Is the Power of Positive Thinking Really “All That”?


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First, I would like to thank my newest follower.  You made number 1,018.  I am humbled by your presence here, and I hope I don’t let you down.

Today, I’d like to talk a little bit about the power of positive thinking.  I hate negativity and am a big fan of the power of thinking positively. However, science has recently uncovered an unexpected negative effect associated with it.  Read on.

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Wait….what?  The power of NEGATIVE thinking???  Well, negative thinking doesn’t really have any power, per se.

New research suggests that while dreaming about positive outcomes that may happen in the future may make a person feel better in the moment, these thoughts may make the person feel worse further down the line if things don’t work out.

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A study published in the Journal of Psychological Science, that was lead by Professor G. Oettingen,  suggests that as pleasurable and helpful as positive thinking may seem at the time, it can become “problematic and cumbersome over time.”   The study found that the more people fantasized about positive things happening in the future, the more signs of depression revealed themselves up to seven months later if their thoughts had not manifested into reality.  This can result in a dangerous effect, for some.

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The rationale behind this all boils down to a lack of effort.  In other words, those who rely upon the power of positive THINKING, as opposed to the power of actually getting off their asses, working hard and DOING something positive, usually end up losing out, because they rely upon their thoughts rather than their actions.

I can buy every musical instrument in the universe.  I can take guitar lessons.  I can buy microphones.  I can tell everyone what a great musician I am.  However, unless I get out there and hustle every single day….unless I learn to manage my musicianship as a business, to promote myself by today’s marketing standards, unless I project a professional image at all times, I am never going to be a rock star.  I don’t care how positive image I manufacture in my head. Positive thinking will not accomplish that.  Only hard work and determination will do that.  Um….and I’m not even trying to be a rock star, because that is an unattainable goal for me.  I barely have any talent….so no amount of daydreaming about it is going to change that.

People who think that they can manifest positive outcomes by merely thinking about them, are living in fantasy worlds.  They anticipate success in the present moment, but are not alerted to the problems one is likely to face along the way, and can actually rob one of the motivation that it takes to actually become a success and reach his or her goals.  Granted, the fantasy world pictured below looks like an awesome environment, but that does not change the fact that it is, indeed, a fantasy.

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Positive thinking DOES count, however.

Real life experiences matter more than fantasies. So do expectations. Of one expects to do well in school because he or she has done well in the past, or expects to meet a new and better partner because  he or she met one partner that they really liked, it is more likely to happen….because our experiences teach us lessons.  However, what this shows us is that  expectations matter more than positive thinking (i.e. fantasies).

Another study suggests that when we have positive expectations that are associated with attaining success, people tend to do better than those with negative attitudes.  In other words, do not tell yourself that you can’t do a job that is within the realm of your capabilities, or you will not succeed at it.  Likewise, do not think positively with the belief that you CAN do a job that is NOT within your capabilities, because no matter how much a person with no legs fantasizes about becoming the fastest runner in the world, it realistically will not happen.  In other words, try to be realistic with your expectations.

The new study’s authors stated:

“The modern era is marked by a push for ever-positive thinking, and the self-help market fueled by a reliance on such positive thinking is a $9.6 billion industry that continues to grow.

Our findings raise questions of how costly this market may be for people’s long-term well-being and for society as a whole.”

My personal conclusion is, as always, to try to strike a balance between the belief that positive thinking can help, and being realistic in weighing one’s capabilities, resources and the likelihood of a specific outcome either way.

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In other words, strike a balance, do your best, and if you do not attain what you set out to attain, move on to the next thing.


Stacy Alexander

MS Psychology

Southern New Hampshire University


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