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Is positive thinking overrated?

August 1st, 2013 by Bob Bly

A lot of my subscribers ask me how I get motivated to do my work
… but the truth is: I think the whole idea of motivation is

My subscriber RM writes: “Bob, thanks for balancing out the
often severely unrealistic optimism that often comes with
motivational literature … you’re keeping it real.”

A whole mini-industry, motivational speaking and publishing, has
evolved to help people worldwide find their motivation.

But I believe you can do what you must do to succeed whether you
feel motivated or not.

In an attempt at humorous marketing, an actor reading the script
on a radio commercial pauses and asks his producer, “What’s my
motivation here?”

The producer’s deadpan answer: “We’re paying you.”

JH, a successful novelist, says that the secret to his success
is that he writes every day whether he feels motivated to or not.

“Writing is my job,” says JH. “If I work in the chicken plant,
do I not go to the chicken plant today just because I don’t feel
like it?”

I also don’t place overly much importance on positive thinking
or optimism.

The book “The Secret” says that if you keep thinking positive
thoughts, you will get or become what you think about.

Note: I well understand the Law of Attraction. Please do not
write to me suggesting I do not and offering your explanation. I
was listening to Earl Nightingale when many of my readers were
in diapers.

The Law of Attraction notwithstanding, my experience is that
ideas, visualization, affirmations, and positive thoughts alone
are next to nothing. It is action that gets you the results.

I am by nature a pessimist. Dr. Martin Seligman, a psychologist
and author of the book “Learned Optimism,” says that an
advantage of pessimists is that they see things realistically.

As a negative sort of person, I do at times wonder whether, in
my large body of how-to writing, I may have failed to
sufficiently motivate my readers. My writing tends to be long on
actionable ideas and short on rah-rah talk.

Many info marketers motivate by promising outrageous results in
their promotional copy and their products. A lot do so by hyping
the business opportunity they are selling in their writings.

But unless the buyer follows the instructions given in the
product and keeps at it, he is unlikely to achieve the results
he wants.

I like what my colleague info marketer FG says: “I make no
promises about your results. That’s up to you.”

Nike’s iconic ad campaign encapsulates my advice to you: “Just
do it.”

Nike has it right. What matters most is not what you think or
say; what matters most is what you do.

Thomas Carlyle said it this way: “Produce! Produce! Were it but
the pitifullest infinitesimal fraction of a product, produce it
in God’s name! ‘Tis the utmost thou hast in thee: out with it,


This entry was posted on Thursday, August 1st, 2013 at 8:03 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

104 responses about “Is positive thinking overrated?”

  1. David Bley said:

    I have read a lot of self-help books and really have not gotten anything useful out of them. I spent most of my career designing medical electronic prroducts. As an engineer in the medical field, it is necessary to think of every way that a product can fail or be misused and design around all. Because of this viewpoint, engineers are often labeled as negative by those who have a “positive” attitude. Whereas, those in sales face almost constant rejection and really need an attitude adjustment.

    I would like to recommend James Altucher’s new book, Choose Yourself. I think that everyone will find it useful.

    I think that we can take a suggestion from the maker movement. A motto that I have heard associated with them is “Make to Learn, Learn to Make”.

  2. Braden Talbot said:

    My motivation doesn’t start until I have struggled through the first hour of of some creative process. That’s how long it takes me to get into it, but then I can’t get out.

    And I think I was in diapers when you, Bob, were listening to Nightingale.

  3. Denise said:

    Mr Bly,

    The self-help, motivation industry is largely for people who have self-esteem issues on either an emotional or cognitive level. So negativity doesn’t really help them. It makes them feel worse about themselves. “Negative” people who have healthy self-esteem, plus will and discipline, don’t really need such techniques. Kudos to them (and you)! But to say the whole self-help field is worthless, please, that’s like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The best people in the field, like Deepak Chopra, Sonia Choquette, Gregg Braden, Louise Hay, etc., I think dispense quality advice. These are Optimistic people who also exercise action, will and discipline and encourage people to ultimately do the same.

    The people who have really given the industry a bad name are the ones who dole out a half-baked understanding of the principles at hand — but isn’t that the case in every industry? (Ahem, the Internet Marketing industry..) Rhonda Byrne, unfortunately, is one of them. Her “The Secret” book and movie did a half-baked job of properly communicating the Law of Attraction because it largely omitted the role of Taking Action, which is a key part of the LOA equation, amongst other things. Her book completely skipped that point, and other important ones, which was terrible. It was a bad book and gave many people the reason to believe LOA doesn’t exist/work.

  4. Ashley said:

    Being a realist is NOT being “pessimistic,” unless by “pessimistic” you mean “smart.”

  5. William Reynolds said:

    Professionals rely on technique, not motivation, inspiration or happy thoughts. When we board an airplane, we don’t have to feel the wind beneath our wings — we just have to get where we want to go.

    I was once asked at a presentation, “How do you get inspired to write every day?” I answered, “I look at my bills.”

  6. Melzetta "Mele" Williams said:

    I agree, action is so under-rated this days.

    That said, the more you enjoy what you do, the easier it is to be motivated to “just do it”. Working just to “pay the bills” never worked for me long term.

  7. Sandy Gerber said:

    Interesting perspective. For people who work in fields that constantly require creativity it can seem difficult to stay motivated. Some jobs are of the nature that you arrive, punch your time card, and sit and wait for something to happen. In this case the only motivation would be to get a paycheck.

    Other jobs that require more creativity, might take more motivation in order to produce something, yet when you are in the creative process it gives you a sense of fulfillment.

    In this sense it seems that whether the positive thinking occurs before you get productive or during the state of productivity, it is still important to have some amount of positive thinking, or else, why wouldn’t you just get a different job.

  8. Marc said:

    Taking action everyday without fail is definitely a way to achieve success. I often get an email from potential clients that read my email from months prior. So yeah, I agree..NIKE has it right…”JUST DO IT”

  9. Josh Lugembe said:

    I like to read posts about positive thinking.

    But I don’t think positive thinking is overrated.

    Because what I know is that life, as a huge yet simple jigsaw puzzle has many pieces.

    One is positive thinking. Then we have action. Knowledge. Wisdom on how to use that knowledge. Eyes, ears, experience, habit (of JUST DOING IT or JUST PROCRASTINATING till motivation knocks again).

    When others around us fail because they believed in ‘The Secret’ as the whole piece then we choose do it better than them: Observation (another piece has helped us).

    Taking action is a habit, and you, Bly, got it fastened within your making.

    Anyone can learn, can decide, can discipline self to sit down and write every day.

    The question is, why are you writing? If it’s to pay the bills, then what happens when they are all paid?

    An old friend of mine asked me, ‘what would you do if all bills are taken care of?’

    I said, ‘who will do that? because I’m not planning to stop writing.’

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