I Wouldn't Be So Positive If I Were You!

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The $12 Billion dollar pop psychology industry is filled with self-help concepts that have a shelf life shorter than most produce items. Almost daily a new blockbuster arrives to help us reach for the stars, achieve our goals, and live our lives to the fullest. 

Truly, there is a book to help you achieve every dream and overcome every obstacle., no matter how ridiculous. Don’t believe me? 

Interested in… Channeling the love of your lost pet by knitting a sweater out of her fur? 
Ever dream of… Becoming Pope? 
Got too many friends and looking for... A way to be LESS interesting in 10 seconds or less?Wanna Write a Book on.. How to write a book about writing a book? 
Looking for help on… Dealing with urges to paint your cat (and who doesn’t)?


According to a recent analysis of the self-improvement industry some $549 million a year is spent on self-help books in America and it all started with one man and one book: The Power of Positive Thinking.

Published in 1952, Norman Vincent Peale's seminal work spent 186 weeks on the New York Times best seller list and sold over seven million copies in fifteen different languages. And how could it not? I mean, we ALL agree on the power of positive thought, right?

Well, it turns out that not everyone is so positive about being positive.

I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, “Where’s the self-help section?” She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose. 

— Steven Wright. 

In a recent book, Rethinking Positive Thinkingauthor Gabrielle Ottingen noted that participants who were invested in positive thinking were observed to have had less life satisfaction and less success in actually achieving their goals than those who thought more negatively. It seems that there was a strong correlation between positive ideas and poor performance. The study went on to cite that thinking positively releases endorphins, lowers blood pressure, and reduces energy levels as if the goal had already been achieved, thus lowering the drive to ACTUALLY achieve it. 

This is good news for us music teachers!

When you think about it, music teachers are among the most cranky and critical educators on campus. As a general rule, we live in a perpetual state of performance angst while using the words “no” and “wrong” the way other teachers use oxygen. We never met a rehearsal we couldn’t improve upon and a musical phrase we didn’t judge. We’ve perfected “the look,” tested the aerodynamic properties of every piece of equipment within reach, and can throw a tantrum that would leave any three year old envious. At least this is true for me.

Yes, my former students or any workshop attendees would tell you, that despite my years of experience as a “motivational speaker," I am NO Norman Vincent Peale.

But maybe that's because good ole' Norman had it all wrong.

Maybe endorphins are not meant to come from actually being good. Maybe the rush of success was meant to come AFTER actually achieving it. Maybe affirmations were meant for actual actions. Maybe, just maybe Norman had everything backwards and that thinking positive comes AFTER being positive. 

So I say, “YES!" to holding young people accountable. I say, “Continue to raise the bar and maintain a higher standard." I affirm the occasional bark and celebrate letting the blood boil a bit. I say this in the name of progress. I say this in the name of teaching and learning. I say this in the name of actual achievement. And according to Ms. Ottingen, I say this in the name of happiness, both for you and your students. 

Sure, you're no Norman Vincent Peale, but then again, he was no music teacher. 

Have a great week!