The pitfalls of Positive Thinking

Personal Development & Growth Self Awareness Spirituality

The pitfalls of Positive Thinking

I have to start by admitting that I struggled a lot with the title of today’s article thinking to myself that it is too provocative and, for some people, it goes against the teachings of spiritual masters so no one will see past it and read it. The reason I say that is that some time ago, I would not have read it myself and, if I had, I would only have done so to think of arguments that disproved the author and to get mad at him/her.

“How can there be pitfalls in positive thinking? Positive thinking is what we have to do in order to set the Law of Attraction in motion! It is THE thing to do, the best advice ever given to us by spiritual teachers. We have to be and think positive! It is the only way to healing/abundance/peace of mind etc.”

Do not get me wrong. I still fervently believe in Positive Thinking and I try to apply it in my everyday life.

What I am saying is that, as with everything in life, this commandment has to be applied wisely, in all honesty and should by no means create feelings of guilt or frustration…

Let me explain what I mean with two examples.

The other day, during a coaching session with a client who is currently unemployed and struggling to make ends meet, I noticed that he was angry and frustrated but he was trying to hide it. This person who is by nature optimistic understands the value of coaching and despite being strapped for cash has decided to invest in himself and in finding a job. When I asked him how he felt, he said he was feeling fine but when I pointed out what I was seeing in him as well as the use of words and expressions that he would normally not use, he said in an outburst “What do you want me to say? I regressed last week. I got angry at my situation. All the good work I have done attracting a job with my positive thinking and attitude has gone down the drain. I have ruined everything”.

Just yesterday, this person contacted me over the phone inquiring for coaching sessions. Among other things, I asked her what she wanted to be coached on, what her goal was and she replied “I have worked so hard to be able to think positive. I’ve trained, I’ve meditated, I have given it my all. However, there are times when I am surrounded with so much negativity that I cannot stay positive. There are moments when I lose it! I don’t want this to happen! Ever!”

Those two incidents really got me thinking. If positive thinking is meant to help us create the reality we want for ourselves in a “spiritual” way, why should it cause such reactions? Why should we beat ourselves up when we realize that we have “slipped” and we have let so called “negative” thoughts or feelings take over? Why do we forget that we are only human and as humans we are bound to err? Why do we forget that if we are incarnated (for the vast majority of us) it means that we are not perfect and that we still have lessons to learn?

When I googled “What is positive thinking?” this is the definition I found on many a website:

Positive thinking is a mental attitude in which you expect good and favorable results. In other words, positive thinking is the process of creating thoughts that create and transform energy into reality. A positive mind waits for happiness, health and a happy ending in any situation.

To take it further, I also googled how you apply it and  amongst very useful pieces of advice, I found these two which, while they have your best interest at heart, can be misinterpreted and cause frustration, anger, guilt and confusion.

1. Use positive words when talking.

2. Remove all the feelings that are not positive!

Let me ask you two questions:

1. What is a happy ending? Who, among us, can tell a happy from an unhappy ending? (click here to read the story of the Chinese farmer, if you haven’t read it already)

2. What do YOU think positive thinking is all about? Is it about lying to yourself about how you feel? Is it about denying, instead of acknowledging, your feelings or, even worse, reality? Is it about pretending that everything is “fine” even when things have gone south? Is it about lying to yourself and to others saying that it’s ok struggling financially/being ill/losing people you love/being overworked and underpaid/feeling unappreciated etc? Is it about turning a blind eye to all the injustice in the world?

Well, I have news for you! It’s not! You’ve got it all wrong!

To start with, I don’t even agree with the binary approach “positive/negative”. Something positive to us could be negative to someone else. It’s all a matter of perspective.

I much rather prefer the term compatible with who I want to be or what I want to accomplish at that particular time in my life.

How can I accomplish anything if I don’t acknowledge and accept where I’m at, that is, reality? How can I change something or myself if I pretend not to see it? How can I work on the imaginary me who never gets angry and is happy no matter what? How can I be honest with myself and say “I am unemployed/sick/angry etc. This is my current situation but I’m working on changing it?” If I am fine or if everything is ok, why do I need positive thinking? I don’t need it because it IS there by definition.

When I asked the person who had worked so hard on positive thinking and wanted to be positive 24/7 despite the negativity that surrounded her what she did to distance herself from the negativity, she said “I just try to think positive”…


So, instead of pretending, acknowledge! Instead of lying to yourself and to others, come clean! Call a spade a spade and then work on it! Work on it by being compassionate towards yourself and the situation. Work on it by practicing gratitude! Work on it by having faith and trust in the universe and in the grand scheme of things! And most importantly, TAKE POSITIVE ACTION!

Comments (5)

  1. Emotions are indicators of how stressed we are. Happiness is a state of low stress (dis-stress). Those who want to consider eustress know that it can increase happiness; when I speak of stress, I am referring to dis-stress.
    Emotions are designed to let us know, in every moment, how much stress the thought we are thinking is creating in our mind and body.
    We should feel negative emotions when we are thinking thoughts that cause us stress. Emotions let us know what is going on the same way hunger lets us know we need to eat, thirst lets us know we need to drink, and the urge to use the restroom lets us know that we need to take action.
    Positive thinking comes in when we are stressed. When we feel the negative emotion, we know we’re stressed. The response (in most modern cases) is to find a new perspective on the topic we’re thinking about (or shift subjects. For example, if you’re thinking about people 10,000 miles away that you’ll never meet that the news media shoved in your face — send them some money if you feel good about doing so — then let it go unless you’re going to hop on a plane and go help them).
    So you have two good choices — change the subject or find a different (less stressful — better feeling) perspective about the topic you’re thinking about.
    Positive thinking doesn’t mean you have to be happy all the time. It means you know the way to happy from wherever you are. It’s a lot easier not to freak out when you’re angry, sad, or frustrated when you know that when you’re ready to feel good, you know the way.

    1. Thank you for your insights! I love it that you talk about how “negative” emotions are red flags prompting us to action, the hunger metaphor, and the options. Your comments are more than welcome!

  2. Guest writers are welcome! Email me at so we can figure things out.

  3. Viviana Vargas

    This is so beautifully written! If we don’t feel the opposite of happiness, we would never know what happiness is all about. We must experience the opposite to be able to understand all.

    1. The human brain can only understand duality. It is the heart that understands oneness…

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