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Beyond Blue

Russell Bishop: Why Positive Thinking Just Doesn’t Work

Huffington Post Editor-at-Large Russell Bishop has an interesting take on the positive thinking debate in his post “Why Positive Thinking Just Doesn’t Work.” To get to the article, click here. I have excerpted from it below.



Six weeks ago, I started a series on aspiring to an inspired life with an article suggesting there may be more to life than your ‘to do’ list. Last week, I posed the question, “Are You Doomed By Your Circumstances?”

This one article seems to have pinched a nerve in a number of people. Actually, several nerves. In fact, over the past year or so, these pinched nerves have erupted in various forms, revealing a pattern of complaint. Some of the complaints come from obviously caring and well intentioned people, some from people in apparently difficult or even desperate conditions, and some from the usual group who seem bent on shooting down anything positive or uplifting.


A sampling of common complaints:

• Positive thinking doesn’t work
• Some circumstances are beyond repair
• Not everyone can succeed in life or reach the top

Positive Thinking Doesn’t Work

Surprisingly I couldn’t agree more – positive thinking doesn’t work! Unless, of course, it does.

Positive thinking alone is unlikely to change much of anything in the physical world. You can sit there and hope, pray, project, imagine, fantasize, visualize, make up great affirmations and just about any other kind of positive thinking idea you can imagine, and not much will change – at least not without actually getting involved, without taking some form of action towards what you want more of in your life.


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  • Larry Parker

    Sounds like Bishop, like Vince Lombardi (or maybe Norman Vincent Peale) is saying that positive thinking isn’t everything — it’s the ONLY thing.
    I think most people on Beliefnet know my views on The Secret and other “out there” views of positive thinking. (Note that I agree that positive thinking is a valuable tool under many BUT NOT ALL circumstances.)
    But I’ll say that if you want to see the obnoxiousness of the logical extreme of positive thinking, you could do worse than the lead character of the recent British movie “Happy Go Lucky” — a protagonist so saccharine-sweet that you end up wanting to throw things at the screen to get her to see reality.

  • Barbara altman

    At first I was a bit taken back by “Positive thinking doesn’t work.”
    It does work. Then I read more. I completely agree. Positive thinking without action is fruitless. We can visualize twenty four hours, but if no work is done, we’ve just wasted one whole day. Thinking plus action equals results. I can think about getting fifty piano students, but if I don’t advertise and network, it is less likely to happen. We have to move our feet to implement our goals and dreams.
    Barbar Altman, author of soon to be released “Battling Depression, Psychosis and anxiety.”

  • Josten

    I agree with you that positive thinking without action is useless. To me that is the reason why many people fail to believe in the power of positive thinking.

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