The Three Mistakes People Make in Trying to Think Positively

In my work as a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist I will often talk to my customers about the importance of positive thinking. We know by thinking positively we start utilising different areas of the brain to those we use when we are thinking negatively. Those same areas that are able to cope with things much better with modern life, rather than those areas that respond with panic, anxiety, depression or a myriad of other uncomfortable symptoms and illness. As with any habit or skill the more we practise the better at it we get and the easier it becomes to access the coping areas of the brain. But are you getting it right?

I will occasionally see people in my clinic who are already very good at thinking positively and this always gives us a bit of a head start in getting them to where they want to be. I also see a few who profess to be great at positive thinking before it becomes clear that they have either lost the habit or they were never really getting it right in the first place. I also see plenty who just own up to being rubbish at it.

So here as some of the mistakes I have noticed people make in trying to think positively:

Looking for the Silver Lining:

This of course is an integral part of positive thinking and I am not saying that we should not engage in it. Taking a bad situation (or the big back cloud) and trying to find the positives (the silver lining) is always important in helping us to cope. However, all the time we are looking for the silver lining we are still staring at the big black cloud! We know that when the brain perceives trouble it tends to focus on that trouble whilst zoning out anything else that might be interesting. A few thousand years ago if you’re walking through the jungle and you hear a twig snap all your attention would go to establishing what it was that broke the twig. The fact that the sun is setting away to the west in the most beautiful array of wonderful colours will be completely lost on you. Now this of course is great when we spent much of our lives running away from lions and tigers, but having panic tunnel vision about the cancerous lump is not going to allow us to relax enough to overcome our fear of the MRI scanner to help get it surgically removed. On the other hand spending time enjoying that wonderful sunset, relaxing body and soul in the process may well allow you to relax sufficiently to get your treatment completed.

Of greater importance than finding the silver lining is to be looking for the blue sky (that sunset). Finding those things that are going well or the little moments of joy. By doing so we activate those areas of the brain that have the wherewithal to: remember we have an umbrella somewhere, to go find it and to put it up in time. Of course the black cloud may still rain on us but at least we’re not going to get as wet!

Looking for the Big Things:

People often think that it is only the big things that count. The new car, their baby taking their first steps or saying their first word, they’ve won another contract at work or they’re going on holiday next week. Of course these things are nice but they don’t happen very often. If we spend our time focusing on trying to find these big things we may go a very long time before finding the next one. Perhaps more useful is taking pleasure from the small good things such as the smile on a stranger’s face, a leaf falling from a tree, the fact that they found a car parking space close to the clinic or the taste of the first cup of coffee in the morning. These smaller things happen more frequently, but can so often be taken for granted. I always know a client is on the right lines when they precursor a good thing with “its a silly small thing but…”. Life becomes far easier to cope with when we notice a few little things happening throughout the day rather than longing for the next big thing.

 Being too General

Comments such as “everything at work is good”, is a nice thing to be able to say but actually it’s not going to have the same impact on the workings of the brain as being able to say “I had a really lovely conversation with the new bloke at work about xyz” or “I am really pleased with the email I sent to my boss”. The aim in thinking positively is to generate positive neurotransmitters in the brain which have a very real impact on the way we feel. Being able to draw on the details of specific moments has a far greater impact than general statements that might be hiding a delusion.

In any mosaic there will be colours we like and those we don’t. Rather than just assuming that there are plenty of the fragments of colours we like it is better to go and find them. The more you look for something inevitably the more you will find of it and the more you find of the specifics the more you realise that there is plenty of things to feel good about at work, or at home or where-ever. Self delusion then becomes impossible.

So why not go on ahead and practice your positive thinking. What’s been good with you in the last week or so?

Alex Brounger is a full time Solution Focused Hypnotherapist with practices in Stroud and Cirencester, Gloucestershire. His website is

Alex is also a Hypnotherapy Supervisor and a Senior Lecturer for


So What is Solution Focused Hypnotherapy?

Solution Focused Hypnotherapy is a modern talking therapy designed primarily by a man called David Newton, one of the world’s most highly reputable hypnotherapists. David began his career as an analytical hypnotherapist before realising that he could help more people, more effectively and with less chance of causing harm by using more modern methods of talking therapy.

Over his 30,000+ clinical hours, David developed a new form of talking therapy taking the very best tools and ideas from other models and combining them in to his own.

The approach takes lessons learnt from positive psychology, neuroscience, solution focused brief therapy, NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and of course it also utilises the power of hypnosis, but without assuming that this alone can be the magic wand which cures all ills.

What Happens in a Typical Solution Focused Hypnotherapy Session?

Following an Initial Consultation,  a practitioner of solution focused hypnotherapy will usually start each new session by encouraging a client (or a customer as a solution focused hypnotherapist might call them) to identify what has been good in the previous week or so. This sounds like simple exercise and it is simple, although that does not always make it easy. In my experience if you ask someone who is NOT struggling from anxiety or depression to find something that’s been good, or something that they are pleased has happened in the last week, may well struggle. Add anxiety, depression, grief, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or any other of the myriad of anxiety related (or exacerbated) conditions out there and things get difficult. Include in the mix the expectation that at least ten good things will be found and the challenge really does ramp up somewhat.

The interesting thing is that this exercise alone can be enormously powerful in improving someone’s mood as one good thing begins to roll out after another. Of course with a bit of practice over a number of weeks this simple exercise becomes just exactly that, even for those that have been given a  diagnosis of depression by their GP.

Following this a solution focused hypnotherapist will want to make sure their customer is reminded of how the brain works. They might want to remind their clients about the different areas of the brain, and/or the primitive opt out clauses of anxiety, depression and anger and the other characteristics of the primitive mind that can cause us so much discomfort. They might go on to explain the stress bucket and its implications for problem creation before also discussing the importance of sleep. Finally they may want to reiterate the importance of the holy grail of skills: positive thinking, positive action and positive interaction.

A solution focused hypnotherapist will not typically advise a client as to what they should or should not do, on the basis that the only expert of the customers life is the customer. However, they are particularly adept at helping the customer identify for themselves what next small step they can take in order to help themselves empty the stress bucket. And this is the next step in the process: identifying what small step can be taken to move us towards where the customer wants to be. We know when the stress bucket is empty we can cope so much better with life and this is the aim, helping people cope better so problems appear and become less intrusive and eventually disappear.

Finally a solution focused hypnotherapist will want to move the customer in to a wonderful state of relaxed awareness. We know hypnosis is not a magic wand for most people, but we know it is still enormously powerful and can be extremely useful, especially when used following the previously described steps, in creating a step change in the way people think of the world around them and of themselves.

The feeling of hypnosis is unique to the individual and often unique each time the individual does it. Some people describe the feeling as similar to lying on their bed and getting absorbed in their favourite music, others report hallucinations, although this is rare and usually takes some considerable practice. A solution focused hypnotherapist will usually create the state of hypnosis through the use of positive visualisations.

Alex Brounger is a full time Solution Focused Hypnotherapist with practices in Stroud and Cirencester, Gloucestershire. His website is He is also a Hypnotherapy Supervisor and a Senior Lecturer for