An Argument Against Positive Thinking

Joe1776

Coaching Member
Joined
Oct 15, 2013
Messages
88
Points
80
Location
Washington DC
While it is true that some people habitually see everything in a negative light, it is a mistake to tell them they need to make a habit of positive thinking to overcome their problem. Imagine three pairs of eyeglasses. One has dark brown lenses for negative viewing. Another has rose-colored lenses for positive viewing. The third has clear lenses for realistic viewing. I advocate wearing the clear lenses.

Life will deal us good hands and bad ones. The dark brown lenses are fine for dealing with a bad hand, but they will cause us to misplay the good hand. The rose-colored glasses are fine for dealing with a good hand, but they will cause us to misplay the bad hand. Only the clear lenses are useful regardless of the hand we are dealt.

Two of the best business decisions of my life were made based on pessimistic views of the near-term economic outlook. The best personal decision I ever made was based on a realistic look at a very beautiful young woman that I didn't ask to marry me.

A realistic look at the evidence makes me very optimistic about humanity's moral future long-term. But, had I been a Jew in Hitler's Germany, I hope that the early evidence of Nazi policies would have filled me with enough pessimism to cause me to get out of the country while I still had the chance.

Norman Vincent Peale, who authored the popular Power of Positive Thinking, also wrote Become What You Want To Be and You Can Overcome Any Problem. Both of those titles imply unrealistic claims. Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry was wiser when he observed that "A man's got to know his limitations."

What are your thoughts on this topic?
 

kai_uk

Member
Joined
Oct 31, 2013
Messages
28
Points
6
My opinion is that one should be able to see things in both a positive and negative way. That way better judgements can be made to avoid making mistakes. Pessimists will often miss the boat and not take opportunities presented to them, while optimists are sometimes annoying for not living in the real world.

Optimists do well in a bull market, pessimists in a bear market.
 

Joe1776

Coaching Member
Joined
Oct 15, 2013
Messages
88
Points
80
Location
Washington DC
My opinion is that one should be able to see things in both a positive and negative way...
If my post wasn't clear, I was advocating the same. I don't think being an habitual optimist is any better than being an habitual pessimist. I think we should strive to become a realist, a person who tends to view or represent things as they really are. A realist needs to see supporting evidence to become optimistic or pessimistic about the future of something.
 

gigstalksguy

New Member
Joined
Nov 16, 2013
Messages
21
Points
3
Location
Worthing, UK
I believe it is important to try to find a positive in every negative situation. For instance this year, I failed my driving test four times before passing it in July. I desperately struggled to find a positive in failing a driving test, especially, as the difference between passing and failing was being able to finally get this issue resolved and be free to drive your own car, and having to fork out another £150 (2 lessons plus another test) and go through the stressful ordeal once again. The only positive I could find is that it's better to make a serious fault in a test than when your on your own and could potentially cause an accident!

The important thing I think is to be able to plan and prepare for good and bad situations. If there's a problem in your life, or you can see a problem about the emerge, take action to deal with the problem, look for solutions. Don't make excuses, but take action!
 

pipps

Member
Joined
Nov 14, 2013
Messages
56
Points
8
I believe positive thinking can be great in some cases. And I do believe that in whatever situation, you should try to find the silver lining or at least have a laugh about it. I think this is because I have seen the effects of positive thinking and negative thinking in my personal life. My m0m had one of the worst upbringings I know and had to also deal with a lot of tragedy through her childhood and teenhood. You would never know this now though as she is one of the strongest and happiest people I know. She is always making sure I am laughing about any problems or at least try and see the silver lining or opportunities.

On the other hand, my dad had a normal upbringing and is just one of those people that always thinks of the worst and is a very negative person to be around. When I tell him about any problems or failures. He always tells me how life is s*** and it just gets worse and worse. But he has a beautiful home and a beautiful wife! He takes everything for granted where as my mum can look at near enough anything in a positive light.

I know which method I use in life and which I love, my mothers! She's the biggest inspiration to me and I will take her way of life over my dads, any day. My dad still gets moody and has strops and takes it out on all of us now, even though he is over 50! Yet, I can barely recall my mother getting in a mood and taking it out on us.
 

Will Edwards

New Member
Joined
Nov 29, 2013
Messages
19
Points
3
Location
UK
Hi Joel

Interesting topic.

In my personal development workshops, I often ask the question: are you an optimist or a pessimist? And then we usually have a bit of a debate about this stuff. Anyway, I just wanted to say that I have consistently found that pessimists prefer to describe themselves as 'realists'.

Personally, I think there is no question that optimism serves us better in life but the difficulty is that it is very much a self-fulfilling prophesy; pessimists will always be able to produce evidence to support the opposite view.

Will :)
 

Joe1776

Coaching Member
Joined
Oct 15, 2013
Messages
88
Points
80
Location
Washington DC
Will writes -- In my personal development workshops, I often ask the question: are you an optimist or a pessimist?

Why do you omit "realist" as a third option?

Anyway, I just wanted to say that I have consistently found that pessimists prefer to describe themselves as 'realists'.

Frankly, I suspect you are trying to deny the existence of actual realists to support your bias for habitual optimism.

Personally, I think there is no question that optimism serves us better in life but the difficulty is that it is very much a self-fulfilling prophesy; pessimists will always be able to produce evidence to support the opposite view.

You are right in saying that habitual pessimists can always supply evidence for their biased point of view. However, that's equally true for habitual optimists.

The words optimism and pessimism refer to predictions about the future of something. The goal of the reasoning mind is to make accurate predictions. That requires an impartial and realistic view of the evidence. I think a bias toward optimism is just as foolish as a bias toward pessimism.
 

Will Edwards

New Member
Joined
Nov 29, 2013
Messages
19
Points
3
Location
UK
Hi Joe

What I think is that our attitude, to some extent, affects what we get in life. If you accept the premise, it follows that a pessimistic attitude is more likely to lead to negative outcomes, just as an optimistic outlook is more likely to lead to positive outcomes. Both attitudes engage the same mechanics and laws of the universe, however, we generally prefer positive outcomes and so optimism serves us better.

That said, I accept your viewpoint and I think your argument is interesting.

Will :)
 

Joe1776

Coaching Member
Joined
Oct 15, 2013
Messages
88
Points
80
Location
Washington DC
Will, I do understand your premise, but I can't accept the idea that our attitudes, positive or negative, have any effect at all on the future. If there's a catastrophe headed our way, all the positive-optimistic thinking we might muster won't stop it. Our best hope is to see the evidence clearly, recognize the threat early, and take the steps necessary to minimize the damage.

We will have to put this into the agree to disagree category.

-- Joe
 

pipps

Member
Joined
Nov 14, 2013
Messages
56
Points
8
This is just my personal opinion, but I do believe being an optimist will serve me better throughout my life. People who laugh more are happy and more effective at dealing with pain than people who don't laugh as much. And I have been brought up to laugh, laugh at anything and everything. We only get one life, why spend it being a realist and thinking negatively when you can enjoy feeling good and being an optimist. I don't like to be around pessimists. I feel like they drain all of my good energy.
 

Joe1776

Coaching Member
Joined
Oct 15, 2013
Messages
88
Points
80
Location
Washington DC
...We only get one life, why spend it being a realist and thinking negatively...
Realists are not pessimists by nature. They can be optimists when there is reason for it. They are pessimists only when the evidence is discouraging.

You own a local newspaper that, after years of profitability, has begun to lose money. How do you feel about the future of print media in this digital age? Do you go on cheerily trying to hold on or do you close down your operation as quickly as possible? Rhetorical question: Is optimism smart in this hypothetical case?
 

pipps

Member
Joined
Nov 14, 2013
Messages
56
Points
8
Realists are not pessimists by nature. They can be optimists when there is reason for it. They are pessimists only when the evidence is discouraging.

You own a local newspaper that, after years of profitability, has begun to lose money. How do you feel about the future of print media in this digital age? Do you go on cheerily trying to hold on or do you close down your operation as quickly as possible? Rhetorical question: Is optimism smart in this hypothetical case?

Being an optimist, I look for ways to change and expand the company. I would've noticed that print media is not going to do well in the future and would try all sort of options to save my company and look for ways to bring 'print media' into the modern world, such as through online sources. I would not just shut the company down :) So yes, I would go on cheerily and would carry on fighting. No ones bringing me down that easy :p

I know some realists and I must say, I hate being around them. They are the ones who try to put a cap on your good mood. If I have had a good day and lots of good things have happened and I think it's going to mean something good in the future the realists I would know would be the first ones to try and put a stop on this. And share all there dreary experience or ask silly questions to try and make you feel as rubbish as them. Where as if I went to the optimists, they would support me, be happy for me and cheer me on. They would give me helpful advice and most of all, I would be having a laugh with them. :)

If you ain't laughing, you ain't living.
 

Joe1776

Coaching Member
Joined
Oct 15, 2013
Messages
88
Points
80
Location
Washington DC
Pipps, you say you know some realists, but then you describe them as chronic pessimists. It sounds to me like you haven't discerned the difference.

In the hypothetical I offered, the smart move would be to close the business quickly before your losses mounted. Your optimistic pals who would cheer you on in bucking the odds wouldn't lose their money, though. In that situation, I would try to discourage you from trying to save your company.

In Poker there's a name for players who stubbornly try to make chicken salad out of chicken feathers. They're called "losers." A winner knows when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. It's like that in Business.
 

pipps

Member
Joined
Nov 14, 2013
Messages
56
Points
8
The hypothetical story you offered, is just that. Hypothetical. It's not a real situation, and none of us are dealing with that so who are we to say how we would deal with it. You may say you would shut down the business, but if you were in the situation for real you may act completely different. It's not a valid argument to try and prove how 'optimism is not the smart option'. I could come up with tons of hypothetical stories for you about how optimism is the smart choice. But I won't, because they are not valid in any way in this argument. We are individuals, we are all different and we all react differently to different situations or problems we deal with.

And the reaction I gave to that hypothetical story is not 'being stubborn' or being a 'loser'. I said I would fight for my business and find a way to bring it into the future. But if you think a business owner who wants to try everything to save their business is being a loser and being stubborn, like I think you're trying to state. I think that says more about your attitude. And I think you would find that any business owner who has worked hard to create their business and make it a success will try every option to fight for and try and save their business.

Some people feel better being a realist, and some people feel better being an optimist. And most people are a bit of both. I'm not trying to state that all realists are pessimists. I'm simply stating my opinion that the majority of 'realists' I know don't stop complaining and are very negative people to be around. That's my opinion of the people I know, not the group of realists as a whole.

But anyway, I think we are getting slightly off topic here as this thread is about 'An argument against positive thinking'. It's not about optimism, being a realist or a pessimist. As they are completely different things. :p And I personally think that positive thinking is always the best option, in whatever situation you are in.
 

Joe1776

Coaching Member
Joined
Oct 15, 2013
Messages
88
Points
80
Location
Washington DC
Pipps, Will Edwards put the argument for positive thinking this way:

What I think is that our attitude, to some extent, affects what we get in life. If you accept the premise, it follows that a pessimistic attitude is more likely to lead to negative outcomes, just as an optimistic outlook is more likely to lead to positive outcomes.

The hypothetical I offered was based on what has been happening in reality in the failing newspaper industry. It's part of the broader collapse of the print media industry. There's no doubt it is happening; nor is there any mystery as to why its happening. A newspaper owner, steadily incurring losses, who doesn't shut down his business as soon as possible to stop the bleeding is foolish.

The hypothetical, by example, supports my position and counters Will's argument. It should be obvious that no amount of optimism by that newspaper owner is going to have any effect at all on the impending collapse of the industry.

You said that positive thinking and chronic optimism are two completely different things. I see them as melded concepts -- variations of the same theme. Would you mind explaining why you see them as completely different? What's your definition for positive thinking?

You said: I'm simply stating my opinion that the majority of 'realists' I know don't stop complaining and are very negative people to be around.

If the people you describe are realists by your definition, how would you describe the behavior of the pessimists you know?
 

MyDigitalpoint

Advisor Member
Joined
Jun 10, 2011
Messages
82
Points
45
Location
Virtual World
I read somewhere that the big mistake that people make is thinking of black and white, when there is an array of grays in between both extremes.

This way, man should not thing of just negative things, nor just positive ones, but being aware that there will be variations in the intensity of evens coming to his life.
 

Joe1776

Coaching Member
Joined
Oct 15, 2013
Messages
88
Points
80
Location
Washington DC
I read somewhere that the big mistake that people make is thinking of black and white, when there is an array of grays in between both extremes.

This way, man should not thing of just negative things, nor just positive ones, but being aware that there will be variations in the intensity of evens coming to his life.
Yes, you are right. Most of the hands we are dealt in life are not great. Nor are they terrible. Most fall somewhere between the extremes.

At dictionary.com the first definition for the word realist is

a person who tends to view or represent things as they really are.

Thus, a true realist ought to be able to see those shades of gray you write about.
 

pipps

Member
Joined
Nov 14, 2013
Messages
56
Points
8
I'm not going to mention your hypothetical story anymore because it's just not valid in this argument, neither of us would know how we would react. It's like asking people if they would stop and help someone in a busy street. The majority of people say "yes, of course I would." But in fact, only a minority actually make the first move to help someone out. You just can't say how you would react in a situation when you have not experienced that situation.

I actually think that positive thinking is a really important skill and I think it's very important not to confuse positive thinking and optimism. The difference is that an optimist (which I relate to the majority of the time) can tend to focus on just the good and the idea that everything will work out fine and sometimes this can lead to someone like me being a bit blindsided by situations that occur and sometimes not preparing for them. (this is not like me because I plan within an inch of my life haha :p) On the other hand, positive thinkers acknowledge that fact that problems can occur and that everything won't automatically just work out, unless they are prepared to take action. So I think positive thinkers embraces possibilities and look for solutions without the assumption that everything is going to be hunky-dory.

In my eyes, positive thinkers are the winners every time.
 

Joe1776

Coaching Member
Joined
Oct 15, 2013
Messages
88
Points
80
Location
Washington DC
Pipps, about my hypothetical:

Your analogy "It's like asking people if they would stop and help someone in a busy street" is a false analogy. My hypothetical was nothing like that. I gave you two facts: The business was once profitable, but was now losing money. And, the business was part of a declining industry. Those two negative trends, combined, should have been all anyone needed to know.

I labeled it a rhetorical question because the answer was obvious, or so I thought. I didn't expect you to try to answer my question.

I understand the distinction you are making in defining optimism and positive thinking, but I don't think it matters. You are right that a chronic optimist isn't necessarily a positive thinker. However, a positive thinker is a chronic optimist almost by definition, and so, in this discussion about positive thinking, the concepts are inextricably linked.

The title of Norman Vincent Peale's book, You Can Overcome Any Problem, states a strong optimistic view by the champion of positive thinking. Don't you think?