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After spending several years in social services, Nicole has finally followed her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer. In addition to her work for The Hudsucker, Nicole is also a staff writer for Womanista. An avid comic book fan, BBQ aficionado, professional makeup artist and first-time mom, Nicole can be found exploring Kansas City rich history when she's not blogging about suburban life at Suburban Flamingo.

No Substitute: Is Positive Thinking Holding You Back?


Image Credit: Fractal Enlightenment

If you can dream it, you can achieve it.

I’ve had that little slogan in my life in one form or another for as long as I can remember. Sometimes it’s been on a poster, sometimes it’s just been written in a planner. A variation of it geared towards body weight was even stuck to the mirror of my junior high school’s nurse’s office (with a hippo imagining herself a giraffe and the words “think thin!” emblazoned along the bottom.) The message was clear: if you can visualize yourself being successful you will be.

Well. I’ve been out of school for a solid number of years at this point and though I’ve visualized myself as a successful writer on par with J. K. Rowling I’m still driving a used Kia and there’s no publishing deal in sight. I also haven’t written a novel, but I’ve imagined more than a few times how great and amazingly successful my novel will be.

That might be the problem exactly, which is what a number of studies conducted regarding positive thinking suggests. The studies examine various scenarios where positive thinking could have influence and in all the studies the results are the same: groups that employed positive thinking and fantasies tended to be less prepared, successful and productive when compared to groups that held neutral or realistic thoughts and fantasies. Why? Aren’t we supposed to think positively? There are countless self-help books that preach just that. My school nurse was handing that out as advice for years! Being positive has long been the cornerstone of working towards the future! What gives?

One idea as to why positive thinking leads to mediocre results is that positive fantasies blunt the will to be successful. If one imagines themselves as being successful and getting what they want they come to expect that to be reality (after all they’ve been told to) so they don’t put forth the effort. They don’t do the work and prepare themselves for the possibility of failure. By not doing so they don’t go down the roads that would lead to the success they imagine and ultimately end up short of their envisioned goal. That isn’t to say that positive thinking is bad. One just has to do it realistically.  It’s okay to imagine yourself being successful as long as you also imagine the hard work and the steps it would take to get there.

Somewhere along the way we’ve fallen into the idea that positive thinking is a way of making one’s luck. If you’re positive you’ll be one of the few who gets all they want. They take this as luck, as opportunity, and ultimately are trying to use positive thinking as a shortcut. What’s really true is that luck and opportunity when they show up don’t look much like happy thoughts. They come knocking at the door dressed as hard work. You can’t imagine yourself reaching your goal and expect to get there if you never take the first step. If success comes to your door with a pitchfork and tells you to get to work, daydreaming about what it will be like once the work is over doesn’t make the work go away. It just makes success move on to the next person who is willing to smile and take on the challenge.

Maybe a better phrase to keep in my life is “good things come to those who work their butts off.”

And maybe it’s time to start working on that novel just in case that opportunity comes knocking.

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One Comment on “No Substitute: Is Positive Thinking Holding You Back?”

  1. joedalio September 8, 2014 at 1:15 pm #

    Thank you for this great post! You do an excellent job of describing that fine line that I still haven’t completely figured out myself. I’ve learned to allow positive thinking to provide ideas to make my dreams happen. Then it’s up to me to take those steps ☺

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