Positive Thinking – a negative act?

There’s been a lot of debate and discussion in the media about positive thinking and whether it has any real value. So here are my thoughts on positive thinking!

I do not believe that thinking positive thoughts alone changes anything in fact and reality.

I do not think by lying in my room focussing on the amount of money I want to earn, or world peace, will actually achieve either of those things.

I am not aware of any empirical, peer reviewed research that supports this idea (although I am aware of single pieces of research on the power of prayer, etc)

However, I do believe that what we think has a powerful impact on how we act, how we are perceived by others, and this DOES have an impact on how we behave and how others behave towards us.

An Example

One of the most upsetting comments often made to me at seminars etc is that somehow, by failing to think positively about a situation, people have brought harm upon themselves, or worse, upon people they care about. I have even heard some people suggesting that if people only had taken charge of their health and thought more positively about it then they would not have got ill.

There is a small element of truth in this; if I am unhappy, smoke, overeat and use drugs and medication to ill effect, then I am in a sense allowing myself to become ill. Or at the very least shortening my odds on a long and healthy life.

But to go from this position to a (in my opinion) nonsensical and judgemental all illness is brought upon ourselves viewpoint is a total distortion of the benefits of positive thinking.

But I do believe there is a huge role for positive thinking in helping people feel better and aiding recovery. And there is substantial evidence of this, particularly in the field of mental health, with well researched bona fide studies on the impact of cognitive behavioural therapy, C.B.T.

At its most simplistic level, if I think sad thoughts I make myself feel sad, or more sad. And vice versa.

When I’m coaching people one of my most frequent questions is a variant of ‘How did you feel when ***** happened?‘ Understanding how our thoughts are impacting on our behaviour helps us  possibly change that behaviour. If, as often transires, a negative train of thought is being tripped into action, recognising that pattern and reversing it (by using positive thinking among other things) can have hugely beneficial consequences. Not because there is something magical and mystical about postive thinking, but because reframing how we look at life helps us deal with it differently- and it can make us feel better!

Stoic Philosopy

As ever, I return to my old friend (very old, born AD 55) Epictetus, a Greek Stoic Philosopher who said:

We are not touched so much by events themselves, but by the view we CHOOSE to take of them”

We can’t control life’s events by merely thinking about them in a certain way, but we can control how we react to them. We always have a choice and I believe choosing to think about life in a positive way enhances all of your life, and the lives of those around you!

But what do YOU think?


Posted on January 13th, 2010 by

8 Responses to “Positive Thinking – a negative act?”

  1. Karen Redman says:

    A very down-to-earth blog, Jane. It’s good to read that there are people who believe that positive thinking alone simply doesn’t work. Positive thinking is great but action and grit are needed in conjunction with it to achieve results. Without all three being “in the mix”, nothing will ever happen!

    • Jane says:

      Sometimes the idea of positive thinking gets distorted and abused- I just wanted to be clear with readers about where I stood on the subject! Thanks for commenting. Jane

  2. Jim Connolly says:


    Thinking happy or positive thoughts, without taking the correct action achieves very little.

    I get emails all the time from positive thinking people, that work really hard, doing the wrong things. It’s only when we match the right thoughts with the right actions that we can achieve.

    Thanks Jane!

  3. Excellent post. There is a wee quote that goes

    5 frogs sitting on a log, 4 decide to jump off.

    How many are left..

    The answer (long pause!) LOL .. 5 .. because there is a huge difference between deciding and doing!

  4. Hi Jane

    A very good and balanced summary. You have the same thought as myself about Positive Thinking. It needs to be balanced with a little reality!

    Well done and well written


  5. Liz Sparkes says:

    Spot on Jane, I too have felt increasingly uncomfortable with the “lets blame the victim” message in many helping strategies, and more recently have started to experience it myself since being diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Suddenly the world is awash with people suggesting “unresolved issues” were the cause, (when the most likely trigger was a car accident!) However, I NOW have a choice. I can wallow in self pity and spend all day watching TV in pain, OR I can modify my life and see it as a blessing as it opens up new opportunities.. guess which option I have chosen, and guess which one is helping me feel so much better! 🙂
    Great post.

  6. Excellent, Jane and right where I have been thinking lately. We can’t move forward on things just by positive thinking alone and it certainly doesn’t mean you would have not gotten sick if you thought more positively as you pointed out above but you do have to do the right thing as Jim says above for the right reasons. I’m on a mission to implement in 2011. 🙂 we have to catch up sometime!

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