The Problem with Positive Thinking

The Problem with Positive Thinking

Positive thinking is all the rage these days.  Business bloggers are falling all over themselves to recommend “The Power of Positive Thinking,” and personal development writers can’t seem to get enough of “The Secret” (the premise of which is that positive thinking and wishing for something hard enough sends a message to the Universe, causing the object of your desire to manifest itself in your life).

I’m sorry, but what a load of bullshit!

I could sit on my rear end all day wishing for leprechauns and unicorns, but I’m guessing I’d wind up going to bed without a single mythical creature to show for my efforts.  (For the record – I haven’t ever tried this.  I’ll acknowledge that there’s a *very* slim possibility that, were I to follow the above plan, I’d wind up successfully manifesting a magical being of my own…)

The bigger problem with the above scenario is that while I’m sitting there, doing nothing but wishing, I’m not taking any concrete actions that bring me closer to my goals.

Okay, so the unicorn thing is a bit of a stretch, but you’d be amazed by how many people fall into this trap with their personal businesses.  The truth is that if wishing hard enough made something happen, there’d be a lot more filthy rich, skinny people in the world!

And that’s the thing – wishing without action isn’t going to get you anywhere.  No matter how hard I wish for a successful business or how positively I think about earning money online, I know I’m not going to achieve any of my goals if I’m not out there doing the work necessary to make them happen.

If I’m launching a new site, it’s not enough to think about how well I want it to perform.  I need to be out there building backlinks, posting in forums and writing articles to achieve the momentum I want.

Or, if I want to sell a new ebook, I can’t just sit around and wish for buyers to come around and buy it – I’ve got to actively promote it to get the results I want.

Now, for the record, I want to be clear that I have nothing against positive thinking on its own.  In fact, you might be surprised to hear that I consider myself to be an optimistic person!  I’m confident that, in the future, my businesses will continue to grow, that my personal relationships will continue to deepen and that I’ll continue to meet the goals I set for myself in every aspect of my life.

However, I know these things to be true, not because of how positively I feel about them, but because I’m committed to taking the action necessary to make them happen.

Have you ever got caught up in the trap of positive thinking?  Or can you think of something you’re working on right now that could use a little less thought and a lot more action?

20 Responses to The Problem with Positive Thinking

  1. Jon says:

    Action and discipline are everything. You can wish and intend and tell yourself that, “it’s all going to work out,” but if you don’t take action forget it.

    I’m all for positive thinking; I am optimistic about every project I start. But I think things through, research and then take action.

    There are times when positive thinking can be a great crutch. I think that when the s*** hits the fan you need to focus on lessons learned. You can’t roll up the carpet and close up shop at the first sign of adversity. So in these instances positive thinking helps you focus on the “silver lining” of a less-than-ideal situation.

    But still, silver linings and smiles in the midst of a setback won’t move you forward. They just help remove the pain of the temporary failure.

    • Sarah says:

      Well said, Jon. I think the biggest challenge for me when I was first getting started was that I spent so much time dreaming about everything I’d do when my affiliate marketing business was successful that I never actually put in the work to get them there 😮

      But you’re right, there’s got to be a balance between thinking positively and actually realizing that we all fail and that thinking positively instead of learning the lessons we need to won’t move our businesses forward.

  2. Walter says:

    Everything is created twice, first in the mind, then in reality. Unfortunately most people are stuck with the first creation, that which exist only in the mind–like positive thinking. Without action, as you have eloquently stated here, there will be no physical manifestation. 🙂

    • Sarah says:

      Very well said, Walter. I definitely don’t dispute that positive thinking and operating from a success-oriented mindset aren’t integral to achieving actual success, just that they’re not enough on their own 🙂

  3. Martin Capodici says:

    Sarah, I agree, but perhaps positive thinking is the “Oxygen” and action is the “Fuel”. You need both to “Get the engine going” and be very successful.

    Mindset and action are important. I can see you have both angles sorted.

    Napoleon Hill’s classic think and grow rich talks about taking both action, but how to get the right mindset too. I think The Secret falls short as it only focuses on the manifestation side of things.

    • Sarah says:

      Martin – That’s a great point on the distinction between “Think and Grow Rich” and “The Secret”. I’m halfway through reading T&GR, but I do appreciate that he focuses on thoughts driving actions.

      Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  4. Tia says:

    Hey Sarah.

    I found this post when I was going through your feed for bizchickblogs. Have you ever read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright Sided? It’s REALLY good. You ought to read it.

    I think positive thinking as we know it has a negative effect that no one realizes.

    Never before have we been so “positively” broke, sick, fat, and lazy as a society.

    Somebody tell me what all of our positive thinking is getting us!? 🙂 Especially in business. I’m all for the 4 Hour Work Week, but I hate that everyone is rushing to it as if there’s some special secret to getting by only working 4 hours per week. The real secret is that, well, that just doesn’t happen!

    • Sarah says:

      Tia – Thanks for stopping by! I haven’t read Barbara’s book, but I’ll put it on my “to read” list.

      I think the key isn’t just positive thinking vs negative thinking – it’s positive thinking driving actions that lead to the visualized results.

      There’s a lot to be said about having the right, business-oriented mindset, but just having a positive outlook isn’t enough if it isn’t backed up with actions.

      And yeah, while I think there’s a lot of value to the Four Hour Work Week – it reminds me of a quote I read on Copyblogger, about how internet marketers, “Spend 16 hours a day working so they can make money while they sleep.” Nothing is as simple as it’s made out to be 🙂

  5. Martin Capodici says:

    This is an addictive thread!

    Yes I think few people do a 4 hour week.

    Because if you enjoy the work why would you only do 4? And if you don’t enjoy it, but are clever enough to get it down to 4, how come you aren’t getting paid for something you do enjoy.

    And I can’t believe lying on a beach is everyone’s aim – it is so boring to do that!

    • Sarah says:

      Haha – Martin, I can make it about 4-5 days relaxing (whether on a beach or somewhere else) before I start to go bats**t crazy… 🙂

      I mean, as far as the Four Hour Work Week goes, I like that it’s bringing the idea of deliberate, conscious decisions about life and business to the collective consciousness.

      But I have to believe that the actual idea of working only four hours a week is more of a marketing ploy than a concrete goal.

  6. Brenton Sauerhage says:

    Terrific post however I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this topic? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit further. Bless you!

    • Sarah says:

      Hi Brenton! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

      You’re in luck! I’m going to expand a little more on this in a post coming up this week. If there’s anything specific you’d like me to cover, though, please let me know.

  7. […] those of you keeping track, this is a continuation of my thoughts on the Problem with Positive Thinking.  If you haven’t read that post yet, please read it first and then come back to this […]

  8. Cristina says:

    It’s very simple:
    Positive thinking is a complement of Action. Thinking is useless if you don’t DO.

  9. loukas says:

    Hi! I don’t remember the Secret very well, but I’m sure you are smart enough to tell if there was an mentioning of the need to act for your “dreams” to manifest.

    From my subjective point of view the LoA works like this:

    You intend something, the universe which is an extension of you or something, brings you the opportunities and then you have to justify yourself, to prove that you deserve it, by fiat, by pure action – else the thing does not become yours.

    I’m not sure the universe (or life if you prefer) is conscious but it sure has a wicked sense of humour!

    “As within, so without” and vice versa would state LoA formally for me/

    • Sarah says:

      Loukas – It’s been awhile since I actually read “The Secret” so I can’t say for sure whether or not it included the call to action portion. But my memories of the book are of it being woefully short in this area.

      I do like your definition and your explanation, though. Proving yourself through dedicated action is a part that I think gets skipped over all to often.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  10. […] elements of personal productivity and development (I’m looking at you, daily mantras and the law of attraction!), but I do love case studies and experimentation, so I figured that – given all the rave […]

  11. James says:

    I think the whole 4 hour work week, secret and probably countless others are just books that ‘made it’ from others that didn’t based on better marketing, timing and luck.

    In all these books, they just repeat in 1000 different ways the simple idea that you do have common sense, but you forget to use it.

    Everyone knows how to be logical and work efficiently, but we get complacent in our lives, become bored, slack and our efficiency and enthusiasm depletes. It think all these authors are replying on this fact of life and capitalise on it by bringing out books and talking fast and delivering the content in a super fast, super confident and confusing way that makes people remember that they should apply logic and common sense to their lives.

    If you watch any of these authors talk on youtube, you see that they have constant eye contact, they don’t stutter, they talk as though they are in no doubt that their methods are creed and to me that is just common sense. If you believe in what you say, you lower your anxiety and you deliver the content convincingly, like Hitler or HG Wells when he made the War of the Worlds BBC radio drama that convinced the world that aliens were invading and everyone believed it.

    It’s all the same thing. Different era, different tactics, but it is all JUST common sense that we have forgotten to use.

    If people took more responsibility of their lives and maybe more pride too, they would not need to spend money on these books. If you want to work less hours, obviously, work for yourself, get people to work for you, make your workflow efficient and trim the fat. Then go on a holiday mid week while billing the plane flight to your business expense account for taxation reimbursement and say to yourself that you are the luckiest person in the world and that you rule while everyone else sucks. So easy.

    Notice how it is impossible to write a book that is called the 2 ways to achieve $1,000,000 in one year? It’s impossible because everyone will make that money in different ways, through different methods, some will just be lucky, some will work very very hard and others will inherit it. There is no real way to make that amount of money in 2 steps that will be the same steps for everyone.

    Also, why is it so important to be rich or have lots of time? If I love my job I can be happy. If I make more use of the hours I spend with my family then I can be happy. I really don’t understand why having 10 hours of time to hate my wife is better than to have 1 hour with her in total love and admiration because I remembered how I felt about her when I first met her and treated my relationship like that every day.

    Anyway, common sense and logic is all you need.

    • Sarah says:

      James – Very well said. There was a lot of controversy on the Warrior Forum when Tim Ferriss’ latest book (4 Hour Body) came out about how he’s not a diet or fitness author giving that kind of advice. But that’s not the point – he’s a marketer who knows how to capitalize on current trends and sell books.

      I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to think positively or to follow plans that others have laid out – just that it’s important to back that up with hard work and common sense.

      Thanks for sharing!

  12. […] this is a good thing. When you think about affiliate marketing, I want you to think about it as a legitimate business – one that requires consistent, dedicated hard work to succeed with, as that’s truly […]

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