It’s common to hear people say things like, “Just think positively,” or “Something good will come out of this,” especially if you’re facing uncertainty or issues in the workplace.
While those words are usually meant to give someone a little comfort during a tough time in life, looking on the bright side isn’t always a good idea. In fact, spending too much time focused on the positive might actually be bad for your mental health. Here are four reasons why.
1. Toxic positivity reduces motivation
Imagine you attend a job interview and you know you’re a little underqualified. The interview doesn’t go well. But, you step out the door telling yourself, “Just think positively.”
You spend the next couple of weeks imagining how great you’re going to feel when you’re offered the position.
So when they call to tell you that you didn’t get the job, you’re left blindsided. It never occurred to you that you might not get hired. That phone call might leave you feeling overwhelmed, scared, and anxious, since not getting the job wasn’t even in your realm of possibilities.
On the other hand, if you’d acknowledged that you might not get hired, you could have spent those same two weeks sharpening your skills, applying for other jobs, or making plans for the future.
The idea that positive vibes can somehow change the future is quite common. But, it’s really ineffective.
Take the vision board craze, for example. A lot of people think pasting a picture of a sports car onto the wall will somehow make their dream come true. But, research shows that outcome-based inspiration, like vision boards, can actually decrease your motivation to make things happen. When you focus on how happy you’ll feel when you get what you want, you forget to put in the hard work that it takes to get there.
Be on the lookout for times when positive thinking might reduce your motivation to take positive action.
2. Being overconfident can leave you ill-prepared
Most people know that a lack of confidence can be a real problem; few realize that overconfidence can be just as detrimental.
If you’re convinced that an upcoming presentation is going to be easy, and you tell yourself your audience will likely hang on your every word, you aren’t likely to spend much time preparing and practicing your speech.
Consequently, you’ll likely be unprepared for the reality of the situation.
Similarly, you might not prepare for a job interview if you’re convinced the hiring manager is going to love you. Or you might not spend much time writing a report if you tell yourself it’s going to be easy.
In fact, a little self-doubt is actually good for you. Studies show athletes with a little self-doubt outperform those who are completely confident. Researchers suspect that people who doubt themselves a bit practiced harder than those who insisted they were going to win with ease.
Make sure your positive thoughts about yourself don’t interfere with your effort. Holding yourself in too high of regard could leave you ill-equipped to handle reality.
3. Focusing on the positive can cause you to overlook real risk
Positivity becomes toxic when it clouds your judgment. If you only focus on all the good things that could happen, you’ll overlook the real level of risk you face — like in a get-rich-quick scheme.
If you assume only good things will happen or you insist nothing could go wrong, your mindset becomes more of a liability than an asset. It’s important to be able to recognize potential downsides to the choices you make.
It’s also important to be able to recognize that not everyone is a good person. But people with toxic positivity only see the good traits. Consequently, they may be easily manipulated or quickly taken advantage of because they don’t recognize harmful behavior as destructive.
4. Suppressing your emotions can lead to depression
It’s not possible to feel happy all the time. And even if you could be happy 24/7, it wouldn’t be a good goal. After all, you wouldn’t appreciate feeling happy if that’s the only emotion you ever felt.
You might be tempted at times to paste on a smile and pretend you feel good all the time. But that’s not good for you. Emotional suppression has been linked to depression, particularly in men.
Pretending your emotions don’t exist may also lead to some unhealthy habits. For example, service workers who are forced to smile all day are likely to drink more alcohol than their counterparts. Pretending to feel happy all the time might reduce their self-control.
How to stop the toxic positivity
If you’re an overly positive person, embracing a little sadness, expressing a little anger, and experiencing a little anxiety might actually be good for your mental health. After all, it’s OK to encounter a little discomfort and negativity once in a while. Not only might you become better equipped to deal with the realities of life, but you ultimately might feel a little better too.
The original version of this article was first published on Insider.
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