When Used Improperly, Positive Thinking Can Set Us Up for Defeat

The power of positive thought has a double edge: on one hand it helps us cope when we're faced with difficult circumstances, but if not checked with a dose of realism, it can set us up for defeat.

The power of positive thinking can help us overcome insurmountable odds, but only if used properly. Amy Morin of Psychology Today writes that people who have a tenancy to look on the bright side of life, indeed, enjoy healthier marriages and higher incomes. However, being overly optimistic could lead to disappointing results down the line when it turns into unrealistic expectations.


Morin, a clinical social worker, explains the difference between positive thinking to cope and looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. The former helps us manage tough situations, while the latter can set us up for defeat. For instance, she writes:

“By saying things like, 'I'm going to focus on all the positive things that will happen when I lose weight — I'll have more friends, earn more money, and be able to meet the person of my dreams,' an individual romanticizes the likely outcome.”

She even cites one study, published in the Journal of Social Psychology, that suggests too much positive thought will result in less motivation to pursue your goals. The authors of the study write:

"As my colleagues and I have discovered, dreaming about the future calms you down, measurably reducing systolic blood pressure, but it also can drain you of the energy you need to take action in pursuit of your goals."

The damaging illusion of too much positive thinking can make some use it as if it had magical properties. She writes:

“That doesn't mean you shouldn't hold out hope or look on the bright side. But deluding yourself into believing, 'If I think positively enough, everything will work out,' isn't realistic. Idealism doesn't prevent problems.”

She offers as a way to curb fantasy idealism, people should combine positive thought with actions to better realize attainable goals. It's important to have a positive view of the future and by contrasting it with the action steps necessary to achieve a goal, as well as possible obstacles, people may reach a happy medium somewhere between optimism and realism.

Read more at Psychology Today.

Photo Credit: Andrew Yee/Flickr

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