What most people get wrong about being a “Positive Thinker”

Sometimes I feel the concept of positive thinker has evolved into a new definition which has a cult status and damaged many a good person.  What is the damage, how does it happen, and how can you avoid the danger?

My friend runs a great political blog, and one of his writers recently posted an article titled Is the positive thinking industry based on wishful thinking? The article goes into all the fallacies and problems with the positive thinking industry. If you’d like an academic look at what positive thinking is I’d highly recommend reading the post.

However, as I was reading the article I felt a rising tide of rage grow within myself. I would definitely describe myself as a positive thinker as I feel my life has been changed by thinking positively. Positive thinking is one of the building blocks to the many good personality traits I’ve formed.

As Jacob Stringer scientifically, and methodically tore down one of my core beliefs I realised something… positive thinking doesn’t mean what it once did.

The dangers of Positive Thinking 2.0

genie, success, positive thinking
“It’s alright Genie. get back in the lamp… I’ve got this”

As the cult of positive thinking seeped into the public consciousness, it reached a level of idiocracy matched only by the Victorian’s love of mysticism. This came to a head in Rhonda Byrne’s bestselling The Secret which, as I’ve previously talked about, is literally just wishing.

Inspired by works such as Think and Grow Rich, the positive thinking industry has taken the idea of using intense thinking to “attract” something into our lives. When someone tells you that you can have anything you want simply by wishing for it, you think “Great! I’ll just keep on doing what I was doing before”.

Who doesn’t window shop? Or wish “I could be more…”? Or think  “I want…”? The reason why the positive thinking/inspirational sector is worth so much is because the message is “you can have something for nothing”.

Similarly, as trite is the belief that positive thinking requires you to be relentlessly optimistic. Nothing can be shitty, or annoying, or wrong because that isn’t “positive”. Unless you find something good in every situation then you’ll fail, and the next person sitting next to you will succeed.

Being doggedly optimistic is dangerous because it blinds you. Do you honestly think that all the disasters that befall others won’t happen to you? I mean, look at Jess’s seemingly endless amount of fires erupting out of nothing.

Everything that can do wrong will go wrong. Simply by believing it won’t will not protect you from when it does.

Why I describe myself as a Positive Thinker

positive, success, wealth
Being positive is not the same as smiling and being happy all the time

Paradoxically I firmly believe that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to, and thinking about the things I want in my life has helped me achieve a lot of goals I once thought crazy.

It feels like people picked up Think and Grow Rich, read the title, and thought to themselves “that seems easy enough”, and put it down without reading the damn thing. The meat of the Think and Grow Rich isn’t based around “how thinking about something gets you what you want”.

Think and Grow Rich shows you how, through planning, goal setting, education, persistence, and forming good habits, you can have anything you want. Which is a lot more work than having a nice day dream.

Positive thinking should be about believing you can have anything you want… and understanding that the greater the goal, the greater the price. “Real” positive thinking is all about forming a realistic plan to achieve any goal that you can imagine, and not limiting yourself by saying “that’s impossible”.

By constantly thinking about my goals, I force my mind to be on the look out for opportunities that will help me on my journey (Here’s a look at the psychology behind this idea).

You can’t simply wish for something and have it appear in your lap. What Napoleon Hill wrote about was becoming so obsessed with achieving a goal that the brain prioritises finding information that will help you reach your goal.

On issue of that damn glass

negativity, wealth, success
Which category do honesty, truth, and analysis fall under? “Love and peace” or “Negativity” Image Credit: Wikipedia

I’m incredibly optimistic, but not so I can remove (or ignore) negative forces in my life. I’m optimistic because I know that when I do fail, I pick myself up, learn what I can, and keep on. I’m optimistic because I’ve made back-up plans, and prepared myself (as best I could), so when things do fuck up, it won’t be as big of a blow as it could’ve been.

Optimism is about looking at what could be, not blindly assuming everything will be OK. For example; if you see a broken shed do you think “Someone should fix that” or “Someone would probably pay me to fix that”? Optimism shows you opportunity.

Here’s another example:

“At the end of the nineteenth century, just as colonial Africa was opening up as a market, all the manufacturers of shoes in Victorian England sent their representatives to Africa to see if there might be an opportunity there for their wares.

All duly came back in time with the same answer. ‘Nobody in Africa wears shoes. So, there is no market for our products there.’

All, that is, save for the Bata rep. He came back saying, ‘Nobody in Africa wears shoes. So, there’s a huge market for our products in Africa!’”  – Source: Ken Burnett

With that said, the majority of situations require someone to be pessimistic about something so that we can see its issues. You need to be able to accurately find flaws in something so you can either; not waste your time on it, or improve it.

Blindly optimistic people often get confused by the difference between a worthless comment and someone trying to provide a useful critique.

Maybe it’s time to abandon the term “Positive Thinking”

goodbye, positive thinking, success

Positive thinking is only worth something through positive doing. It’s all well and good wishing for things, but until you start actually attempting to do something, your thoughts will remain in your head.

You can prove to yourself that you’re not just a Positive Thinking zombie, by asking yourself three questions:

  • Do you know how you’re going to achieve your dream?
  • Are you aware of everything that could go wrong?
  • What is one step can you take right now to move yourself closer to your dream?

If you can provide yourself with a satisfactory answer to those three questions, congratulations, we applaud your honesty and candid perception! If you find yourself unable to answer those three questions, then perhaps the following articles will provide you with pointers towards a more authentic life.

If you found this article helpful and useful, please do share it with your friends and give us a comment below.



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  1. Hi Ben
    Yes I totally agree as well. Good essay, well put.
    Positive thinking is about as dangerous as cynical negative thinking. To me they’re in the same camp. With both you’re wearing glasses in which one set is too convex the other too concave. I prefer sceptical thinking, albeit at some point you have to make up your mind (at least for the interim) and just get on with life straightforwardly.
    In that regard I prefer straight talk, not that that’s always easy. The danger of a constantly sarcastic approach (if you can’t ever let that veil down) is I think it can leave you a little lonely.
    Good article. (I noticed a few minor grammatical errors).

    I reckon I was probably let go from Ltree because I became rather cynical about the company, which affected my course prep.
    Do you still work for them?

    • Thanks Clive, glad you enjoyed reading the post.

      I completely agree with you, both ways of thinking can be harmful. The key (as it is with most things) is balance, you can sum it all up as “expect the best, plan for the worst”.

    • Clive thank you for your comment. Perhaps we should have you check out the grammar in our articles. I am totally with you on this and as I said in one of my summaries of Nate’s article – I tend to vanish around overly unauthentic positive people or very negative people. As you say Sceptical thinking is essential for business.

      Let me know when you are next in London. It would be great to get together – also I’d love to know more about how your play is going.

      Speak soon


      PS yes I still teach some courses for Learning Tree – I think I have a very different perspective to other instructors as I feel like the UK guys are like my family but that’s another story for the pub 🙂

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