empowerment. "Magazines and talk shows love to discuss ways in which we can feel personally empowered. But true personal empowerment is not about having a feeling, it's about having a real impact on our environment and the people in it. Studies show that acquiring real personal empowerment involves a process of taking actions that demonstrate real world results. See this article summarizing the new research" - Guy Winch, Ph.D. author of The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships, and Enhance Self-Esteem

Change Happens When You're Ready? We often hear "Change will happen when you're ready". In my more than 20 years of experience, I've come to understand that "ready"--or the tipping point of change--often means 'when the consequences of our behavior outweigh the value of that behavior to us'. In other words, when the pay out (consequence) becomes greater than the pay back (value) we are prompted by circumstance to change what we are doing. This perspective can apply to anything from self-care, to relationship, to addiction. Of course, we then confront the question, "Are we willing to change?" -  Michael J. Formica, MS, MA, EdM. 

Positive Thinking "Positive thinking can be helpful, but when not balanced by a realistic assessment of a person's situation, it can also be harmful. I've seen the harm it's done to people who live with chronic pain or illness. When they're repeatedly told that if they'd just think positively, they'd get better, they then blame themselves when that fails to happen. I think of it as the tyranny of positive thinking. We're in bodies, and bodies get sick and injured and older. Yes, it's good to stay positive in the sense that people should continue to try to improve their health. But peace is to be found by accepting how we are, difficulties included: "Right now, I'm struggling with my health. It's very hard, but I'm doing the best I can." This self-compassionate thinking alleviates suffering and opens the door to peace and well-being. Accepting, with grace, the life we've got is a major theme of my book; people write to me every day saying it's such a relief to have found a book that doesn't just tell them that if they "think positively," everything will magically be better." - Toni Bernhard, author of How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers.

photo credit: jessamyn

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