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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. I really enjoyed your article. I recently ended a serious 7-year relationship a month ago and it’s thinking like this that has helped me see the situation as an opportunity rather than a tragedy.

    Over the last month, I’ve opened up and learned more about myself than I have in the last 7 years. I figured that my life was turned upside down by the breakup, so I may as well go all the way and really change my thought patterns while I was adapting.

    I’ve bookmarked your site and I’ll definitely be back to read more articles.


    Salar Madadi
    A Man Reborn – my personal transformation log

  2. Gary

    Good article!

    I had been a “realistic” person most of my 50-odd years and always saw the dark cloud instead of the silver lining. Then I was diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer and went through six months of preparing to die very soon. I didn’t die (yet) but somehow changed from being very negative about things to being much more positive.

    I suppose it comes down to my realising that every day I wake up in the morning means I have at least one more day in this beautiful world, warts and all. Not sure if it’s PMA or simply gratitude for being alive.

  3. Hi Tina Su ~

    This is my first time dropping by! I have seen your thought provoking comments on other sites such as ZenHabits and I thought I had better come by ThinkSimpleNow for a little reading and inspiration.

    Too, I would like to let you and your readers know that I have started a new feature on my site that I would like to see other “like minded” bloggers take part in. It is called Humanitarian Fridays, and as the name suggests, every Friday I will write about a humanitarian or social cause to try and help raise awareness.

    If you are interested, I just put up the first post Five Things You Should Know About the Crisis in Darfur.

    For anyone out there who is interested, please let me know if you would be interested in taking part in the series, or if you have a cause that you would like to recommend.

    Kind regards, and keep up the GREAT work you are doing here.

  4. Rob

    Yeah… This is real stuff. You got this one so right.

    As the universe and therefore you depend on duality and balance, it is unhealthy to only embrace the positives and ignore what you see as negative. If you do then you will only be accepting half your life, which is not a complete life is it?

    What you said about the point-of-view of so-called negatives is spot on . Choosing to see how, in some way they are there to serve you, which they are with no exceptions, will bring you back to centre and in alignment with your true self, which is love… and I do not mean the word “love” in a cheesy way either.

    Your blog is one of the best I have read. Keep it up.

  5. Tina – In my middle aged years, I find it more helpful, at least for myself, to imagine life presenting me with a “palette” of truths that I select from. I resist believing there is only ONE absolute truth, or that I must label myself as positive or negative, liberal or conservative etc. Of course I feel better when I’m feeling positive.

    When I’m feeling less positive, it’s based on some “fact” or “truth” that I select. I now tell myself that that fact is only part of the truth and I go on a search to identify what else is true in this particular situation. It helps me to move forward when I recognize that life encompasses a range or spectrums of “truth.”

  6. Kim Dawns

    Pop psychology at its worse.

    Any references for what you say?

    Myth 1: Ever heard of the theory of ‘depressive realism’?

    Myth 3: Positive thinking doesn’t change reality, because, as you said in Myth 2, *action* does. Behavior does. If a pessimistic person takes action, they are just as likely to change reality as a “PMA” person is. All the attitude in the world won’t actually get anything done.

    Myth 4: Since you’re placing value judgments on people’s thoughts (positive = good, negative = bad), it’s no wonder you think PMA people have had all the same types of negative experiences as those without PMA. But the world isn’t black and white as you paint it. Most of us fall somewhere between these two extremes, no?

    Myth 5: Wow, what a mythbuster you are. That’s like busting the myth that all “geeks” are cheesy and nerdy. Well, you satisfied me, because you said so!

    Why don’t you leave psychology to the psychologists and stick to interface design? I’m not an interface designer and wouldn’t dream of writing a blog entry like this, yet it amazes me how people with no education or background think they have all the answers in the world to your problems — Just Have a Positive Mental Attitude(tm) and everything will Be A-Okay, Chum!

  7. Funny how the little ca-winky dinks in life just start piling up.
    I had lunch with a dear friend of mine in his 70’s. He talked about how every moment we have lived is now dead to us.
    We are constantly being reborn, heck, even the skin that covers us is constantly changing over.
    Maybe mutual fund prospecti are on to something when they tell us “past performance is not indicative of future results”.

  8. one of my friends needs to read this article – he always questions why life is going so badly for him, but yet cynically respond to my suggestions to look at things in a positive aspect. I don’t understand exactly when PMA got a bad rep, but I’m glad you’re here to reverse that trend. i especially enjoyed your conclusion that there is death and life in every moment, and it takes a certain grace to embrace such facets of life. awesome post Tina!

  9. I keep finding myself coming back to see whether there are any new posts. Yes, I’m on your RSS feed but feedburner’s kinda slow =P

  10. someone

    Um, what you are describing isn’t what I’d consider PMA, it’s what I’d consider being a responsible member of society, and you don’t need to have a positive outlook to feel the need to make the world a better place or improve yourself. People feel negative because things aren’t as they wish it (meaning worse) people feel positive because things are. Think about who will have more initiative. Those who do feel so negative that they can’t do anything, won’t do anything, so something is keeping them going.

  11. I definitely agree about the benefits of thinking positive. Many times I notice that positive people don’t get too hung up on blame or the past (ie, the problem), but rather focus on the now and the future (ie, the solution).

    This ability to bounce back allows for positive people to overcome setbacks and difficulties where others stagnate and complain.

  12. Hi Tina,

    Have you watched the movie Enchanted? I had a good time watching the movie and I laughed a lot, even until I cough =)

    The naive princess, her outlook of life is so positive, when she’s experiencing the real world for the first time. It’s great that even if we have tasted the real life, all the struggles and challenges, we can have such a positive perspective about life and believe that we will end up live happily ever after.

    Thanks for the great article,

  13. I couldn’t agree more with the idea that negative people are less realistic. I spent a long car journey with a really negative bloke who talked the most complete nonsense about everything. Interestingly he later lost his job.

  14. My initial reaction to negative people being less realistic was to agree, but I’m biased as a positive person. I think there’s degrees of everything though and being severely negative or severely positive (to the point of “if I think I’ll win the lottery I will”) are both unrealistic, and those who are more practically positive or negative are probably equally realistic.

    I know a project manager who has a great blend of both… he is supremely confident in his, and his team’s ability to finish projects, but he does so through a negative filter in that he modifies every estimate or quote he gets as if it is too optimistic. I think it is the blend, and the knowledge that both serve a purpose that leads to a greater understanding. With a greater understanding, one can act with greater confidence, and with greater confidence, one is in a much stronger position to be positive.

    The area I feel being a realistic positive person vs. a realistic negative person has an advantage is that the positive is more likely to take risks and see opportunities, and of course take more enjoyment from day-to-day events.

  15. Hi Tina

    Great article! I’ve had some fun in the past trying to distinguish for my more cynical friends the difference between being positive, and being an ostrich (sticking my head in the sand)

    The way I tried to describe it to them is that as someone aiming to be positive, I’m not ignoring or refusing to acknowledge the negative stuff. I’m acknowledging that negative stuff occurs, and it’s in one of two categories. Either I can do something about it, in which case it’s up to me to take action about it, or I can’t, in which case it’s up to me to learn to accept and live with it.

    However, as a positive person, acknowledging that negative stuff happens doesn’t mean that positive stuff doesn’t. And ignoring the positive stuff would be as unrealistic as ignoring the negative. So that’s where I take steps to look for what’s positive around me – to feel it and appreciate it, and of course, to be grateful for it. And when I’m in a place where I can’t do anything more than I’m already doing to take action about the negative stuff, if it comes down to a choice of either sinking into fear or worry about the negative stuff, or consciously turning my mind to look for positive things to focus on… guess which one’s going to enrich my life more…



  16. Great article Tina! I try to have a positive attitude too. For me, it helps me to find the lesson, benefit or blessing in a bad situation, otherwise I dwell on the bad stuff way too much. I just wrote an article about why positive thinking is good for you.

    Interesting, I just saw a PBS show on neuroplasticity, which is basically how the thoughts you think affect your brain. Lots of great dicussion on how you can build your neural pathways and teach your mind new associations. What you think about every day does affect how you react, your views and actions. Very eye-opening thinking.

  17. Fantastic Article Tina. I love the tone you used to explain positive thinking and transformation of your life. I am a healing master of several modalities and I am very passionate about the power of positive thinking and affirmation.

    A persons mindset set the framework for their daily lives, their success and and their overall happiness.

    Thank you for sharing

  18. realistic?

    i consider myself a positive thinker but fit right into category 1.for me being realistic isn’t a negative attitude. Being realistic helps me get a good reading on what i could expect while being doesn’t mean im giving up, it just means im pushing harder while being as best prepared as i can and most of the time being realistic helps me get to success more efficiently as predicted obstacles are easily overcome.its like fitting a car with every imaginable gadget while preparing to go on a vacation.if theres a snow storm, its got sleds,if theres no planes, it can fly…….what do u guys think?

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