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FastWeb Column: Can Positive Thinking Get You Into Grad School?

This story was published in 2007 for FastWeb, an online education resource and scholarship search engine.

Seeing the University of Virginia’s men’s basketball team make it to the second round of the NCAA tournament brought me back my own basketball career. Though it was short-lived, I made good use of my two-inch vertical leap and attained virtual stardom in my 175-person high school. Oh yes, my fingers were like the jaws of steel traps. My speed was such that they called me Molly ”Mach 3” Seltzer.

My coaches stressed the benefits of visualization. They’d stand at my shoulder on the foul line and murmur in their most convincing disembodied-genie-in-the-magic-lamp voices, “Believe the ball’s going in … See yourself sinking the shot … Watch yourself score.” Being a snarky know-it-all who actually knew nothing, I’d chuck the ball too hard, too high, just to prove their Jedi mind trick tactics didn’t work. I was a fine player without visualization. I was above that. I was impervious.

I was stupid.

According to a special series on the brain in the January 29 issue of TIME Magazine, “The brain can change as a result of the thoughts we think.” This means that putting a spin on things in your head – “That test went terribly, I’m going to fail the class” versus “That test was pretty bad, but at least I know what to study for next time” – can not only make you happier and more satisfied with your life, but might also increase your chances of succeeding in the future.

So is the power of positive thinking a sure thing?
If we think positively, will we get good results … positively?

Is luck learned behavior? Can you think yourself successful?

I’m still waiting to hear from my first-choice graduate school and though I’m getting frustrated, I’m attempting to be firmly and unfailingly optimistic. But I can’t will things to happen. (A problem I would categorize as a “total bummer.”) Since there’s nothing I can do but wait, a cheerful outlook seems to be just the ticket. The view posited by bestselling self-help books and numerous alternative texts suggests that American culture’s obsessive nature has turned superstitious. This is nothing new, of course. After all, former Red Sox and Yankees player Wade Boggs ate chicken before every game, without fail. (One might say he was looking to avoid a fowl ball, har har.) You’d be hard pressed to find a person who isn’t aware of the rituals surrounding ladders, black cats, sidewalk cracks and the number 13.

The Law of Attraction says that the thoughts you think call similar thoughts to you. So if you’re worried that you’ll be late for class and you keep thinking about being late for class, you’ll probably be late for class. Most people have experienced this in terms of tripping or stumbling – if you think about falling down, you generally do. The principle works similarly with positive thoughts; if you envision, if you believe and feel that you’re achieving something, can you make it happen? Simply through the power of your thoughts?

There’s nascent scientific evidence that humans can somehow change the chemistry of their brain by repeatedly thinking certain thoughts. Where the Law of Attraction differs from science is that it takes this one step further and suggests that by changing your brain, you can also change what happens in your life.

I have a hard time grasping how my free throws affect the universe, but the point is that a positive outlook certainly changes how you perceive yourself, which changes what risks you take, what friends you have and other important aspects of your life. While optimism begets success, I believe in backing things up with hard work, perseverance and a little luck, though visualization couldn’t hurt.


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