Oliver Burkeman’s new book,  The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, challenges many widely-held assumptions. In this video, Burkeman discusses how positivity, goal setting, and visualization, often backfire.

Burkeman writes the This Column Will Change Your Life column for the British newspaper, The Guardian, and blogs at oliverburkeman.com.

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  • rajkotecha

    This is interesting but also a challenging subject to write on. Ultimately, I agree with the idea that a lot of self help borne out of entrepreneurial thinking works well … perhaps even “best”. That said, visualizing what success looks like is key for an entrepreneur. It’s the foundation of strategic thinking. Of course moderation is important.

    On that note, I’d say that it sounds like a good read, but as is often the case, even antidotes should be taken in moderation 🙂

    • I agree, you do need to have a “vision” of what you want the outcome to be in order for you to take the risk to try to make it happen. i think in this case, “positive thinking” is a negative term used to target the people behind silly concepts like “The Secret”. But I doubt anyone ever got anywhere by trying to achieve something with a negative attitude like “this will never work” 🙂 I recall reading somewhere that positive thinking started out as “realistic thinking” to combat people who had overly negative attitudes who were afraid everything would fail, and were encouraged to think realistically, like “no one is going to kill you if you make a bad public speech”, etc.

  • Unhappiness creates success, if we take Franz Kafka as an example or Marcel Proust. Or Dostoevsky. I do not see any of those authors being who they were if they were living in New York City or West Coast in US. I would say unhappiness as energizing goal reaching, as part of a natural roller-coaster is only for intelligent and gifted people

    • perhaps you meant to say unhappiness is a catalyst for “action”, and sometimes that action can result in a feeling of “success”. unhappiness can drive “some” people to take action to reach goals to overcome unhappiness, but it can also cripple other people and drive them to suicide. i feel i did not understand your analogy about natural roller coasters, unless you meant to say “life is full of ups and downs, but only intelligent gifted people who are able to think their way past frustration and depression and take appropriate action to overcome unhappiness”.

      • Miha Ahronovitz

        No. This is not what I mean, not even remotely

  • Very interesting discussion, Nir. Positive thinking is quite important for an entrepreneur, but it has to be genuine. If it comes from a real place, for example, confidence born out of meticulous preparation or an unclouded vision, then it can propel you to even greater heights. But I do not buy into the notion that having a positive outlook is the main ingredient to manifesting positive and successful outcomes. That’s the easiest part. The hardest part is the legwork it takes to succeed, and few people go there.

  • Trying too hard can backfire… Just as not trying at all… Living is not easy and the answers for you cannot be found in a book – trust me!

    Confessions by a recovering self-help book addict

  • I dont necessarily agree with the assessment that positive thinking is a detriment to success. Burkeman points out that people who try to avoid thinking about failure often fail. However ignoring failure is not positive thinking, its essentially having blinders on. Positive Thinking is about visualization and there plenty of studies that prove the merit of these techniques.
    I do agree with Burkeman’s assessment at looking at problems holistically. He suggests to be very aware of where you are instead of dreaming for the best, as GE , and I certainly agree with that approach. I think Positive Thinking and an acute awareness of the present arent inherently conflicting ideas.


  • Josh

    I’ve often been very annoyed when I read things about positive thinking that tell you to just ignore the negative. You have to have the whole picture in mind, you can’t just go around with rose colored glasses ignoring facts just because you feel they are negative. One extreme or the other extreme are both bad. I couldn’t make myself see the world in such black and white terms even if I tried. I would be disgusted with myself.

    I also find these positive thinkers extremely annoying with the way they try to force their viewpoint down my throat. They typically reek of self importance and claim to know the “secret” to everything that is great when in reality they are incredibly screwed up people who have to put on a mask of happiness because they can’t deal with their issues any other way.

    • Amy Mousey Rouse

      I agree. That’s an accurate description of most ‘positive thinkers’ and most of the time, the positive thinkers have been condescending towards me and trying to make me think like them. It’s very annoying. I’m not saying people should be telling me to ‘give up’ and stuff like that and people shouldn’t bring others down, but I don’t want people to force me to be like them. I can only be me and I can’t control the way I think and feel. I get they have their opinions and beliefs, but it feels like they do not respect mine and are belittling me.

      Like you said though, both extremes can be bad and can cause a lot of problems.

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