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The 5 Myths of Positive Mental Attitude

Photo by Children At Risk Foundation
A positive mental attitude is the starting point of all riches, whether they be riches of a material nature or intangible riches. ~Napoleon Hill

Okay, so there’s no myth that I am a positive person, or at least striving to be one. However, I am aware that I’m not positive all the time. I am continuously working to become conscientious of my choices, thoughts and reactions. I frequently get asked about positive thinking, and I wanted to first clear up some points of confusion.

Positive people are not living like Pollyanna in some dream world with no hold on reality. Positive people may have an attitude like Pollyanna, but they are not necessarily unrealistic. Positive person are very capable of understanding the reality of a cynic. They just change their mindset to see the reality from a different perspective.

With so many myths about positive mental attitude (PMA), it’s important to separate the truth from the fiction. Let’s explore some of these myths and dive into the truths behind them.

 

Myth #1: Negative thinking is more realistic.

Have you ever heard a negative person say that they aren’t negative; they’re just being ‘realistic’? This myth keeps people locked in a negative reality of their own creation.

A person’s thoughts, whether positive or negative, do have an effect on their environment. If you think negatively, your mind will automatically seek out confirmation that the world is a terrible place. Seeing is believing, and your mind reinforces your belief that reality is negative. See how it’s a downward spiral of negativity? If you expect negative results, you are less likely to take risks and try new things. Negative thinking masks your impressions in fear.

Positive thinking works the same way. With a positive mental attitude, you’ll seek out positive choices and expect positive results. This helps you move past fear and try things that others may believe “can’t be done”. This typically end in positive results.

A person’s thinking helps determine their reality. Negative thinking is realistic for the negative thinker, but only because their thoughts make it true. Ironically, the positive thinking also sees reality, just in a different light. Both types of people see their own reality, and both consider it the reality.

 

Myth #2: People with a PMA expect moneybags to fall out of the sky if they wish for them.

Those who don’t believe in positive thinking imagine that positive thinkers expect that their desire will manifest itself if they simply think positively about it. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Everyone who accomplishes anything – whether it’s earning a million dollars or becoming an award-winning actor – accomplish it the same way: by taking action. Positive people have an edge because they believe the object of their desire is attainable. They come from a ‘can-do’ mindset. Their actions are not based on fear or scarcity, but based on possibilities. Thus, a positive attitude helps a person manifest their desires, not simply by dreaming about it, but by inspiring the person to take action.

It’s the action behind the attraction that makes the dream come true.

 

Myth #3: Positive thinking doesn’t change reality

People who believe this myth see a problem and believe that positive thinking will only ignore the ugliness of their reality. The truth is positive thinking doesn’t ignore the problem; it helps you see the problem in a new light. In fact, you don’t even see ‘problems’ as problems. Think about it; regardless of how you react to an external situation, the situation will still be the same. If being upset doesn’t change the outcome of a past situation, wouldn’t it serve you, and your health, to see the positives?

A positive mental attitude creates a mindset of abundance, enthusiasm, and solutions. Instead of thinking about what can’t be done, a positive thinker will not be constrained by ‘can’ and ‘cannot.’ A positive thinker is free to think of new ways to solve problems because they are not limited by fear of failure. When we are in a state of abundance, we provide a fertile ground for possibilities and making dreams a reality. We are in a state of allowance, openly accepting the gifts of life to flow to us. When I realized this principle and shifted my thinking habits, miracles started popping up in my life.

A positive mental attitude can – and indeed does – change reality by allowing a person to act in an entirely different way, thus harvesting entirely different results.

Successful men become successful only because
they acquire the habit of thinking in terms of success.

Napoleon Hill




 

Myth #4: Positive thinkers have no clue about the real world.

It’s easy to believe that people with a positive mental attitude have perfect lives and never dealt with real world hardships. Maybe people wouldn’t be so positive if they’d endured a few difficult times in their lives. But the truth is that this is really just a justification for negative thinking.

I don’t know a positive person who hasn’t had real and serious trials in their lives. They’ve faced disappointment, death of loved ones, physical handicap, and pretty much the range of human experiences we all deal with. The difference is that these people didn’t let those experiences change their outlook. A positive mental attitude means that you are in control of your own thoughts and feelings.

Responsibilities = our abilities to control our responses.”
– paraphrasing Steven Covey

Every person has sorrows and trials that test them to the core, but only some people have the courage to act positively and with grace. A positive mental attitude doesn’t mean a person has sidestepped a hard life. It simply means they choose to see and take part in the good things life has to offer, as opposed to only the negative.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl an extraordinary Holocaust survivor talks about finding happiness and purpose while in a Nazi concentration camp. In his book, he argues that “we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose.

Between stimulus and response, there is a space.
In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and freedom.

Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

 

Myth #5: People with a PMA are annoying and cheesy.

Okay, let’s admit it, some types of positive people are a little cheesy. We’re talking about the kind who spout platitudes and expect everything to be perfect no matter what. But truly positive people aren’t Tony Robbins infomercials. Positive people have real thoughts and have setbacks and discouragement just like everyone else, but they are also resilient and look for ways to stay positive. And that’s not cheesy, it’s just healthy thinking! And smart living!

Truly positive people do not expect perfection, but rather, they expect that every event is the best thing that could have happened in that moment. It is the only event that happened in that moment. Now that you’re considering the event, that moment has past. You cannot go back and change the moment, so you have to accept what happened was the best, and move on to the next moment.

Even in external circumstances that seem out of our control, we can always control is our internal response. In fact, it’s the only thing we have absolute control over.

 


 

Final Thoughts …

I genuinely believe that every moment is a gift, thus regardless of what is happening, it is perfect. There is always a gift, or lesson, to be taken away from that moment. I suspect that some of you are instantly thinking about death scenarios. “What is there to gain from death?”, you ask. Life is full of birth and deaths, this is reality. When death and change happens, we have to embrace reality, pick up and handle it to the best of our abilities. When this happens, we will gain different lessons due to our own stories, but perhaps the lesson could be:

  • a realization to spend more time with your family
  • to give people more respect
  • to realize that life is limited and that you should go after your dreams
  • [insert your own lessons and realizations]

Please note that when I speak about death, I’m not just referring to death of a person or animal, but rather death of time, of change. Most of us instinctively resist change and hang on to the past with dear life. If you think about it, we are experiencing birth and death constantly, every moment consists of them; with each new moment, it is the death of the last moment and a birth for the current moment. That’s it. Embrace it with grace.

Next time you perceive that something crappy is happening to you, instead of reacting with anger and frustration, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Where is the gift in this situation?
  • What did I learn from it?
  • So what? What can you do now? (If the moment has passed, just accept it!)

What are your views on positive mental attitude? What are some myths you have about them? Share with us in the comments.


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About the author

Tina Su is a mom, a wife, a lover of Apple products and a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) for our motivational community: Think Simple Now. She is obsessed with encouraging and empowering people to lead conscious and happy lives. Subscribe to new inspiring stories each week. You can also subscribe to Tina on Facebook.

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112 thoughts on The 5 Myths of Positive Mental Attitude

  1. Willard,
    You might like Positive Attitudes: All Powerful…or Maybe Just Warm and Cozy? at AlixNorth.com. Alix has been through cancer and was naturally cheery during it, but not because she thought it would help her chances of surviving. It’s just the way she is. As she says, “A positive attitude helps you get through the day, if you can come by it authentically.” She also says sadness, depression, fear are also normal reactions to serious illnesses, and when you feel that way you shouldn’t have the added burden of worrying that your attitude will make things worse.

    Tina,
    Do me a favor and read Living With Me: It’s a Laugh a Minute and tell me if you think Alix’s imaging dark scenarios makes her a negative thinker. In terms of the Enneagram she sure sounds like a Six, always planning for possible bad things to happen. She’s not fatalistic about it…she just makes plans to deal with them. In the post she says if she prepares for things they won’t happen. Instead of coming from an attitude of abundance, believing the universe will ultimately support you if you have right beliefs and right action, she believes the universe won’t do you in if you’re prepared. Obviously the post is partially tongue-in-cheek, and it cracks me up because I’m a Six myself. It’s one of the funniest and wisest things I’ve read in a long while. Wise because she understands that different personality types react in different ways and because she has a sense of humor about it.

    Again, Tina, thanks for the food for thought and for starting a great discussion. :)

  2. Jason

    Well maybe not quite the same thing, but #1 is sort of wrong, at least that’s what my professors and the studies I read in the process of getting my psychology degree were showing. It has been shown that pessimistic people do in fact have a more realistic appraisal on situations. Positive ones have a tendency to “coast” and glide over things that they really should be paying more attention to.

    If you have any real data to back up your claim I’d be happy to change that opinion, but as far as I’ve learned, #1 is probably actually not accurate.

  3. So true, unfortunately the people who believe those myths are very convinced of them.

  4. My introduction to PMA was from arguably one of the greatest hardcore bands Bad Brains. If it is good enough for HR it is good enough for me.

  5. Positive thinking, in essence, is celebrating life. Yes, it does have its hazards, as you rightly said in this fine article above, like people thinking simplistically about your view of life and problems.

    But yes, to think I Can, I Shall, because I Learn is a great way to deal with life positively, to feel strong and charged, to be a change-agent.
    Suekha Tenneti Venugopal

  6. Mark

    “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” -Abraham Lincoln

  7. Jay

    Wow, am I in awe with this post or what? This is so interesting that I subscribed to your feed!

    I mean, I’m not a positive minded person and I don’t think I will be, but the points you touched up on are very interesting. And yes, those EXTRA positive acting people do sometimes annoy me because of their cheesiness. LOL!

    But great post! I look forward to reading more…

    Jay

  8. Tina,

    Extremely well written. I completely agree with all the five myths.

    Positive thinking is half the battle won. Once we can visualize ourselves achieving success in our head, it is only a matter of translating it into action.

    I run a blog at http://www.positivityhub.com/ and I focus on positive thinking and realizing human potential. I would be happy if you visit and comment on my writing.

  9. This article does a great job responding to the common cognitive distortions that we so easily believe after life’s difficulties get the best of us. There is a great site that has a few self-assessment questionnaires called Authentic Happiness run by Martin Seligman.

    I also linked to this story on my Psychology related News site Poppsychnews.com

  10. Being a student of Hill, Haanel and the Book of Of Proverbs for almost 50 years in my Marketing career, I have realized daily, the POWER from Within.

    My life has had its share of what Society would call “tragedies”…

    So what, that is why I don’t associate with “society”

    I have never had to quit falling forward. My family has always wondered what it would be like to live like “the Mob” and rely on someone else to provide sustinence.

    You and your Readers might enjoy downloading 119 episodes of our Live Talk Talk Show, discussing the daily application of the principles offered in the Book of Proverbs, Think & Grow Rich and The Master Key….
    Better yet, JOIN us LIVE!
    The Focus Society Of Overachievers

    Thank you again for insights and clarity
    Chuck

  11. Judy

    Being positive works as long as you haven’t been diagnosed with depression, aren’t going through menopause, have a physical challenge you’re dealing with etc.

    I have friends who are always “up”, always “happy”, and if someone brings up a subject that’s less than “positive”, or share feelings about being down, they don’t know how to handle it. It bothers them that people around them aren’t smiling and happy.

    I understand that being positive, in general, is a good thing. But being human comes with a lot of emotions – being mad, angry, depressed, etc. We can’t ignore those emotions, or write a person off because they feel a certain way. After all, we’ll all go through a period where we don’t feel like being “positive” for many reasons, it’s human nature, and we shouldn’t feel bad about it. Issues need to be worked through.

    So, in closing, If someone is depressed, that’s OK. Or, if they’re not feeling positive about things, that’s OK too. It’s natural. However, If it goes on for a long period of time, recommend they see a doctor.

  12. As a positive thinker myself I find that my life is far less stressful than would have been had a negative thinker lived my life. Although there are profound challenges in everyone’s lives, I think that it always helps to remember too the good things in one’s life (such as family, home, God…), and that it helps to recall these good things (out loud if you must) while facing adversity.

    I am a Muslim, and I have found that it is deeply comforting to seek refuge in God. The Qur’an (Koran) reminds us that every human shall be tested by God, and it is their response (positive or negative) to these tests that they are judged by. It also reminds us that we must be thankful of ANY measure of blessings we receive in life. Indeed life itself is a gift. Whether you believe in God or something else, or even if you are atheist, these teachings are universal and everyone should learn from them.

  13. mac

    Willard:
    “being positive won’t change the fact that you are going to die…alone. so no matter how much you put on a smiley face and pretend everything is just cheery and great, everything you do and say doesn’t matter.”

    Thanks Willard! You must be English ;) Seriously, thanks, you illustrate wonderfully Myth #3. If nothing we say or do matters, then why say or do anything! But, inaction is an action, in that even sitting in a closet with lights out contemplating the pointless of life, is doing something. The difference between that and rejoicing in that fact that we are alive and able to feel pain, love, sorrow and joy, is that the latter brings an awareness that this brief brilliant flash that is our life is an opportunity to saver the smell of fresh ground coffee and the smile on a stranger’s face.

  14. Hi

    Another great post Tina, I felt compelled to thank you on my Blog. I hope thats cool.

    My only additition to all the interesting perspectives being presented here is that In my opinion I think the effects of a positive mental attitude or out look, can be seen clearly when you observe how people learn and once you open you mind to the possibility of absorbing something you so readily do so.

    Also it seems like if you have a postive outlook you literally project it out and people can pick up on that. I don’t intend to sound all hippied out but you can project a good energy or a bad energy, it’s the very reason that you can sit in a room with some in a bad temper and you will know even without looks or words exchanged.

    Its a sensory gift and I think if we learn to master it we would all be better for it.

    One

    Kwamsta

  15. Good topic. Our perception of positivity, authentic happiness and joy is a product of how we define these things and how we define fulfillment. Often fulfillment gets erroneously associated with being cheesy and blissful. Not so. Fulfillment is a radical move and often involves hard, painful and uncomfortable choices. Look at some of the great life changers of today: Gandhi, Martin Luther King. People who have experienced traumatic events yet keep going also fit into this category. Christopher Reeve, for example. They all had a burning desire for fulfillment yet their lives were not always blissful. What fuels positive thinking is honoring the passion or fire that lies within because it is either that “thing”… or nothing.

    “Truly positive people do not expect perfection, but rather, they expect that every event is the best thing that could have happened in that moment. It is the only event that happened in that moment. Now that you’re considering the event, that moment has past. You cannot go back and change the moment, so you have to accept what happened was the best, and move on to the next moment.”

    This is a great point! Negativity is often a result of unmet expectations. When we disengage from our ideal outcome of a particular day, a conversation, or an event, we give positivity room to grow. Thanks, Tina!

  16. Reply to Jennic

    Hi

    Your story intrigued me so I felt I better write you a few words, It is hugely painfully when there is a loss of life, it seems at time we been dealt a bad hand. I was born with sickle cell anemia a blood disorder which can be very painfully and as a teenage I was quite an angry kid feeling quite hard done by because I couldn’t be like everyone else.

    Somewhere along the lines, I realized that so long as I was alive I had nothing to be fearful of. Since then I have made a conscious decision to enjoy the ride of life no matter what may come, some will be good and some not so good but if I keep in my that I will come out the other side the bad is not so bad and the good is even better. I hope all this makes some kinda sense.

    Peace

    Kwame

  17. On:

    “Truly positive people do not expect perfection, but rather, they expect that every event is the best thing that could have happened in that moment. It is the only event that happened in that moment. Now that you’re considering the event, that moment has past. You cannot go back and change the moment, so you have to accept what happened was the best, and move on to the next moment.”

    I agree with every thing except the initial assumption. Specifically “they expect that every event is the best thing that could have happened in that moment”. I consider myself to be a very optimistic person but I do not think every event that has occurred was the best event that could have occurred. Sometimes in fact, they’re downright terrible. Is this negative? Perhaps, but I don’t think so as my attitude is one that looks at the event, critiques and learns from what led up to it, and is confident and optimistic that the repercussions of that event can be dealt with and turned into a positive.

    I like Terri’s comment that “Negativity is often a result of unmet expectations.” This is bang on. Said unexpected events can easily lead to negative thoughts. I feel that PMA is overcoming that tendency to become negative and always move forward, but not to deny an event had a negative impact or to blindly accept it was the best thing. In my mind, failure does happen. Having a PMA though means that we can fail forward (i.e. move on and grow) rather than simply fail.

  18. Wow, you guys. Thank you for the thoughtful discussion. I will try to respond to specific comments. I’m so impressed with the insights each of you have brought. Thank you for sharing.

    Doug Kyle,

    “PMA is overcoming that tendency to become negative and always move forward, but not to deny an event had a negative impact or to blindly accept it was the best thing.”

    You are absolutely right. I agree with you. Perhaps I should have reworded my initial statement. Instead of the “best thing” which can be mis-interpreted, how about, “Truly positive people do not expect perfection, but rather, they know that any situation which comes their way can be handled with grace and optimism.”

    Denying is resisting what IS. What resists persists.
    However, what we considered Negative is a label that we have placed on the event. Yes, some event is downright terrible, having PMA means to dive in and say, “Okay, here’s the situation, is there anything I can do to change this outcome? If not, then I move on and see what I could take away from this situation? or use this experience to improve someone else’s life.” I struggle with this at times. The only thing we can expect from life is that it will be unpredictable, and that we will experience disappointments and unmet expectations if we allow it. Terri said it perfectly, “Negativity is often a result of unmet expectations.”.

    I loved Andrea‘s comment:

    What we label “positive” and “negative” are truly just that – labels. We attach values such as good and bad, but really everything is just a result, an experience, and everything has a purpose, even if we can’t see it from our present perspective.

    The word “Best” from my initial statement is just another word like “Negative”. It’s just a label. I use that expression in my life often, I’ve worked very hard mentally on not having expectations, but to live and be in the moment completely. I genuinely believe (for myself) that every moment is the best that can happen to me in this moment, even if it appears to be a setback or negative event. I know that I meant to experience this moment and so I embrace it. By embracing it, I am fully accepting it. By fully accepting it, the feelings does not persist and we move onto the next experience in the next moment.

    Thanks for highlighting this point Doug. I enjoyed reading your perspectives and insights. :)

    Jennic,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I read it from your blog as well.
    Question is, what are the gifts from your experience? What are you grateful for now? Focus on those things and only those things.

    You are a cancer survivor! That’s a blessing Jennic, because you can use your experience to help others going through the same thing in ways that only you can do. No body else can replace you and your voice. Use that experience to your advantage. Also what find out what good came out of it. Did it bring your family closer? Did it make you want to live life more fully and consciously? What did you gain?

    You are alive and standing strong with a loving family.
    Focus on things we are grateful for.
    I recommend two books, “The Power of Now” (book section) and “Man’s Searching for Meaning” (linked from this article).

    Thanks again for sharing and being open with us with your heart-felt story.

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