it’s not your positive thinking that’s the problem – it’s your lack of action that’s getting in the way

I really dislike the term “positive thinking”. Not because I don’t like positive thinking – I’m all for it. Rather, because many people have a skewed idea of what it means and act as though it’s a bad thing.

I find that when people have a negative view of positive thinking it’s because they are confusing it with Pollyanna, happy-sunshine, ignore all the problems, ain’t life wonderful thinking. A recent blog on Fast Company’s website “How ‘Positive’ Thinking Sets You Up To Fail” referred to research that indicates that “positive thinkers” are less likely to take action.

If you read the blog you’ll see that what the author’s really talking about is that happy-sunshine daydream thinking without action sets you up to fail. I’m in total agreement. Mr. Positive Thought himself, Zig Ziglar famously commented that “Positive thinking won’t let you do anything but it will let you do everything better than negative thinking will.” Jim Rohn said similarly, “Affirmation without action leads to delusion.” It’s not positive thinking that’s the problem, it’s the lack of action.

Let’s quickly look at these three types of thinking:

  • Happy-sunshine thinking: belief that all is going to work out, only look at the good of any situation, all you have to do is think good thoughts and all will come to you. This is what many people do when they try to “think positive”. Putting your head in the sand is just denial. It has nothing to do with positive thought.
  • Negative thinking: belief that nothing is going to work out, there is no good in any situation, why bother thinking good thoughts because nothing goes right anyway. This is victim mentality. A refusal to try with a built in excuse for failure.
  • Positive thinking: recognizing the obstacles and challenges and problems of a situation and taking action with belief that it can be made to work out. The author of the blog refers to this as “good negative thinking”. But this is NOT negative thinking of any kind. It’s simply being real about the obstacles and acknowledging that life is hard and anything worth achieving is going to take some effort. We have to believe that we can overcome the challenges or we won’t attempt it. That’s positive thinking.

Notice that happy-sunshine and negative thinkers both operate on blind faith and neither takes action. Positive thinkers assess the reality, devise a plan, and take action because they know that thought without action is worthless.

Imagine a person wants to lose weight. The happy-sunshine thinker visualizes it, thinks good thoughts, but takes no action. The negative thinker gives it up as hopeless, blames their metabolism, and does nothing. The positive thinker recognizes that losing weight is a challenge, it will involve changing a lifetime of habits, and acknowledges that there will be set backs, but has confidence that they can do it. Then they develop a plan and – here’s the important part – they take action.

So what’s this look like in business? The happy-sunshine thinker ignores the recession, keeps the same expenses, pricing, and strategy as before and merrily goes out of business. The negative thinker believes confuses a slowing of the economy with a stopping of the economy, and either gripes and does nothing (except letting customers and employees know how bad they have it) or completely overreacts. The positive thinker acknowledges the situation and adjusts their strategy accordingly while keeping faith that with the right action they will get through it.

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