Positive thinking is typical in our New Year’s Resolutions. Resolutions aren’t the only reason to change habits, but if they motivate you, great. The Scientific American magazine article (link below) is a short four paragraph summary of a study published a few years ago that might be relevant. The Northwestern University study demonstrated that a certain kind of belief (cognition), restraint bias, may put those with negative habits or substance use concerns at risk.
The study may also have raised the possibility that it is fairly easy to influence this belief in research participants.
Smokers were randomly assigned to two groups, both of which took a self-control test. But one half was randomly told they had low self-control and the other half was told they had high self-control. Therefore, some of these individuals would have unrealistic positive thinking, i.e., his/her self-control is really low, but he/she was told it was high.
Then they watched a movie that included smoking. They were offered a choice to be paid to resist smoking during the film by keeping an unlit cigarette in their mouths, their hands, or on a desk in another room. The cash rewards were higher for the greater level of temptation.
Those smokers told they had high self-control were much more likely to take higher levels of temptation. But they ended up being more likely to light up and smoke during the film.
It appears that overestimating one’s level of self-control could lead to putting oneself at greater risk of temptation only to end up giving in to a habit one may be trying to resist. Having accurate beliefs about our capacities can be really important in behavior change. In this case, even positive thoughts, which are inaccurate or irrational, can be harmful. So telling ourselves positive things is not always good advice.
#habits #positivethinking #smoking