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Aug 14, 2008

Pollyanna On Ecstasy: Why Positive Thinking Just Doesn’t Work


Note: Please read this entire post before you decide to flame me because you like positive thinking :-)

Tim Brownson left a great comment on yesterday's post about the importance of believing in your ability to change your situation:

Beliefs certainly do drive action, but what drives beliefs?  Thoughts drive beliefs ...  that is where positive thinking can help by undermining a negative, disempowering belief system.

I’m not disagreeing with what you’re saying - in fact I agree with it, but negative self-limiting beliefs are a symptom and not the cause of faulty thinking.

You don’t have to look like Pollyanna on ecstasy and live in complete denial to benefit from looking on the bright side of things. The start point is subtle changes of thinking and moving those beliefs into doubt and then from there into disbeliefs.

The Ugly Truth About Positive Thinking

Tim says there's value in "looking on the bright side of things."  He's all kinds of right on that one.  But while that might be some people's definition of positive thinking, that's not what I'm talking about in this post.  What I'm taking a hard line on is the mainstream definition, one that's been given a big boost by what Clay Collins calls The Cult of Abundance, all fueled by the hype behind The Law Of Attraction.  For far too many people who have purchased The Secret and bought into the madness therein, a twisted version of positive thinking becomes installed:

"If I just think about good things, good things will happen!  Yippee!"

Ok, I admit I added that "Yippee" part.  Humor me.

The danger of the Law of Attraction and "positive thinking" is that it fuels the notion that you don't have to do any work to make things happen - it's magic! (Well, techncally, it's QUANTUM PHYSICS.  My bad.)  If you want more success, or money, or whatever, just think real hard on it, and poof, a genie will make it happen.

Do you think I'm stretching it?  Watch this video from the author of The SecretThere is, in fact, a genie. (To be fair, if you miss it, it might be because an avalanche of money falls over you in an earlier scene.)

Don't fall for this crap.  If you take all the pseudo-science out of The Secret and get to the real science, you'll see this mathematical truth:

"But wait, Dave!" you may say. "I tried the law of attraction and it worked!"  I'll tell you why it worked tomorrow, but it ain't because of quantum physics.  Stay tuned.

A "Closer" Definition Of Positive Thinking

For many of you the phrase "positive thinking" is linked to Norman Vincent Peale, the author of "The Power of Positive Thinking."  Ok, he wrote a book on the damned phrase, let's see what he has to say about it:

"Positive Thinking is about training yourself to see the world from a whole new perspective and utilizing your fundamental capability to produce desired outcomes with positive, realistic beliefs and thoughts. It is based on the scientifically-proven fact that thought has a direct effect on feeling which, in turn, had a direct effect on behavior and performance. Therefore, if you think positively you will get positive results, if you think negatively you will get negative results."  (taken from The Peale Center's official website)

Hmm.  I like that better, especially the bold part.  In this definition, thought has nothing to do with genies, avalanches, or being a "money magnet."  No quantum physics here.  Just the idea of "Thoughts drive feelings, and feelings drive action."  Can't argue with that.

However (and this is a 'however' that deserves to be in red), I can't buy that last sentence.  Positive thinking will not guarantee positive results.  How many times have you been sure of something and failed?  And on the opposite side, how many times have you been sure you were going to fail and - oops - you succeeded?

The bottom line is, thinking does not make things happen.  Making things happen makes things happen.  It's all about action.

A Better Definition Of Positive Thinking

Since it's all about action, let me throw this definition of "positive thinking" at you:

Positive Thinking: Consciously choosing thoughts that produce the positive feelings that make you want to take action.

If you purposefully choose to look on "the bright side of life," as Tim put it, you are choosing to focus on thoughts which boost your mood because they are based on facts, not bullshit.  As Tony Robbins once said, if you look at your garden and say "there's no weeds, there's no weeds, there's no weeds," those weeds will take your garden. But if you say to yourself, "Wow, it's pretty cool that I have a garden - and if I take care of it will look great," you might just take action.

When you believe your actions can make a difference, you're more likely to follow through on taking those actions.  "Looking on the bright side" means reframing the situation in your mind so that it makes you want to take action rather than feel sorry for yourself.

Even Better: Realistic Thinking

People have called me an optimist over and over again, but I'm not an optimist at all.  I'm a realist.  In reality, there is almost always something you can do to improve a situation.  In reality, most of our problems are not the end-of-the-world that we make them out to be.  In reality, we can get off our asses and do one little thing today to turn the tide.  In reality, we may feel like absolute crap and have no motivation, but realistically that doesn't mean we don't have resources.  In reality, we can find someone to talk to to snap us out of our funk - and if we can't find 'em locally, somewhere there is a website, blog, or forum where we can find someone who we can relate to.

There's no such thing as pessimism - only being unrealistic.  When you catch yourself being unrealistic, kick your own ass and start thinking realistically - start seeing the world as a place full of resources we haven't tapped simply because we haven't overcome our self-doubt - and you might just find the motivation from within to take positve action.  And in the long run, you're much more likely to get what you're looking for.

And you don't even need a graph for it.  (Or a genie.)

PS - Realistically, you'll thank yourself later if you take a second right now and subscribe to this blog. Or if you've already done that, join the Rock Your Day newsletter.  It's genie-free stuff you can actually use.

52 Responses to “Pollyanna On Ecstasy: Why Positive Thinking Just Doesn’t Work”

  • Aug 14, 2008 Nathalie Lussier

    I think the law of attraction and positive ideas can be liberating for some people, especially those who have had many setbacks in their life. I agree that we need to take action. I think that The Secret didn’t go into that as much as it should have. There are other teachers who help us to align our “wishful thinking selves” to our “do it now, take action” selves. That’s when the real magic happens! ;)

    Great post, I know a lot of people need to read this.

    Nathalie Lussier’s last blog post..Money Talks: How Do You Talk Back?

  • Aug 14, 2008 Dave Navarro

    @Nathalie –
    Next post will go over why the Law of Attraction seems to work and what value you can extract from it if you look at it the right way …

    Visualizing possibilities, connecting with positive ideas, all that is extremely liberating, I won’t argue with that. And as you said, wishful thinking isn’t enough – we need to take action … and that’s no secret :-)

    Thanks for dropping by today & commenting, Nathalie!

  • Aug 14, 2008 Brett Legree

    Dave – very well written and fresh. What you have said is implied when people speak of the power of positive thought – but sometimes folks fail to understand that.

    (I’m still laughing at your “please read the whole thing before you flame me” note…)

    The world *is* full of resources

    AND

    If you don’t currently have the resources you need (externally), positive & realistic thinking improves your chances of being RESOURCEFUL, and figuring out a way around it.

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..can’t fly without wings? fake it.

  • Aug 14, 2008 Dave Navarro

    @Brett –
    Every time I make a Canadian laugh an angel gets its wings. (At least that’s what James told me, I think. Or maybe that’s the booze from last night talking …)

    Oh, look – more wings!

  • Aug 14, 2008 Brett Legree

    @Dave,

    Pretty soon you *will* be able to fly (ref. James’ post)

    I thought that was classic though, because I know what you mean – some web sites (e.g. Slashdot) I swear it’s a prerequisite to flame the hell out of the author and not even read the words!

    Keep on rockin’…

    -Brett

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..can’t fly without wings? fake it.

  • Aug 14, 2008 Michael Martine

    The so-called law of attraction is one of the worst and most dangerous lies ever perpetrated. The only the thing the “Secret” proves is that it is always possible to make money from fools.

    This is one of the best and most powerful things I’ve ever read here. You have truly rocked my day. Here’s one more little “equation”:

    action –> success –> positive thinking

    This one is Digg material.

  • Aug 14, 2008 Lodewijk

    Very refreshing post Dave.

    I both love and hate The Secret and the Law of Attraction at the same time. I love it for some of the nuggets of wisdom that *are* hidden in there somewhere. There are quite a lot of ‘teachers’ that have a great message in reality.

    I hate it for it’s incompleteness, and you’ve put that into words in this post. I also hate that it’s loved for that incompleteness, I strongly believe that it’s exactly that what makes it a success. People want a no-sweat-no-work-miracle-cure to Snoop-Dogg-Will-Smith-MTV-Cribs kind of wealth. It ain’t gonna happen!

    There can’t be enough people stressing this, but I’m afraid the people that need it the most are the ones that are not gonna listen. They just buy the next fad that has the illusion of giving them effortless wealth. The genie won’t work next time, I’d opt for the Canadian Angels ;)

    Lodewijk’s last blog post..Productivity Secrets

  • Aug 14, 2008 JP Micek

    Law of Attraction = placebo for the masses

    The brilliant marketers behind The Secret promoted a “drug” that would cure all that ails you. When in actuality it was a sugar pill. The placebo very often has the same base as the “real drug,” but just missing one or two critical components.

    Now “positive thinking” does have it’s place for sure. But that’s just the sugar. For a that “pill” to have real impact it’s missing one or two small components. One is hidden right in the title “Law of Attraction” – action!

    The second component missing is persistence — the ability to take hard blows to the gut and get back up. Something The Secret never addresses. And sadly, in the real world devoid of unicorns, rainbows and smurfs — it is a key component of success. ;-)

    JP Micek’s last blog post..Free Tribal Marketing Playbook Added. Did You Get Your Copy?

  • Aug 14, 2008 Clarence Coggins

    Thought without Action = Hot Air. It is very good that you point out that . Massive Action is what is required, but it helps to have positive thinking to motivate that Massive Action.

    Clarence Coggins
    Crown Prince of Web 2.0
    973-943-4073

  • Aug 14, 2008 Sonia Simone

    @JP Micek, very cool analogy about the placebo. The interesting part is that placebos do work–but they don’t work as well as real drugs do.

    The thing that makes me very sad about the LOA is the number of people who have a cartload of crap fall on their head and who say, “I invited this.” Esp. when the cartload involves true tragedy and not a more minor setback. Kids don’t get cancer because their parents are pessimists, and I hate that anyone thinks that.

    I try to be very selective about what I focus on, because I think most of us tend to move toward what we focus on. It looks like LOA, but the underpinnings are very different.

    Sonia Simone’s last blog post..Happy Birthday To Me

  • Aug 14, 2008 Jarkko Laine

    Hey Dave, thanks for writing this post!

    I’ve been waiting for so long for someone to write these thoughts out loud (I guess I could have done it myself, but then it wouldn’t have been done as well as you just did) and finally make it clear to everyone that “positive thoughts x nothing = nothing” – I love that formula. :)

    Great stuff!

    Jarkko Laine’s last blog post..6 Reasons Why You Should Not Ignore the News

  • Aug 14, 2008 Dave Navarro

    @Brett –
    Flying would be cool – but I think I’d need a genie for that. :-p

    @Michael –
    Glad you liked – I can’t stand the crap that people buy into thinking life is all about not doing the work …

    @Lode –
    There are good concepts in the LOA, which I’ll go into tomorrow in more detail – but yes, the law itself is bogus as it stands.

    @JP Micek
    “placebo for the masses” – couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks for commenting.

    @Clarence –
    Right. Positive thinking is the *motivator* – but it doesn;t make things happen on its own.

    @Sonia –
    Yeah .. I didn’t want to go into that here, but it’s true. If you follow the LOA to it’s logical end then abuse victims, holocaust victims, etc., all “attracted” that? I call bullshit. Glad you agree (and it is sad when people buy into it.)

  • Aug 14, 2008 Lodewijk

    @Sonia – So true! That’s what made me quite angry with The Secret at first. I remember writing that in my critique on The Secret a while back.

    Joe Vitale is the one that goes the furthest by saying that everything in your life is attracted to you by you. So how does a 2 year old that perished in a tsunami relate to this? Or an 8 year old kid in Sierra Leone that’s abducted and brainwashed to be a child soldier? Sure that’s the other end of the spectrum, but how does the law of attraction apply to this? I don’t buy it.

    It’s sad that people really believe this.

    Lodewijk’s last blog post..Productivity Secrets

  • Aug 14, 2008 Brett Legree

    @Dave,

    No genie required. Just buy a jet pack from that dude in New Zealand…

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..can’t fly without wings? fake it.

  • Aug 14, 2008 Kelly

    Dave,

    Speaking as a confirmed realist, cranky with excessive positivity and the resulting angst (yes, excess of other’s positivity=self-doubt), I loved this post.

    I’ve loved a lot of things you’ve written, but this is by far my favorite. Your “in reality” paragraph is the best thing I’ve read anywhere in a month, and I read a lot. ROCK on.

    Regards,

    Kelly

    Kelly’s last blog post..Observing Boomer Angst

  • Aug 14, 2008 Harrison McLeod

    @Dave: You are saying exactly what I’ve been saying for years! Bravo!

    The Universe and all the good thoughts won’t bring you what you want on a silver platter. All you’re getting is the opportunity, but to make that goal happen you have got to take action.

    That’s like this joke my roomie told me:

    There was this guy who prayed to God he’d win the lottery. He kept envisioning it in his head and feeling those vibes that he’d win.

    Each day he’d come home, watch the numbers on TV and be disappointed that his numbers never came up.

    Finally, on the sixth day he shouted at the ceiling, “Hey, God! What’s the deal? Why aren’t you listening to me?”

    A booming voice answered, “Don’t shout, I heard you! Give me a break and at least buy a ticket first!”

    Harrison McLeod’s last blog post..Learning to Fly Without Wings

  • Aug 14, 2008 steph

    I didn’t have to read the whole post to flame ya: you spelled ecstasy incorrectly, and it’s in your title, too. Not that I’m being all oooh look, I found a mistake, but can you fix it, if only for me? [editor bats her eyelashes] :)

    I have to read the whole post again because there’s a lot in it, but I agree that action is necessary. Thinking positively as something good for you makes total sense to me, and yes, action is also key. In fact, action should naturally be born out of positive thinking.

    For example, say I want to lose weight. Instead of thinking I don’t want to be fat or I don’t want to gain weight, I think, I want to be slim. I want to be healthy. I want to look great. Whatever. Or you can go further if you want and think as though you already are those things: I am slim and healthy, blahblahblah.

    Doesn’t it stand to reason, if you want something badly enough and you’ve programmed your brain to keep thinking that, that you’ll act accordingly? If I’m constantly thinking those things, I’m unlikely, I should think, to raid the junk food cupboard and gorge on Tootsie Pops every day. I would rather eat well, exercise, do healthy things. My actions need (for my brain) to be in accordance with what my brain is thinking, positively or negatively, because that’s just the way things work.

    I don’t know, it just seems to make sense to me that the action would be the natural result of habitually thinking positively and you’d therefore achieve what you want. Kinda like you said here: But if you say to yourself, “Wow, it’s pretty cool that I have a garden – and if I take care of it will look great,” you might just take action.

    You may have said this all already, in fact. If so, my apologies. It’s a lot to think about.

    steph’s last blog post..When Peeking is a Good Thing

  • Aug 14, 2008 Dave Navarro

    @Jarkko –
    Glad you liked. Had to get all this off my chest. :-)

    @Lode -
    Joe V. is the ultimate used car salesman of the internet marketing world. Wasn’t surprised to see him on board The Secret.

    @Brett –
    To 10,000 RSS – and beyond!

    @Kelly –
    That’s one hell of a compliment. I’ll consider it advance payment on the comments for my upcomng guest post on MwP (you’l see …)

    @Harry –
    Great joke – but it’s revealing, too. We want it all- on a silver platter …

    @Steph –
    Misspelling corrected, thx. Sure, when I’m in Wordpress it will flag spelling errors in the post … but not the title. RRRGH.

    Regarding your question … that’s a tough one. It’s 100% true that if you repeat something to yourself over and over again, it boosts the chances of you acting accordingly.

    The challenge is many people will say “I’m slim and healthy, I’m slim and healthy, I’m slim and healthy …” and then subconsciously say, “Screw it, I’m getting some ice cream.” Or, they’ll forget to keep telling themselves that, and lapse into old behavior.

    The key there is to always make sure that you stay conscious of your thoughts, and guarantee you get the last word. You’re going to feel strong pangs to continue the old behavior, so you’ve got to talk yourself out of it, you’ve got to win that internal debate – by getting the last word.

    The key lies in what you said: “Action would be the natural result of habitually thinking positively.” The challenge is we have these muted conversations in our head that we don’t manage actively, and we let the “gimme now” part of our mind have the last word in the debate. Breaking that cycle takes work, which is why it’s important to have a way to interrupt that pattern.

    Whew. I guess I need to turn this comment into a post as well :-)

  • Aug 14, 2008 Karen Swim

    Dave, you said things that were in my head, thank you! I have also been called an optimist but it’s more than happy, upbeat thoughts, I choose how I respond to life, and I make that choice every second of every day. Does crap happen? You bet! Have I endured heart wrenching tragedy? Yup! However, you get to choose if you will wallow or if you will get back up and keep living (not to be confused with existing). This post was so on target. I am gonna share liberally so that others can learn and live!

  • Aug 15, 2008 @Stephen

    Thank you for sharing this, it is an eloquent clarification of something that needs to be clarified. It reminds me of a quote from JackHandy that MAtt Cornell uses on goal setting:

    ” It’s easy to sit there and say you’d like to have more money. And I guess that’s what I like about it. It’s easy. Just sitting there, rocking back and forth, wanting that money.”

    That is the allure of The Secret, and its tragic dark side – its easy. Reality is not easy.

    @Stephen’s last blog post..Collaborate with Your Customers

  • Aug 15, 2008 steph

    “The challenge is many people will say “I’m slim and healthy, I’m slim and healthy, I’m slim and healthy …” and then subconsciously say, “Screw it, I’m getting some ice cream.” Or, they’ll forget to keep telling themselves that, and lapse into old behavior.”

    I totally agree! That’s exactly what happens all the time. But it’s proven that repetition will retrain your subconscious. So do it for thirty days or so and see that your subconscious won’t jeopardize you anymore.

    Easier said than done, I know. Because, yes, it’s hard, unless you’re super motivated or inspired, to keep repeating or affirming things for so long and often. I have that problem. Even that’s hard work. I find visualization, or what I prefer to call daydreaming, much easier. Can’t argue with myself, then! :) When I imagine something I really want and that really makes me happy, I’m more inclined to take action to make it come true.

    And I totally agree with your last two paragraphs in your comment!

    steph’s last blog post..When Peeking is a Good Thing

  • Aug 15, 2008 James Chartrand - Men with Pens

    I’m late to the party and DAMN, am I sorry I missed this one! Come on – Genies? Flying? Angels?! ECSTASY??!

    Holy hell. Rock your day took on new meaning. I’m so there.

  • Aug 16, 2008 Jacqueline

    I haven’t really bought into the LOA thing… as I didn’t even realise that it doesn’t talk about action!!! I have to agree with all the comments that I have read and thank you Dave for bringing it to the worlds attention and (obviously) writing many peoples thoughts about it.

    The only comment I would make is that without action we cannot move forward (we are all agreed on that). Many times it has to do with self doubt, which often comes from judgements. It paralyses us… we can think about that dream, but we wont act (for various reasons). Once we trust that we can do it, work through the judgement, we can move forward. it is part and parcel of the baggage we carry and part of learning about ourselves, which will help us to continue on our journey of life.

    Thanks for a great thought provoking article, Dave!

  • Aug 16, 2008 Raza Imam

    Great article… I’m glad someone is standing up to the wishful-thinking-will-get-you-results crowd. The problem is that thinking like that is soooo tempting. And then you start finding justifications for why it works in little things. And then you really buy into it.

    Thanks,
    Raza

  • Aug 17, 2008 Alex Fayle

    In what’s an otherwise mediocre book, Anna Maxted in “Behaving like Adults” says this:

    “I don’t think suffering teaches you anything that you couldn’t have learned in a pleasant, civilized alternative way. But my reactions to the whole experience and afterward have taught me a lot about me, some of which can be improved upon. I hope to be happier as a result of the knowledge.”

    As an agnostic existentialist, I do not believe that things happen for a reason. Things just happen and we choose our reactions to them. The LOA tells people that the Universe is actively helping or hindering them based on their thought patterns. To me, all the LOA does is offer a way of making choices that are positive instead of negative.

    It’s a tool people use with themselves to get the brain creating positive habits – there’s no secret in it.

    Alex Fayle’s last blog post..Watching the Fireworks

  • Aug 19, 2008 Jenny

    Dave, this post is definely thought provoking. I’ve seen the DVD version of “The Secret” and I agree, you can’t just think of something we want and get it. We don’t have Captain Jack Sparrow’s trusty compass! Without action there is no satisfaction. Of course there are times I wish it was as easy as, “just think of it!”

    Thanks for making me think today!

    Jenny’s last blog post..Say What You Need To

  • Aug 19, 2008 Dave Navarro

    @Karen –
    You’re 100% right. Your response to life is what’s important, not just your thoughts. Thanks for sharing the post :-)

    @Stephen -
    LOL – that’s awesome – I’m definitely going to use that in an upcoming post.

    @Steph -
    Right – repetition will train your subconscious – but the problem people face is they usually don’t have a mechanism to make sure that repetition happens, and they fall off track. That’s why I listen to my Think Right Now CDs over and over again in the car … it’s my way of keeping that repetition going in this ADHD-ish mind of mine …

    @James –
    The party is just getting started, bro. :-)

    @Jacqueline –
    Right on all counts. Thanks for commenting :-)

    @Raza –
    It is tempting … and it’s not entirely bad if it spurs you to action.

    @Alex -
    LOL – I love that short book review. :-)

    Suffering teaches – if you’re willing to be taught. Right on.

    @Jenny –
    I would so dig that compass.

  • Aug 20, 2008 John Hoff - eVentureBiz

    Hello Dave, after reading this post I felt the need to comment. I’m always being told that I look at the negative side of things. I don’t believe this is true, I believe like you said, I’m a realist. I hope for the best, do what I can to achieve the best, but know how the world works and using that math major I received from 6 years in college, I know the basic probabilities.

    In a post that just published today on my blog I mention what I believe to be the foundation of success – your core beliefs. Thinking happy thoughts won’t make you successful, you have to research who you are, why you believe what you believe in, and then go from there. Without that, you’re trying to build your success on beliefs you’ve adopted from others – like your parents.

    Excellent post and I’m off to read the followup.

    John Hoff – eVentureBiz’s last blog post..The Foundation Of Successful Thinking

  • Aug 20, 2008 James Chartrand - Men with Pens

    @ John – I have trouble with the term “realist”. People tend to use this term to mean, “The worst possible hardest case scenario so there’s no point, the Apocalypse is coming.”

    Example:

    Me: Hey! I’d like to be a freelancer! I think I could do it. Let’s look into it.

    Realist: Look, the market is down, the dollar sucks, Japan suffers earthquakes, the Internet is going to explode and besides, you have a million dollar mortgage payment each month, 12 kids to feed and you need new winter tires.

    Me: Wow. That’s pretty negative…

    Realist: Hey. I’m just being realistic. Do what you want.

    *slump*

    James Chartrand – Men with Pens’s last blog post..The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding: A Review

  • Aug 20, 2008 John Hoff - eVentureBiz

    @ James – Geezzz, you’re sounding like my wife! LOL

    I have to say I do disagree with your definition of a realist, though. I see what you’re saying. From your standpoint, a realist is a person who sees things in the worst possible way and thinks then “there’s no pint, the Apocalypse is coming.”

    To me, that’s more of an unrealistic way of thinking.

    My definition of a realist would be more like this:
    “Here’s what we’re going to do. This is what most likely will happen, but we’ll shoot for the moon – just don’t be disappointed if we don’t get there. Expect what’s likely, hope and shoot for the best.”

    Here’s how I see and would respond to your example (and if this doesn’t make me a realist, then damn, what the hell am I?

    Me: Hey! I’d like to be a freelancer! I think I could do it. Let’s look into it.

    Realist: It’s going to be stiff competition. At first things will be slow and I can expect to not be able to quit my day job tomorrow. But I’m passionate about it so that give me an edge. Now, what can I do to beat my competition and stand out?

    The Realist you describe above is not being realistic, they’re being just the opposite.

    John Hoff – eVentureBiz’s last blog post..The Foundation Of Successful Thinking

  • Aug 20, 2008 Dave Navarro

    @John / James –
    The term “realist” is used far too often as a replacement for “pessimist.”

    Realistically, you are never out of options. Never. Never.*

    (* well, maybe sometimes, like if you’ve fallen out of an airplane and are headed for the gaping maw of an active volcano. But probably not in your situation).

    ======================================================
    Examples of true realism:

    “the market is down.” -> plenty of people find ways to make $ in a down market. Find one.

    “the dollar sucks” -> that means there are opportunities elsewhere … or maybe this is your push to become more profitable to compensate. You’re too comfortable where you are.

    …etc. :-)

    You are never out of options …

  • Aug 20, 2008 James Chartrand - Men with Pens

    @ John – I think it’s an approach situation. To me, a realist would say:

    “That’s a great goal. Let’s take a look… Hm… yeah, it’s achievable. What’s missing? Ah, this. Alright, and if that doesn’t pan through? You’ll face this – but see, you can do this to prevent that…” In my method of thinking, there is always a solution to every problem. We have a desire, we have the situation, and we have what we have to do to achieve it – there’s no reason we couldn’t.

    The realists I’ve met lean towards what you seem to be describing – expect the worst, hope for the best. (Harry repeats this phrase often to me; I personally have a really hard time swallowing it.) I think that’s defeatist to begin with – why should you expect the worst? Why would expecting the best and dealing with the worst if it happens not be more realistic and positive?

    Expecting the best doesn’t mean not being realist. It means dedication and application, to me. I expect to achieve Copyblogger fame. Why should I sit there and say to myself, “Well, realistically, I probably won’t. But I’ll hope.” Um, no. Realistically, I have no idea. And I believe in myself. I know what I have to do, how to get there and I’m doing it. That’s realistic.

    (Maybe we’re saying the same thing in different words)

    I just have a lot of trouble swallowing “expect the worst, hope for the best”. Why should you not instead know the best, know the worst, and expect something in the middle?

    James Chartrand – Men with Pens’s last blog post..The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding: A Review

  • Aug 20, 2008 James Chartrand - Men with Pens

    @ Dave – YES!!! YES YES YES!!! That’s it! (oh god thank you. I thought it was me needing coffee)

    James Chartrand – Men with Pens’s last blog post..The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding: A Review

  • Aug 20, 2008 Lodewijk

    I kind of like that the economic tide is not favorable at the moment. Right at the moment that I’m going to be moving towards full time entrepreneurship. If there’s ever a time to test whether you’re “made for it” this is it. If I can start a successful business smack in the middle of a recession, I’m ready for whatever comes along!

    Bring’ it on!

    (hmm…is this realism or masochism?)

    Lodewijk’s last blog post..Blog Action Day, Alltop and switching hosts

  • Aug 20, 2008 Dave Navarro

    @James/John –
    I tend to gravitate towards “Prepare for the worst, but work towards the best.”

    You’ve got to be ready to roll with the punches if they come, but otherwise, as Sonia says …. punchpunchpunchpunchpunch

    @Lode –
    Me too. It’s prompted me to get of my ass so much more …

  • Aug 20, 2008 John Hoff - eVentureBiz

    @ James – I think indeed we are saying the same thing (or close to it), just our definition of a realist is a little different.

    I never said (nor do I) “Expect the worst and hope for the best.” I never expect the worst. I expect what is likely to come from the path in which I choose to achieve a goal.

    Also, hoping for the best doesn’t imply I only do what’s needed to get what’s expected. Shooting for the moon means the exact thought process you’re describing to achieve the best. There will be hurdles along the way and it’s my job as an entrepreneur to leap over them. “Hoping for” shouldn’t mean do what you can and hopefully by some magic the best will happen.

    I think the last sentence you wrote describes the point I’m trying to get across as to what my definition of a realist is. Know the best and strive for it, know the worst, but expect what is likely.

    @ Dave – yeah, what you said! That’s a great way of putting it.

    John Hoff – eVentureBiz’s last blog post..The Foundation Of Successful Thinking

  • Aug 20, 2008 John Hoff - eVentureBiz

    @ Dave – Agreed. We should always be prepared for the worst. The challenge is being prepared for the best!

    John Hoff – eVentureBiz’s last blog post..The Foundation Of Successful Thinking

  • Aug 20, 2008 Brett Legree

    You can always do something. Unless you are dead. In which case your option is “worm food”.

    When the going gets tough and all that. The best place to start is often the bottom. You can see the whole hill in front of you that way.

    The worst that can happen to me is death. As I plan on living for at least 1,000 years, that gives me lots of time to do great stuff (barring any accidents, mind you, and let’s not talk about that asteroid in 2028).

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..never lose anything again. not even waldo.

  • Aug 20, 2008 Karen Swim

    The guy who kite surfed into the building in Florida could have used friends that were realists and pessimists. Imagine if someone had stepped up and said “Dude, kite surfing in hurricane conditions is beyond stupid.” In this instance, expecting the worst would have been very smart. :-)

  • Aug 31, 2008 Eric

    Good observations. Positive thoughts are the necessary starting point for success. They are what give you the hope and courage to get up off the couch and try to achieve something. They are the spark plugs that get your engine going, but if you don’t have an engine you’re in trouble.

    Eric’s last blog post..Olympic Tidbits 2008

  • Aug 8, 2009 elvis

    I think we should skip all this pop-psychology(self-help) stuff and just take a college course or buy a book on logic. Then continue reading philosophy literature(books and magazines). You don’t have to get a Phd on it just make it your hobby. Get into the habit of it. I suggest you focus on logic, epistemology and the philosophy of science.

  • Aug 26, 2009 joy

    Yes, I agree that we should not take that ’secret’ story word for word because I found a lot of it being quite vain if you ask me. If you have a disease or a loved one dies does it mean you didn’t think positively enough? People should learn that you have power to do amazing things but you don’t have power to do EVERYTHING. Some things are beyond your control- deal with it. I’m a christian (not a judgemental one) and I’ve always believed in this- Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

  • Nov 3, 2009 Lexi Rodrigo

    OMG, I totally get what you mean. One of my sisters totally buys into this New Age, Law of Attraction, positive thinking, affirmations BS and I just want to strangle her sometimes!

    I like your definition of positive thinking, because you’ve included what so many self-help programs leave out: action. Positive thinking gives us the confidence to go after our goals, in spite of our fears and in spite of having a full awareness of our limitations. That’s why positive thinking works.

    It’s not about turning a blind eye on problems, deficiencies and problems. It’s being aware of all that and yet still believing we can accomplish something valuable.

    Lexi
    Lexi Rodrigo´s last blog ..Day 31: Compete in the Freelancing Marketplace My ComLuv Profile

  • Nov 9, 2009 TDG

    I like your post and agree with most of what you said but not all of it, maybe just because of how you said it. I agree with you that the world’s definition of positive thinking is not great. In reality, everyone can have their definition based upon their own perception.

    My definition of positive thinking is “faith without works is dead.” Faith is an action word and we all can have faith in positive or negative things. Fear is faith in what can go wrong instead of what can go right. Positive thinking (by my definition) is a part of a positive process. First you have to hear or see positive things, think about those positive things, then act on those positive things to get positive results.

    It is safe to say “positive thinking alone doesn’t guarantee positive results” for many occurrences outside of our control can happen. But for what you can control in your mind, positive thinking is necessary for dealing with problems.

    Here is how I see positive thinking worked for you:
    1. You saw an answer to the problem of the general worldview about positive thinking (see or hear)
    2. You eventually thought you could write an article about it (positive thinking)
    3. You wrote what you thought about (action)
    4. Now your thoughts are posted in an online article for the world to see
    (Now the problem has been dealt with but not solved until the world agrees with you.)

    By saying “Positive Thinking Just Doesn’t Work” you’re indirectly saying “Negative Thinking Does Work.” It definitely does if you want be in a bad mood; but it’s obvious that in reality, negative thinking doesn’t work to make things better.

    Think positive and Live It 2 The Fullest!
    TDG

  • Aug 10, 2010 Sangeeta Iyer

    Bang on, brilliant, right on the button.

    “Positive thinking” can totally be self-deluding if you just leave it at wishful thinking. What we actually need to do is thoughtful wishing – followed up by lots of action fuelled by that belief!

  • Aug 10, 2010 Mary E. Ulrich

    Even Robert Schuller, a guru of Positive Thinking says it is all about the action.

    I love Oprah because she is a doer. But, someday I’ll share how I was kicked out of my Oprah book club because I thought The Secret and The Power of Now were ridiculous.
    Mary E. Ulrich´s last blog ..Son with Asperger’s interviews Mom My ComLuv Profile

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