Why Positive Thinking Can Fail as a Recovery Strategy Sometimes

Why Positive Thinking Can Fail as a Recovery Strategy Sometimes

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Sometimes, positive thinking simply does not cut it in recovery.

This is unfortunate because we would like to believe that the power of positive thinking can change anything, and that the outcomes of our lives are all in our attitudes.  And to some extent, this might very well be true.  However, there are several cases for people in recovery when this just makes for a lousy strategy, and it simply does not work.

Positive thinking can actually get us into trouble, especially in early recovery.  How so?  Because it can lead to over confidence.  One of the most important factors in early recovery is that you must not overestimate your ability to conquer your addiction.  Nearly everyone does at first, and therefore almost no one is able to stay clean and sober the first time they attempt to change their life.  Everyone underestimates (at first) the level of commitment and action required to make the necessary life changes.

Really what the problem is for the “positive thinking crowd” is not so much that they are thinking positively, but that they are not following up their thinking with positive action. That is where the real progress is in recovery and that is why we need follow through in order to stay clean and sober.  We all know that merely wishing something doesn’t make it so, especially those of us who have battled addiction!

Now, does this mean we should think negative instead?  Of course not.  But it does mean we need to be realistic.

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Especially in early recovery, we need to stay vigilant and focused on our sobriety, almost to the point of being fearful of relapse.  The strategy we want is not so much “positive thinking,” but more along the lines of overwhelming force and using structure and deliberate action to produce real world results:

1) Use structure – I was lucky enough to use structure to help me in my early recovery.  I was living in a long term treatment center, had regular therapy and group sessions, and was steadily moving towards goals such as going to back to college and also working with other recovering addicts on a daily basis.  This structure made early recovery easier for me because I did not have to think so much about strategy.  I just followed the structure that was already in place, and good things started happening.  One thing I observed in early recovery was that abandoning structure to “positive thinking” turned out to be a mistake for many people….

2) Overwhelming force – this works great in early recovery.  In fact, anything less seems to produce relapse.  You have to go above and beyond what you think is necessary to stay sober in order to make it.  You don’t just need a positive attitude…instead, what you really need rigorous action.

So I am not against positive thinking at all, and in fact I think that it is part of the whole secret to living well in long term recovery.  But in some situations I think it can lead to problems and push aside more important concepts that can help us, especially in early recovery.  If you want results than you should focus on actions that have produced results for others. Positive thinking can be a distraction in such situations…..

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