Positive Thinking Is NOT Enough – Here’s Why and What to Do Instead

Nyaima Smith-Taylor
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Just think positive! Have you ever been told this when you asked someone for advice during a challenging time?

Recently, while sitting in a cafe, I overheard a conversation between two women. I couldn’t hear every detail, but it seemed that one of them had lost someone dear in a tragic accident.

As she relayed the circumstances to her (I assumed) friend, the tears began to flow. I could feel the sorrowful tension building. Her friend came to her aid, reassuring her that all would be well, despite how it looked at this moment. She encouraged her to think positive and keep her spirits up.

It was obvious that the grieving woman appreciated the support, but I was not sure if, “continue to think positive,” moved her dial.
 

The misuse of positive thinking is pervasive. It has been taken out of context on a large scale.

 
Although I am a positive-thinking junkie, I walked out of the cafe wondering what actually is the best advice to give a grieving person, or anyone else for that sake.

I thought about times my life was a mess, and the last thing I wanted to hear was “just think positive.” How many times had I offered this same advice in my attempt to comfort someone I loved?
 
 

How Did We Get Ourselves In This Positive Thinking Mess?

It is difficult to pinpoint the precise moment positive thinking went awry and became the cure-all for every difficult situation. But the misuse of positive thinking is pervasive. It has been taken out of context on a large scale.
 

 
 
Think about a time when you took something out of context, like a statement, or someone’s actions, and you came to an inaccurate conclusion. This is what is happening to positive thinking.

Of course when used right, positive thinking is a powerhouse, kick-butt tool. The Mayo Clinic lists the following health benefits of positive thinking:
 

  • Increased life span
  • Lower rates of depression and distress
  • Greater resistance to the common cold
  • Better psychological and physical wellbeing, specifically with cardiovascular health
  • Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress

 

But like any tool, positive thinking needs to be used at the right time, the right way, and for the right purpose. Let’s dive into a few common mistakes people make with positive thinking.
 
 

Here Are 4 Pitfalls of Positive Thinking:

 

1. A Functional Toolbox is Stocked With More Than One Tool

Positive thinking is a single pillar in the massive self-help and personal-development edifice.

Marketing guru, Jay Abraham, has a business growth strategy he calls The Power Parthenon. The idea behind the strategy is to combine several marketing approaches to produce geometric growth in your business.

While each marketing action can produce growth, it’s the combination that creates explosive growth. If you try to build using only one pillar, you create a flimsy diving board instead of a solid structure.

This is just like positive thinking. It works best when placed alongside other pillars, like wellness, self-awareness, meditation, etc., to create a solid emotional and spiritual foundation.
 

Positive thinking is a single pillar in the massive self-help and personal-development edifice.

 
This is also illustrated in yoga. Think about the yoga poses: each pose benefits specific physical and emotional areas. For example, Half Camel Pose with one hand over heart center can open your heart and activate your Heart Chakra.

Crack Your Heart Open With These 7 Heart Opening Yoga Poses (Half Camel Heart Center Variation Included!)

While this pose moves energy, it’s only one piece to fully open all your chakras. You need to sequence yoga poses in a strategic way to experience wholistic benefits.

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2. The “This Thought is Good; This Thought is Bad” Trap

What are the real benefits of classifying one thought as positive, and another one as negative? Are negative thoughts less valuable than positive? Of course, they are not. Negative thoughts provide valuable feedback.

Esther Hicks (often referred to as Abraham Hicks), a well-known spiritual teacher, talks about the power of feedback. She uses the following example: “When your gas tank in your car gets low, you don’t cover it up with a smiley face sticker, do you?”

She captures how unproductive it is to cover things up with shallow positivity. Your thoughts give you in-depth insight into your current state of being. They provide valuable feedback.
 

“When your gas tank in your car gets low, you don’t cover it up with a smiley face sticker, do you?” -Esther Hicks

 
Marisa Murgatroyd, the mastermind behind Live Your Message, shares a similar sentiment: “There is no such thing as failure, only feedback.” Likewise, the divide between positive and negative thinking is arbitrary – they both offer feedback.

In his article The Problem With Positive Thinking, Joel Minden, Ph.D., defines a process similar to Abraham’s. He suggests that people aim for “accurate” and “useful” thoughts instead of positive.

With the combined advice of Abraham, Marisa Murgatroyd, and Joel Minden, redefine your definition of positive thinking.
 

3. Binary (Language) is Useful to Computers, Not Humans

Positive thinking sometimes puts people in a “downward-spiraling-duality-trap.” This or that thinking puts thoughts into little boxes that strips them of their complexity, reduced to just one label (positive/negative).
 

 
 
Marisa Murgatroyd has another concept she calls Possibility Thinking. Take your negative/positive thoughts out of that polarizing box and let them roam in the land of possibility.
 

4. Positive Thinking Mistake: “If I Only Think Positivity, My Life Will Be Perfect”

It doesn’t matter how many positive thoughts you think, the ebbs and flows of life will happen. People who have unrealistic expectations try to use positive thinking to shield them from the woes of life.

This is false security. Births, deaths, love, anger, hate – this is the landscape of life – dynamic and beautiful.
 

People who have unrealistic expectations try to use positive thinking to shield them from the woes of life.

 
The point of positive thinking is to prime your mind for a positive attitude, which stimulates optimism and makes it easier to deal with what life brings.
 
 

Take the Problem With Positive Thinking and Turn It Into Healthy Positivity Instead – Here’s How

 

Lean Towards What Makes You Feel Better and More Inspired

This subtle shift takes the pressure off feeling like every thought has to be prim and proper. You have access to the full spectrum of emotions that exist.

For example, if you are feeling hopeless, which is at the bottom of the emotional spectrum, anger will provide relief because it is a step up the emotional scale.

However, if you tried to move from desperation to appreciation, it would be nearly impossible. It would be like going from $100 in your bank account to $1 million in one thought.
 

Stop Being Prejudice: Appreciate All Your Thoughts

As suggested earlier, appreciate all your thoughts. They are yours, and you think them for a reason. Don’t you appreciate having a range of emotions and thoughts? Doesn’t it make you feel alive?
 

The point of positive thinking is to prime your mind for a positive attitude, which stimulates optimism and makes it easier to deal with what life brings.

 
If you master decoding the reason you are thinking your thoughts, the specifics won’t matter because you will always be empowered to adjust them.
 
 

Positive Thinking Works When You Work It

Positive thinking is a powerful tool that can create real value and support an overall positive disposition. However, just like a hammer or wrench, it has limits to what it can do and is only helpful when the person uses it the right way.

Let positive thinking be one of the many tools you use from your conscious living toolbox.

 

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Nyaima Smith-Taylor

Personal development writer and coach Nyaima Smith-Taylor is a trusted advisor to high-performing, entrepreneurial, and badass women. She helps them nurture their inner perfection so they can crush their goals and achieve their biggest visions. How congruent is your outer life with your inner world? Take her short quiz to find out.

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