When Positive Thinking Becomes a Negative Force

Let’s make a distinction between two types of thinking: “realistic and responsible, positive thinking” vs. “misdirected and irresponsible, positive thinking”. The first type is defensible. The absurdity of the latter is the focus of this article.

You can be anything you want to be. Puhleeeeze!

Misdirected positive thinking at its worst is like a psycho version of fake news.

When Positive Thinking Misleads You

  1. Start by understanding your strengths and shortcomings.
  2. Does “positive thinking” prey on your vulnerabilities and hardships?
  3. Misdirected positive thinking is bad for business.
  4. Risk management is not negative thinking.

5.   Critical thinking is not the enemy.

Do you want to become the president of the United States? It’s not going to happen if you haven’t been born in the U.S. No amount of positive thinking is going to change your country of birth.

According to the Library of Congress, the “Legal requirements for presidential candidates have remained the same since the year Washington accepted the presidency. As directed by the Constitution, a presidential candidate must be a natural born citizen of the United States…” [1]

Let’s make a distinction between two types of thinking: “realistic and responsible, positive thinking” vs. “misdirected and irresponsible, positive thinking”. The first type is defensible. The absurdity of the latter is the focus of this article.

1.  Start by Understanding Your Strengths and Shortcomings

Someone once said that “positive thinking without substance is nothing more than a fairy tale for adults.”

All of us have natural talents, but also limitations. Don’t let anyone tell you that you have unlimited potential. It is simply not true.

Surely Albert Einstein had a natural knack for mathematics and then got better at it. Husein Bolt must have had a natural athletic ability and then added years of sweat and perseverance to it.

Develop to your maximum potential according to your natural talents. Now, that is a more responsible working definition and achievable mindset.

2.  Does “Positive Thinking” Prey on Your Vulnerabilities and Hardships?

The misguided prophets of positive thinking cringe at the notion that anything negative can be said about it. They minimise other people’s experiences with “feel-good quotes” and devalue their opinions.

Why do you think that books with titles about your supposed unlimited potential are best-sellers?

Is there a chance that it gives people false hope? Can it be that it taps into the misfortune and unbridled greed of people?

Would you buy a scientifically proven, peer-reviewed academic book if it is titled: “No, You Cannot Achieve Whatever You Want To”?

Your hard work, perseverance and “can-do attitude” over a long period might very well result in achieving your life dream – provided that your formula is grounded in rational thought and natural talents.

If you want to become the first astronaut on Mars, will it become true? Maybe, maybe not. The traditional route will require exceptional analytical and mathematical abilities, amongst others. If you add two plus two and it equals five, then you have a problem.

There is, of course, a new possibility. You can buy your access to the planets as a paying customer. You will have to be extremely rich, though. The closest that most of us will get to Mars is through a telescope.

Some motivational speakers are perpetuating the unlimited success myth.

If one industry can be singled out as representing “positive thinking”, it would arguably be the motivational speaking circuit.

It has grown into a whole industry promoting things like “you can achieve anything, you set your mind to” and “speak your dreams into reality”.

3.  Misdirected Positive Thinking Is Bad for Business

Famous former CEO of G.E. Jack Welch coined one of the essential business one-liners of all time: “Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.

Don’t assume for one moment that common sense is common. Ignoring solid business acumen is like booting a PC without anti-virus software. Nothing wrong with energetic optimism, though.

The challenge is just that some seemingly think that the “universe” will get things done on their behalf.

Market share and business accomplishments do not grow on trees. It is the result of disciplined steps on a daily basis over many years.

When you give up common sense and basic business fundamentals, you create illogical and unnecessary threats to your business and career.

4.  Risk Management is Not Negative Thinking

Mindless positivity would accuse risk management as negative thinking. You would constantly hear their tune: “Don’t focus on the negative”.

A quick reboot of a computer and simply plugging in another memory stick is not going to solve all business problems overnight and cause the “stars to align” before the next morning.

Sound risk management signifies awareness of all factors. Possible risks are identified and scrutinized. Precautionary measures are then put in place to protect businesses, people capital and the list goes on and on.

According to one study, it is not a lack of hope or low self-confidence that is causing the problem, but rather excessive optimism.

5.  Critical Thinking Is Not the Enemy

There’s a massive difference between critical thinking and critical attitudes.

Critical thinking is an excellent tool to better understand yourself and learn to control your thoughts. It helps to evaluate your own thought process and logical way of thinking.

Critical thinkers may help you find inconsistencies in your own logic. Moreover, people who habitually arrive at conclusions without considering alternatives should think through problems in the making, because they have the capacity to do so.

This means that critical thinking and its principles must be present from the outset and not simply added as a PostScript.

It trains the intellect to minimize distortions of thought.

Only when we are able to look at our assumptions and see how they affect our conclusions, can we examine a situation, a problem, or a mindset.

Plainly speaking, critical thinking is a rigorous combination of the following:

  • Keep the purpose and end goal in mind.
  • Unbiased analysis of the facts.
  • Objective evaluation of the detail.
  • Awareness of potential biases.
  • Consider the consequences of different alternatives.


1.            Requirements for the President of the United States / auth. Library of Congress. – [s.l.] : Loc.gov/, Accessed on 22 March 2022.