Is Positive Thinking a Waste of Time?

Incite Insights“I tried the positive thinking thing. It just didn’t work for me — affirmations, visualizations — I think it’s all a bunch of hooey.”

How many times have you heard this? Have you said it or thought it yourself?

The problem is that positive thinking isn’t some magic formula. It — GASP! — requires some effort.

A Typical Approach to Positive Thinking

  • Wake up, think positive thoughts, and say affirmations to self in the mirror.
  • During morning commute, listen to positive thinking CD’s.
  • Sit in cubicle all day with various Post-It’s stuck all around filled with affirmations.
  • Evening commute — listen to CD’s again.
  • Get home, eat something, and watch TV until bedtime.
  • Read “success” book in bed for a while, shut off light, say affirmations and do visualizations while drifting off to sleep.
  • Wake up, repeat.

Nice ritual. But see, here’s the problem. This person never actually does anything.

It’s an unfortunate fact that a lot of people expect that just by throwing a little positive thinking into their lives that opportunity is going to come beating down their door.

What makes it even harder, is that the occasional little blip of opportunity will appear, so it looks likes it’s working. But then there’s no follow through.

Believe me, I speak from experience. Years ago, I thought this is how it worked. I’d sit on the couch and positive think the hell out of things.

But we all know the saying about wishing in one hand and… Well, you know what you do in the other, and which fills up faster.

Contrary to what gurus tell you to get you to buy their books, movies, and seminars, positive thinking is not a silver bullet.

You have to take action.

Positive Thinking Is a Powerful Tool

Go to Lowes, buy a router, put it on your workbench next to some wood, and wish for a finished project in the morning — while you sleep.

It won’t happen unless you are infested with magic carpenter elves.

Positive thinking is an amazing tool, but without action it’s a waste of time.

Because positive thinking will keep you focused and determined, but positive action will get stuff done.

This post is part of the Think Positive! Blog group writing project.


  1. Positive thinking is like a blue print to building a house. The blueprint won’t cause the house to build itself, but when you DO build the house, it will go much smoother.

    Rock on

  2. Hey Tony,
    Thanks for joining me in this project! I appreciate your support. I like your post. You are so right… action is necessary too. Positive thinking can help motivate and inspire us to take positive action. Negative thinking often leads to inertia and possibly negative actions.


  3. Shane – Great example. Focusing on the achievement is what helps drive you forward.

    Kirsten – Thanks for asking me to participate. And you’re right, positive thinking helps inspire action. Knowing that we’ll reach our goals makes it more likely that we’ll persevere.

    Mike – Awesome. That’s a perfect way to look at it.

    Peter – Thanks.

  4. Great post Tony,

    Intuitively I know that without action positive thought won’t yield results. But having said that i always figure that so long as I’m thinking “positive” thoughts my “reality” is going to look way better than if I’m “realistically cynical” so thinking positively is never a lost effort on its own.

    These days, with several miserable advertising efforts for my business behind me, I’m thinking that “thinking” and doing needs to be supplemented with “pausing and reflecting.”

    I get stressed with all my self-improvement efforts and am prone to quick decisions though so this is probably best advice for that type of person who thinks too much and worries too much.

  5. Great post and great sentiments in the comments as well.

    I’m a fan of positive thinking not just because it tends to make me more optimistic, but because I see opportunities instead of “long-shots” and that makes a huge difference in the effort I put into getting things to happen.

    Our state of mind when looking at the world around us helps change how we react to it, and what we do with the hand we’re dealt.

    Great post, thanks!

  6. I agree with your approaches to positive thinking, especially the daily affirmation. It may sound silly to some, but it’s an effective way of shaping our thought to positive thinking.

  7. How about the flip-side for proof? Think negative thoughts all day. A few hours of being fat, stupid, poor, messy, neat-freak, anal, moody, skinny, wimpy, overbearing, and paranoid would be enough to bring anyone down.

    You may not notice positive thinking as drastically, because, unless you are really in the pits, you won’t notice the effects as much as this garbage thinking.

    Keep it light, keep it happy, and keep it affirming.

  8. True. If we program our minds to do certain activities, then it wouldn’t be long until it will be registered in our mind and becomes a part of our routine.

  9. Tony, if you think you can’t do something, you’re actually rewiring your brain for failure. The more you rewire it that way, the less likely you’ll even try it. Nuff said.

  10. Martijn – Thanks.

    Sherry – Nice point. Taking time to reflect is crucial — especially looking at lessons and experiences in a positive light.

    Rich – I agree — how you look at something will affect the amount of effort you put in.

    Pamela – The key is to realize it’s only one piece of the puzzle.

    Jesse – Yep. Negative thinking will do a lot of damage, even if you’re busting your ass to make something happen.

    Dave – Making our thinking and actions part of our routine is one of the best ways to ensure we reach our goals.

    Robyn – Absolutely! So many people don’t realize the actual physical changes our thoughts and actions make on the brain itself. Fortunately we have experts like you to point it out 🙂

  11. I think you need more than just positive thinking to get anywhere in life. There are many people that have positive thinking but don’t have initiative to take the next step.

    To be successful, positive thinking is just one of many ingredients.

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