Everyday Systems: Podcast : Episode 57


Listen | Discuss

Hi, this is Reinhard from everyday systems.

My friends, today I offer you something truly amazing.

All the self-help books ever written distilled into one word, with a note of enlightened self-mockery that makes the whole thing bearable:

It combines into one impressively silly portmanteau word the trinity of universally accepted self-help tropes that we’re all striving to not be too proud to have to resort to: “Think Positive” + “Fake it till you make it” + “Be Proactive” = Posifactive.

One more time: Think Positive. Fake it till you make it. Be Proactive = Posifactive.

On their own, these tropes are utterly insufferable. Proactive, itself a portmanteau word (except not funny) is probably the worst offender. Yes, you know that on some level they are obviously right and true and good advice, backed up by studies and Ted talks you are dimly aware of, some of which have yet to be discredited.

My favorite one of these dubious Ted talks is Amy Cuddy’s wonder woman pose. Where you physically spread your arms in this absurd victory position and the idea is that then your psyche thinks you must have accomplished something remarkable because why else would you be posing like this and you’re flooded with endorphins and what not and blissful confidence and now really can conquer the world. I’m pretty sure it’s been debunked, this particular maneuver, but it’s too delightfully absurd to not be at least somewhat true.

It’s essentially a psychological version of the placebo effect, the wonder woman pose, positive self-talk, positive thinking in general. And the placebo effect is real. To paraphrase Nietzsche: “mimic the effects, and the causes will follow.”

The problem is, individually, these tropes and techniques reek of Stuart Smalley, or at least, what Stuart Smalley was mocking (he himself is hilarious) and (even worse) business spirituality. So it’s hard for that nasty, self-critical part of ourselves (I call mine Asmodeus, you may know him as the superego) not to suspect we are bullshiting ourselves. And then turn positive self talk into self lacerating criticism and self loathing.

But when you bind them together into posifactive, instantly the payload of wisdom that is actually lurking in these ideas gets past your defenses -- your ironic superiority, your jaded weariness -- you crack a smile, and you realize that silly as they might have seemed otherwise, you with your moping despondency and catastrophizing are being even sillier.

It’s another example of the everyday systems principle of comic pragmatism. And again, the humor is not a contradiction, but the reason why it works. It’s a paradox, but paradox can be effective.

And, furthermore, besides being effective for yourself, you can instantly transmit it to others (once they’ve been initiated of course) without them getting irritated and defensive.

“Be posifactive!”

“Hey, I’m loving the posifactivity in this room!”

Hashtag positivactive.

You can say these things without people wanting to strangle you.

And then they can say it back to you when you seem like you might need a re-up.

Even my 8-year old son has been saying it (usually directed at his big sisters and occasionally his parents). This was my sign that I might be onto something, to hear it coming from this kid. (And not wanting to strangle him.)

Feeling too posifactive? Need to take it down a notch? I highly recommend the poetry and novels of Thomas Hardy, the short stories of Anton Checkov, and the Notes from the Underground, by Fyodor Dostoyevski.

But, save the Hardy and the Russians until you are well advanced in the art of posifactive thinking, lest your attempt at balance knock you into an abyss.

Posifactive. Don’t you just love saying that? Posifactive. I already feel a thousand miles away from 19th century Wessex and the garrets of St. Petersberg, and more importantly, from my own mediocre and unpoetic woes.

Try it! Record and mantrafy it. Teach it to your kid so he can break it out when you’re being mopey and insufferable. It just might give you a little positive nudge even if previous attempts at positive thinking have ended in resentful misery and disgust.

That’s all for today. Thanks for listening and stay posifactive (sometimes at least).

By Reinhard Engels

© 2002-2024 Everyday Systems LLC, All Rights Reserved.