Why Positive Thinking Fails

Why Positive Thinking Fails

Oct. 4, 2019

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I wanted to punch them in the face.

I was a senior in high school and playing in the conference final singles match.

And I was not happy.

My body had started letting me down two years ago, and it was in full let-down mode this match. My rival on the other side of the net was very good. At my best, I possibly could win. I wasn’t at my best.

So when I predictably fell behind early in the match, I was feeling angry.

“It’s okay! You can do it!” That’s what my well-meaning supporters called out to me.

All I could think about was who I was going to punch first.

Thinking back, it seems odd.

Why was I so angry? No one was doing anything wrong.

In fact, they were being tremendously positive.

And it was that positivity that made me seethe.

In America, we trumpet “positive thinking”. (The self-help industry makes over $10 billion annually trumpeting such things.)

The advice is always the same. Having trouble? Be positive!

The problem is: being positive can fail miserably.

Positivity seems to be good medicine on the surface, but it only makes the situation worse.

“Teamwork makes the dream work!” No it doesn’t. Almost all teams fail. If they didn’t, bestselling books like Good to Great wouldn’t exist. 

“Smile! Have fun!” Smiling is actually the worst expression you can have for deep concentration.

“Seize the day!” I just came off a 16-hour shift. I’m not seizing anything today, moron.

All of those sayings seem like nice, positive advice.

Reality says they’re not.

Is there any solution?

Yes. We just have to add one important thing.

The truth.

Truth plus positive solves everything.

No matter what we say want to happen, our brains will not allow a contradiction.

If a positive thought conflicts with what we’re feeling at the moment, the positivity is ignored.

Telling ourselves to “Be positive!” when our situation is clearly negative will never help.

That’s where the truth comes in.

Instead of mindless, positive cliches, we could say, “Listen, things are tough right now. They’re not going to get easier for a while. But here are some things we can try right now…”

The truth allows us to confront our reality. We’re not hiding from anything. Everything is on the table.

Once we admit our bad situation, we’re free to start dealing with it. We’re able to start dealing with it.

And that’s when the healing begins.

Just being positive makes us rely on hope. And when our blind hope doesn’t occur? The crash is hard. And fast.

But if we truthfully admit what’s going on, we’re already at the lowest point. We don’t worry about a long-shot, hopeful wish. We accept our place at rock bottom.

And now we can start moving up.

Do you know what naturally happens once we acknowledge the bad and take a step forward?


A bleak situation can start to feel a little bit better.

Being blindly positive won’t help our situation. Neither will blind negativity.

Truth combined with positive actions is the secret equation.

That equation wouldn’t have won my match against my rival back then.

But it would have saved a lot of innocent faces from being punched.


My book is called The Inevitability of Becoming Rich, and you can find that here.