Why Positive Thinking Doesn’t Work

Share this Article

CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Session Therapist Talking To Patient

“Think positive” is an affirmation that is often encouraged in daily life and while the advice comes from a place of well intention, in practice (and from the research), thinking positively doesn’t work.

There has been recent research that shows this type of “unconditional positivity” is actually detrimental to mental health as it highlights the gap between what we want life to look like, and how we genuinely feel right now.

Often, those who experience mood disorders like depression and anxiety find it hard to “force” themselves to feel better.  While this advice is popular with non-professionals and self-help books, “thinking positive” can often leave people feeling even more deflated.

So why doesn’t positive thinking work? 

Your Brain Doesn’t Believe it

When it comes to effectively dealing with issues and problems, your brain knows your reality.

Thinking positive is like trying to convince your brain of something it knows isn’t true.  Imagine trying to convince yourself that a red pen is really blue, when you know it isn’t…  It just doesn’t work.

Trying to think positive is also a solo venture that doesn’t lead to any new ideas or solutions to your problems.  Our head is like an echo chamber and trying to repress, or live in denial (which “thinking positive” is a form of), causes problems in the long term.

By discussing issues with a friend or qualified counsellor or psychologist, people are able to get new perspectives which helps them to feel better and encourages them to keep moving forwards.

You Need to See Progress

If you are to feel better, there have to be signs that show you are taking action and improving, or that there is measurable progress in your life.

While thinking and analysing can be helpful to plan your actions or identify your problems, it is not the same as actually doing the things that will help improve your life.  Furthermore, thinking and analysing too much can actually lead to us feeling worse (an effect called “analysis paralysis”).

Imagine it like any other assignment, if in an education setting a tutor asked you for your homework and you replied stating that you hadn’t written anything down but that you’d spent a long time “thinking about it”, you would still fail the course.

Taking action is important, and though one of the hardest areas to start, is the most helpful ways to feel better.

Taking Action is Required

The idea of being able to attract positivity by merely thinking about it leaves out another important factor for success in achieving your goals, and that’s active engagement.

You can think about all you want to achieve and feel positive about it, but realistically you aren’t going to achieve your goals without putting in some work and this is especially true of overcoming mental obstacles.

This is especially true when it comes to overcoming problems such as depression, anxiety, sleep problems, trauma, and a range of other problems. 

In many instances, we need to balance thinking with action – an area that our counsellors and psychologists in Newcastle specialise in helping.

Contact us for Further Help

For more information, or to get some help achieving your goals and overcoming difficulty, contact us at Newcastle Psychologist & Counselling using the box below, or call us on 07966 645 198.

Dr Stuart Sadler (Chartered Psychologist)

Best wishes,

Dr Stuart Sadler

Lead Clinical Psychologist

Share this Article