Why I Don’t Believe in Positive Thinking

Why I Don’t Believe in Positive Thinking

I’m making a bold statement today. I do not believe in positive thinking. Kind of surprising coming from a psychologist, right?


In today’s new video, I’m sharing why I’m not the biggest fan of positive thinking, and what I suggest instead.  Sidenote, this video has references to Polly Pocket, rainbows, and unicorns, so you know it’s a good one!



As you heard in the video, positive thinking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But, I’m not a fan of negative thinking either, as that’s bound to lead us down a path of gloom and doom.


So if I’m not a fan of positive thinking, and I’m not on board with negative thinking, what am I in favor of?


I’m a believer in realistic thinking.


When it comes to our thinking, the sweet spot is in the realistic. Seeing the good, the bad, and everything in between.


So often, people encourage us to “look on the bright side.” “Just focus on the positive.” And while I absolutely get that sentiment, sometimes I think that idea promotes an unrealistic idea. I don’t want you just see the negative; I don’t want you to just see the positive. I want you to notice it all, and hold it as it is.


Remember the concept of approaching your anxiety like a scientist? This trick for managing anxiety asks that you see all of the available data points, not just the bad, scary ones.


When it comes to your thinking, it’s the same. I want you to see all the available data points, accurately and proportionately.


That being said, here’s where we run into a bit of a wrinkle.


As a human, your brain will automatically go to the negative. It’s wired to do that. So you will have to direct it to see positive. You will have to turn your head to help your brain see the good.


This means practicing gratitude. Choosing to see the good. Acknowledging what’s going well. Because your brain is drawn to the negative, you have to work a lot harder to see the good stuff.



But I don’t want you to live in rainbows and unicorn land, pretending everything is lovely and all going to work out. You don’t know that. I don’t know that. Scary, painful things are a part of the human experience.


So to encourage positive thinking, asking you to only see the good, is silly. It feels unhelpful, unrealistic, and if you’ve ever been told to “just focus on the positive,” you know that it can feel dismissive.


You don’t need to wear rose-colored glasses to make everything look better than it is. But you also don’t want to have gray lenses either. You want your lenses to be clear, seeing everything accurately and as it is.


Yes, we have to work harder to see the good. We have to practice seeing the positive. But this isn’t the same as positive thinking.


When your day is filled with good, bad, and everything in between, aim to see things as they are. Acknowledge the negative and the painful. It exists; it’s important. Your reactions to those things matter.


And in addition, see the joy. Acknowledge the positive. Practice gratitude. But don’t think for a second that you need to become a positive thinker. Leave that to Polly Pocket.


  1. Denise

    I needed this today. My mother is dying. She may have awhile, but she IS dying. There are people criticizing me because I have her half in the grave. I am a realist. We don’t have much time (and I am spending most of it doing business things! And not visiting her. This sucks!) and we need to face that. I know. As time goes on, we all will become realists. But I do get what you are saying.

  2. Jon

    I know I should feel more grateful, but I don’t. You feel what you feel. I have never found that focusing on the positive helped. It feels fake, and often it’s a reach to find anything positive. Not all clouds have silver linings.

    Scary, painful things are indeed part of the human experience. That’s why the human experience is highly overrated.

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