10 Situations When Positive
Thinking Doesn't Work

by Catherine Pratt

positive thinking doesn't always work

“Positive thinking doesn’t work. Things didn’t happen like they were supposed to.”

I received this comment in an email recently and I think it’s a great example of what people seem to think positive thinking will do for them and why they’re disappointed when the results aren’t as they expect.

Positive thoughts by themselves as in telling yourself to, “Think positive” or saying happy affirmations to yourself over and over again probably isn’t going to bring you that life of ease and riches that you dream about. Every day won't be one of sunshine and happiness simply because you think positive thoughts all day long.

A lot of people have seen the movie, “the Secret” and they now have certain beliefs about what positive thinking is and what it will do for them. A common belief is that if you can just change your thoughts to be positive, then sooner or later, you’ll become a more positive person and your life will just naturally improve. You’ll just automatically attract all the most wonderful things to you. Right?

The truth is that if you have the wrong idea about what positive thinking really is then you can end up being very disappointed and thinking that nothing ever works for you. Positive thinking is a mindset and it’s a way of looking at the world around you. It’s a way of using your thoughts to help you move forwards rather than letting them keep you feeling trapped and discouraged.

A lot of people also seem to believe positive thinking is something you do in order to get what you want. You could look at it as a form of bargaining as in, “If I do this, then I should get this in return”. If I think positive thoughts every day then I will win a brand new car next week. It doesn’t work like that.

So, to clear up some of the myths I think there are about positive thinking, here are 10 situations where you’ll find positive thinking won’t work for you:

1. When you use it to deny your fears or as a way to ignore reality

Here’s an example, you hear a rumour that there’s going to be massive layoffs at your company. You might think, “If I think positive thoughts, then I won’t be the one that gets laid off”. This is like the ostrich sticking its head in the sand. Positive thinking means that you hear this news and think about what positive action you can take. For example, you could:

- update your resume and prepare yourself to start looking for a new job

- apply to the company you’ve heard really good things about

- think of it as an opportunity to go back to school and get more training

- see it as an opportunity to move to somewhere you’ve always wanted to or back to your home town. Something you haven’t done sooner because you were tied to this particular job.

- see it as an opportunity to try a different career direction. Maybe you’re tired of the current industry you work in and being laid off could be the chance to try a new field of interest.

Basically, you realize that no matter what happens, you’ll be fine. You'll be open to new opportunities and will be actively searching for solutions. It might temporarily feel stressful as you have to adapt to new situations and circumstances, but everything will work out fine in the end. That's when positive thinking works for you.

2. When you use it to cover up what you really feel inside

If you feel that the world completely sucks, then telling yourself to think positive isn’t dealing with your real feelings. You can't just put a happy mask on whenever you're feeling miserable and think that's going to solve all your problems.

You need to face your feelings and go through them. You may need to forgive the people you think have done terrible things to you as well as forgive yourself. You need to look at what’s causing you to feel this terrible unhappiness and to learn to let some of it go.

By having a positive mind set, you'll know that you might have some beliefs that you need to let go but you'll be willing to change and do what it takes to improve your life. You're actually dealing with the situation and moving through the fear. This works far better and far faster than just putting on a happy mask.

3. You feel that if you think positive thoughts, good things will happen without you having to do anything for it

There's a scene in the movie, “The Secret”, where a woman admires a necklace in a shop window. Then suddenly in the next scene, someone just gives her the necklace. This is a huge mistake to think that just because you wish and think positive thoughts about something, you can just sit at home and whatever you want will come to you. If that worked, we’d all be sitting on our couches at home, imagining something like big trucks coming to our house and just dumping off hundreds of gold bars.

You have to take action to get what you want. In the movie, I think it would have been far better if they’d also shown her figuring out how she could get the necklace she admired. For example, she might have asked her boyfriend for the necklace for her birthday. Or she might think about some extra work she could do in order to afford the necklace. Just dreaming about things isn’t actually going to get it for you.

Positive thinking will allow you to know that you deserve the item and to know that you can get it. You might not know exactly how you're going to get it but you do know that you can take steps towards your goal in some way and be open to any opportunities you see along the way. Positive thinking means that you know you can get what you want but also that you're willing to take action along the way.

4. You focus on what you don’t want

If you think something like, “I’m thinking positive thoughts that I won’t be sick much longer”. Then, what are you really focusing on? You’re focusing on what you don’t want which is to be sick.

If you continue to only focus on what you don't want then you feel bad. You'll be sad, angry, frustrated or maybe even bored because you don't know what you want to move towards. You're stuck just feeling negative.

When you notice that you're feeling bad, ask yourself what are you thinking about? If you're thinking about what you don't want then turn it around and ask yourself what you do want. This way, you suddenly change your mindset into one of action and feeling more positive about things. You'll suddenly see how there are steps you can take to move past your current situation.

5. You're really trying to prove that positive thinking doesn’t work

If deep down, your belief is that positive thinking doesn’t work and that you’re just going to “try” this to see if it works or not, then your belief is going to end up self sabotaging yourself. You’ll be looking for something so you can say, “See this doesn’t work”. Your thoughts will create your own reality because you'll be looking for the evidence that backs up your belief. You'll see what you expect to see.

6. Your expectation is that if you think positive everything will always be smooth sailing

This is another one I hear a lot. If you think positive thoughts then nothing should ever go wrong and everything should always go smoothly. It's a fact of life that obstacles are going to appear at various times.

With positive thinking, you’ll be able to move past them because you’ll be looking for solutions. There will be uncertainty that you have to deal with and you may have to face some of your fears but you’ll continue to focus on what you want, instead of the obstacles. With real positive thinking, you’ll know you’ll be able to handle it.

Positive thinking doesn’t remove the obstacles but it does allow you to see past them. With positive thinking, you'll also know that it isn't personal against you. It's just an event and you get to choose whether it's good, bad, or neutral.

7. You believe that positive thinking means that nothing bad will ever happen to you

The Law of Attraction has made some people think that positive thinking is like that life preserver they seek which will save them from their life of misery. Also, that if bad things do happen to them then it’s all their fault because they must have thought negative thoughts and attracted those bad things. They believe that if they can just always monitor their thoughts and only think nice things then their life will be one of pure bliss with constant sunshine and roses. You're going to be disappointed if you believe this one.

It doesn't matter how positive you are, unexpected things are going to happen. Delays will occur, disappointments will happen, people will get sick, and you won't always get what you want.

The trick is to realize that bad things aren’t always bad. Sometimes they lead us in a far better direction but we needed that bad thing to make us realize that. It's also how you deal with that disappointment that's important. It's not just glossing over the issue and pretending that it doesn't matter. It's handling it in a positive way and not getting trapped into just thinking about how sad and hurt you feel that things didn't go the way you wanted.

Also, if bad or disappointing things happen, it’s okay to be upset about it. You don’t have to think that it’s a bad thing to think that your day just completely sucked. You don’t have to keep a smile plastered on your face no matter what happens to you. That’s the part of positive thinking where I think a lot of people get confused. It’s perfectly natural to feel disappointed when things don’t go your way. With real positive thinking though, you’ll know that it’s just one day. It doesn’t mean that your life is always going to suck. It’s just temporary. But, you're a human being and you get to feel sad sometimes.

Negative thinking will keep you trapped in that disappointment. Positive thinking will give you ideas on how you can move forwards from it or to see the benefits of what you just experienced.

8. You don’t really know what you want, just “positive things” to happen

There seems to be a belief that if you think happy thoughts all day long then good things will come to you. But, if you’re not clear on what you would consider a “good thing” to happen, then you may not notice when nice things do happen. Also, because you’re not addressing your true desires, you’re not going to be satisfied with your life because you're not moving towards anything. You're just drifting.

9. You expect others to take action or do things on your behalf

You need to be willing to take responsibility for your actions and to take control of your life. If we go back to the example of losing your job, if you just sit back and expect your previous employer to find you a new job or to provide you with some other benefits, most likely you’re going to end up disappointed. Real positive thinking gives you the mindset in order to move forwards no matter what happens. You’re not waiting for others to do things for you. You’re the one taking action.

10. You're only happy if things happen exactly as you wanted

If something doesn’t work exactly as you wanted that doesn't mean that positive thinking doesn't work. Far better for you to take a look and see what worked, what didn’t and then take different actions based upon what you've learned. You need to be adaptable and flexible. It’s also keeping your focus on what you want. Something else might happen that’s actually much better than you originally planned. But, if you think, I have to have this exact situation happen in exactly the way I imagined it, then if it doesn’t happen, you end up disappointed and think, “Positive thinking doesn’t work”.

Real positive thinking is a mindset and a way of being

Positive thinking is an understanding that what’s really important is knowing who you are and who you want to be. It's also knowing that you always get to choose how you respond to an event. It’s not just hoping for the best and waiting for things to happen. It’s taking action and knowing that you’re constantly improving with every step forward you take. This is when positive thinking works. It's a tool you use, not a magic wand. Positive thinking does work, you just have to know what it is and how to really use it.

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