Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Positive Thinking #2

Following on from my last post, I had a polite and friendly email from John Cruttera, asking me to link to his website on positive thinking. As you can see, I'm happy to oblige. I surfed around the site for a while, and found much of it thought-provoking. Most of it interested me, but one sentence on the home page made my researcher's antennae stand up. Here's the sentence:
Of the 65,000 thoughts that flit through your mind each day, 95% of them are the same ones you thought yesterday.
This seems intuitively believable at first sight. But Mr Cruttera doesn't cite a source for his assertion. I couldn't imagine how thoughts could be measured, either quantitatively (number of thoughts) or qualitatively (subject of thoughts). Mine are a big old mess, a lot of the time! So off I went to Google, and found lots of webpages quoting the same statistics, some citing respected medical author Deepak Chopra as the source, and no information about methods anywhere. Some webpages say that these (or similar) figures are estimates, but I haven't found anything specifying the basis for those estimates - although I haven't researched this exhaustively, so if anyone has any information about this, please let us know via the comments box.

Please don't think I'm criticising Mr Cruttera; I'm not. I'm sure he reproduced the statistics in good faith. But it is alarmingly common to find people using statistics to give credibility to arguments, even when those statistics themselves have little credibility. Think about it. Sixty-five thousand thoughts per day? That's over 2700 thoughts per hour, every hour, including when we're asleep. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that we can think just as much when we're asleep as when we're awake. That we can in fact think 45 thoughts per minute, 24 hours a day. That's one thought every single 1.3 seconds, round the clock. Hmmmm. I am unconvinced - but happy to hear arguments, in either direction. Bring 'em on!

I am in favour of positive thinking. I am also in favour of analytic thinking, deconstructionist thinking, critical thinking (in the positive sense) - the kind of thinking that doesn't take things at face value and informs debate. I am very much in favour of thinking for fun. This is where Mr Cruttera's site really shines. My favourite pages are those where he keeps stories and quotes about positive thinking. I'll leave you with the first quote from his quotes page:
A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort. ~Herm Albright, quoted in Reader’s Digest, June 1995


HelenMHunt said...

I love that quote. Fantastic!

Zoltan - positive thinker said...

I love that quote too.:)
Let's just annoy people with our positive attitude.
And that's true that positive attitude will not solve all of your problems,but with action together you have a great chance to succeed.
Action creates solution.

Queenie said...

It's a great one, isn't it? There are loads more good ones on Mr Cruttera's site, it's well worth a visit.

Clare Sudders said...

But I don't want to annoy anyone!

Tis a funny one that one - could just as easily be used as an argument against positive thinking... or am I missing the joke again?

Clare Sudders said...

PS the 65,000 thoughts per day thing was quite obviously plucked out of thin air and has no basis in fact. I think I read somewhere recently that the "women use 3 times as many words as men" one is similarly spurious.

I think what often happens is that people come up with such figures in fun, or as speculation, but then they're quoted out of context and before you know it, it's become a well-known fact.

PI said...

That made me smile. There is something about the word 'annoy' that tickles me. It's like infuriating - in the nicest possible way.

Bernadette said...

I have a friend who moans constantly about every little thing in her life, be it a late train or wishing she'd chosen a different flavour ice-cream. If I have the temerity to complain about anything she tells me to look on the bright side. Apparently it's a lot easier to have a positive attitude to other people's problems!

Love the quote!

Queenie said...

Clare, I think it's the idea of annoying people that's supposed to make it funny - the incongruity of thinking that's a good idea when it obviously isn't. And I think you're absolutely right about the process by which something can become a well-known 'fact'.
PI: me too!
Bernadette: now that WOULD annoy me!

karim said...

Good post on positive thinking.

karim - Positive thinking