Why Positive Thinking Is Not Always The Answer

I’m all for positive thinking in principle. I believe that the thoughts and the outlooks and the attitudes we focus on, grow. We give these thoughts our attention and energy in some way, and they devour it like a hungry animal and expand.

Ever bought a new car and suddenly you notice the same make of car everywhere you go? Where have all these cars appeared from?!

This is the same effect in action, your focus is now alerted to that type of car, whereas before you were oblivious.

An even simpler example is to stop reading right now and focus only on the feelings in your feet. Be aware of each toe, your soles, your heels, their temperature, the texture of the material of your socks or shoes, any little aches or itches.

Ten seconds ago you weren’t consciously aware of any of these sensations. A tiny shift and focus and now it’s the predominant thought in your mind.

It’s clear then that what we focus on grows.

I don’t mean your feet are about to expand three sizes, but that your awareness of what you give your attention to expands.

This is true whether it’s negative or positive thoughts, as no doubt you’ve found in your own experience.

So it makes sense to only ever focus on positive thoughts, right?

Well, yes. But no. There’s a balancing act here.

image: pareerica

Being aware of the reality of any situation is also crucial too. Even if it’s negative. Sometimes especially if it’s negative.

If you’re in a ship that’s rapidly sinking, then however much you look at how beautifully blue the sky is and enjoy how lovely the sun feels on your bare skin, it’s not going to stop your ship from sinking. You need to take action!

In terms of being creative, definitely focus on what you’re good at, and what you enjoy most.

But also be aware of what you’re not so good at, or what you don’t enjoy so much, and find better ways of approaching or handling it.

For example you might be a very creative and imaginative writer but be terrible at spelling. So you could use a spellchecker or get someone to check your work manually. It’s probably not worth you spending hours struggling to spell correctly, when you could be using that time just writing creative new stories and exploring new ideas.

Or in more personal areas, acknowledge where your weaknesses may be negatively affecting relationships, and adjust. But also focus on your good qualities, bring these to the fore and make the most of them.

It is a tightrope. And leaning too much either way will result in you losing your balance and suffering.

Either by focusing on the negative so much you’re totally unmotivated to even get out of bed, or by being so blindly focused on the positive you ignore any destructive or damaging behaviours or situations.

Where do YOU stand on this positive negative tightrope? Where is your focus right now?

4 thoughts on “Why Positive Thinking Is Not Always The Answer”

  1. I have a super-active reptilian brain–it warns of lack and attack at the slightest provocation. When I thought that was “real” I panicked a lot, spent a lot of extra effort. When I began to consciously focus on positive, but still realistic thoughts, I DID find that two things happened:
    1. I saw more positive, which was pleasant.
    2. I expected more positive (your car example) and worked toward using those pleasant opportunities and building toward a goal. That really changed my reality to one of positive strategy instead of protective strategy.

    Being a Pollyanna is no more (or less) valid than being a Cassandra, and since I believe we create our own reality, creating an atmosphere of opportunity (instead of lack or false cheer) works really well for me.


  2. Thanks for your comments Quinn.

    Two things I really like in what you said.

    1. “A positive strategy instead of a protective strategy.” Reminds of that story of the monkey who gets his hand stuck in a jar and starves because he won’t let go of the fruit in his fist. We can’t receive with clenched fists.

    2. “Creating an atmosphere of opportunity+ – I love this phrase. To me it doesn’t mean we go around with our head in the clouds ignoring reality, but simply that we are open to good things that may come to us, maybe we even attract them.

    Thanks. : )


  3. two things – positive thinking is predicated on at least two facts. 1) that that the negative is too horrible to contemplate and own and inhabit so it must be countered and 2) a judgment that positive is better.

    escaping this judgment allows us to just see what is and then proceed from there. positive thinking gets us into the right/wrong, praise/blame cycle which governs far too much of our lives anyway.

    secondly i would heartily suggest the book “Brightsided: How Positive Thinking Undermines America” it is a bracing cold water shower of a book that goes for England as much as it does for the good old U.S. of A.


  4. Matt, thanks for commenting.

    Yes making those kind of good/bad judgements often ends in trouble. I love Byron Katie’s line – “When I argue with reality I lose – but only 100% of the time”.

    Thanks for the book recommendation, on my wishlist. Just reading a few of the reviews it reminds me of some of the best scenes in The Office where David Brent is trying to be some kind of motivational guru and really spouting absolutely nonsense.


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