How ‘Positive Thinking’ Is Hurting Your Blogging Game


“Start each day with a positive thought. What you believe in becomes your truth. If you can imagine it, you can achieve it.” The fashion blogging world is rife with positive-thinking mantras. The Pinterest search results for “positive thinking” are endless.

It feels good to think uplifting thoughts. But research shows that alone, it actually prevents people from getting things done. To be productive, positive thinking needs another element.

The problem is that positive thinking fools our brains into believing we've already accomplished our our goals…

Gabriele Oettingen, a psychology professor at New York University, has studied how our thoughts affect our lives for more than 20 years. Her new book, Rethinking Positive Thinking describes how in one of her first studies on the subject, she encouraged some women to think positive thoughts about weight loss, while she asked others to imagine being tempted and cheating on their diets. A year later, the positive thinkers has loss less weight than the negative thinkers.

Many follow-up studies have shown similar results: fantasizing about happy outcomes actually hinders us from realizing our dreams. The problem is that positive thinking fools our brains into believing we've already accomplished our our goals, and makes us less likely to take the actions required to get there in reality.

So is the answer to believe the worst? Not exactly. Oettingen writes in the New York Times that the trick is to start out with inspiring thoughts, but then consider the work required to achieve your goals. She calls it “positive thinking with realism.”

Think of a wish. For a few minutes, imagine the wish coming true, letting your mind wander and drift where it will. Then shift gears. Spend a few more minutes imagining the obstacles that stand in the way of realizing your wish.”

She backs up the approach with plenty of science including a 2011 study in which she and her colleagues asked two groups of college students to write about their plans for the week. They asked one group to imagine that the week would be great. They asked the other other group to write down any thoughts about the week that came to mind. The students with the happy thoughts reported feeling less energized than those in other group. And the researchers later found that the happy-thoughts group accomplished less during that week. Oettingen published that study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

It might not make for the most pinnable slogans. “Start each day with a positive thought but then get real for a sec” is not super catchy (or is it?). In any case, if, say, you want your blog to reach 20,000 page views by the end of 2014, imagine how satisfied you'll feel when you accomplish your goal, the extra money it could mean from advertising and partnerships, and the increased number of offers that will roll in. Yay happy thoughts! But then imagine the hard work required to get there, whatever that might be: increasing your number of posts per week, better photography, pitching brands more, excellent planning, or maybe all of the above.

It's the best way to ensure your brain doesn't take a snooze in that happy place.

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10 Responses

  1. Aniqa

    This is very interesting! You hear all this buzz around positive thinking, but this article is a bit different and I completely agree with it. It is very good to have a positive attitude, but we mustn’t forget about the “to do” attitude either.

  2. Jess Zimlich

    This is such an interesting way to look at things. I like the weight loss comparison, since I went through something similar. There’s a difference between being positive and realistic thinking.

  3. Bike Pretty

    This is one of the best IFB posts of all time. The quality of the writing. The well-researched conclusions. The links to quality references. Really top notch. As someone with some big goals I want to accomplish, I am definitely going to use this technique. Thank you so much!

  4. Sidhe

    As a natural born pessimist, I’ve always been somewhat dubious about the value of positive psychology and self help books. And then I stumbled across a book called “The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking”. I loved this book, needless to say, because it is practical and pragmatic. Much like this article.

  5. Brittany Ann

    Absolutely. Research and inspiration boards are other similar devils for me, where I’m gathering more thought fodder and feeling accomplished even if my blog hasn’t been updated in days. At some point you need to put aside those pats on the back and finish something.

    It reminds me of when I was on a self-improvement kick and spent months reading self-help books, only to feel disappointed when that improvement didn’t happen automatically. I had to go out and apply what was learned, which is always infinitely harder.


  6. Carolynn Sokil (@IDoWooDoU_MK)

    While I appreciate the perspective on this…it may not include the full spectrum of what happens in the brain. There are wishful thinkers who accomplish less if anything at all – because all they do is think about what they want and don’t actually DO anything. Have you heard about BE, DO, HAVE. First we must BE in our minds the person we wish to be. Then we must DO what that person must do in order to be the person we wish to be. THEN and only THEN will we HAVE what that person we wish to be has. So…it may be that concentrating on the steps to “overcome” may encourage some to get it done! others may not be so motivated. Have you heard of Charles Haanel’s Master Key? This may put some perspective on how our brain truly works – in all it’s glorious ability. Thank you for putting this out there…it got me thinking. Blessings of abundance (through whatever method you choose to use)!