How Positive Thinking Really Works

I start feeling negative when I hear, “Stop thinking negative thoughts.”

Positive thinking is important. Successful leaders are optimistic about success. But, positive thinking that results in fantasies about easy success are ridiculous.

If success is as easy as imagining it, why isn’t everyone more successful? Frankly, I never imagined my greatest successes.

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Positive thinking is part of success, it isn’t success on it’s own.

When the path ahead is difficult, imagining it’s easy is worse than foolish, it’s dangerous. One way you know you’re on a noble path is it’s filled with challenges, obstacles, and problems.

How positive thinking really works:

I just read an article on HBR that offers a working alternative to the silly idea that you can make something real by imagining it.

Wish: Close your eyes and imagine a wish that’s attainable. Take time to imagine it happening.

Outcome: Imagine if that wish came true.

Obstacles: Think of the main obstacle inside you that might stand in the way of you attaining your wish. Mull the dark side over for awhile.

Plan: If faced with the obstacle you imagined, what specific action will you take?


  1. Energizes you to work toward attainable goals.
  2. Gives direction on the path forward.
  3. Increases engagement.
  4. Enables disengagement from unrealistic wishes.
  5. Allows the pursuit of more promising endeavors rather than frustration with unattainable goals.

“Although positive thinking feels good in the moment,  it often bears a false promise. Only when it’s paired with a clear view of potential obstacles will it consistently produce desirable results.”  Gabriele Oettingen, author of, “Rethinking Positive Thinking.”

What are the dangers of positive thinking?

How can leaders tap into the power of positive thinking?