Why Positive Thinking Doesn’t Work

When I meet someone new at a networking event for the first time we eventually get onto the topic of personal growth. It seems logical that we would, but for some reason there is this mainstream idea that personal growth is about positive thinking. If you think positive thoughts and focus on the good things in life, good things will happen. That’s where I draw the line because positive thinking doesn’t work.

Positive thinking doesn’t work unless it’s associated with positive feeling.  I’ve written about this before and my experience with affirmations in T Harv Eker’s book The Secrets of the Millionaire Mind.

Harv emphasizes the application of declarations throughout his book.  These are basically affirmations that are said out loud. What I realized after practicing these declarations for 6 months is that positive thinking does not work.  It only works when it’s associated with positive feeling.

Positive Thinking Must Be Associated with Positive Feeling

The reason I say that is because most of your behavior is associated with your subconscious mind.  These deeper layers control the way you behave and the way you trigger a change in those layers is with strong feelings.

Think of your subconscious mind as a feeling machine.  If you want to change the implants already growing in your head like those limiting beliefs or mental blocks then start working with the way you feel.

Even the NLP based fear phobia cure that I use works with feelings – only it does this in reverse.  Instead of adding feeling to your experience it takes the negative feeling away (along with all those scary skeletons that may come with it).  You can learn more about eliminating fear by reading: 3 Things You MUST Know to Overcome Fear

Feelings are a conduit to change.  If you want to see change at a deeper level you’ve got to work with your feelings.  There is this invisible force when we associate positive feelings to the things we want and negative feelings to things we don’t want.

So here’s my suggestion. Do not waste your time using positive thinking techniques, unless of course they also change the way you feel.  There is some trial and error here, but find out what works best for you.

If I had to go back and talk to the younger less experienced version of myself about positive thinking, here is what I’d say, “Make sure to do what you love.  When you’re honest with yourself and everyone else all the other things in life just seem to work themselves out.”


  • Ideas With A Kick

    Reply Reply December 3, 2009

    Hey Steve,

    I think positive thinking is overrated. When you decide if to go driving on a slippery mountain road, after 10 shots of vodka, the last think you need is to think positive. I believe most of the time, rational thinking is the way to go. Thanks for lighting the fire on this topic :)


  • Pete

    Reply Reply December 3, 2009

    Hi Steve, your’e right about things not working without positive feelings, the thing is, it seems easy enough to keep up the day to day positive thoughts but it’s less easy to maintain the feeling – for me anyway. I think we all need some sort of positive feedback mechanism and for me it’s very fleeting. I can feel really good for a while after I have played some of my own music on my guitar but it has nothing to do with my day job so after a while stuck in the drudgery I get pulled back down.

  • Steve

    Reply Reply December 4, 2009

    @ Pete,

    Well maybe your day job is the problem?

    It seems that we spend at least 33% of our lives in a job or in some sort of vocation. Some of us in a job that we don’t even like or enjoy. That doesn’t seem right. We go to a job that we don’t enjoy and expect something will change. That doesn’t make sense to me.

    What do you think?

  • Suzanne Finder

    Reply Reply December 4, 2009

    It’s really no wonder positive affirmations aren’t very effective when you consider the latest neuroscience research.

    They are finding that as much as 99% of our thought process is at the conscious level. Only 1% to 6% of our cognitive process is at the level of our awareness – and that’s what’s really running the show.

    I heard some stats that in order for affirmations to be effective they must be repeated every day, 3 times per day for 90 days. I’m not sure I know one person who could actually sustain that. I certainly couldn’t!

    I use a very effective process called PSYCH-K with clients (and myself) that gets solid results by going directly to the subconscious (habitual thought patterns). It incorporates parts of NLP, Brain Gym and a few other modalities. We get shifts quickly, easily and they last.

    Thanks for opening up this topic!

  • Suzanne Finder

    Reply Reply December 4, 2009


    I meant to say “as much as 99% of our thought process is at the SUBconscious level.

    Sorry about that!!

  • Sharon Riegie Maynard

    Reply Reply December 4, 2009

    having worked for over 20 years in the unseen realms called ‘energy’, I can tell you that positive thinking and positive emotions are so the tip of the greater iceberg we call manifestation/creation.
    Until we go deeper, further upstream in the universal truths and our history, we will continue moving deck chairs around on the Titanic that is still going under.
    Positive thought, positive emotions are enough for a hand-full of people, and not nearly enough for most of humanity.
    Use those first and then go deeper…

  • Paul

    Reply Reply December 4, 2009

    Feelings come from experiences… to be more exact, they come from the meaning we attach to experiences. And feelings are the drivers of our behaviors, indeed. The first signs/manifestations of our deep experience show up in our physiology… a reason why so many go to addictive substances to change (temporarily) their physiology to help them “feel” better. Bad prescription for lasting transformation. Affirmations can work, but as Suzanne said above, they are small chunks in a large and long process. Creating new experiences that create new feelings is probably the quickest way to get that change crystallized.

  • ken at FreeTGRbook.com

    Reply Reply December 4, 2009

    Hi Steve I think what wrong with you by saying this until I opened up the remaining part of this message. You are talking about the law of feelings. some person will corect me on this name I am sure. We feel love inside us for each other. The biggest question I use to ask where does this strong feeling come from. Then I found out that god is love. How true.

  • Suzanne Finder

    Reply Reply December 5, 2009

    Clarification – sorry all! I inadvertently hit the “submit” button in the midst of editing my initial comment and wasn’t able to go back…

    Research shows that 95-99% our cognitive process occurs at a subconscious level (habitual patterns, etc.) leaving 5% or less occurring at a level of conscious awareness. Basically, folks, we’re on autopilot most of the time and we don’t even know it.

    The ramifications are pretty staggering! We think we’re thinking through problems and making conscious choices, but really our neurological patterns (aka beliefs) are calling the shots. And that’s ok as long as our patterns/beliefs are supportive of our goals, dreams and desires. It’s when we get stuck in unsupportive patterns that we struggle.

    Biologically speaking, feelings are generated by chemicals released in the brain in response to an experience (stimulus).

    I agree, we each give our experiences meaning, which in turn generates feelings (chemical signals throughout our body).

    From the time we’re in utero up until the age of 6 – 8 (research varies) we are unable to discern the veracity of messages coming in — we take in everything as “true.” These messages are transmitted chemically throughout the body and in turn our cells develop receptor sites to receive like chemical impulses in the future.

    Our biological process gives shape to our emotional make up — which creates the “internal lens” through which we experience the world — and from which we generate meanings and feelings.

    Affirmations (which we perform at a conscious level) don’t stand a chance when battling for position against longstanding neurological patterning (at the subconscious level), unless there is an intervention that directly addresses the underlying biological structure.

    I don’t believe the change process has to be long and drawn out or even difficult. I have seen major and enduring shifts happen both emotionally and physically over a period of hours, days and weeks vs. months and years as with traditionally psychotherapy or even coaching. I’m not knocking either, they are both exceptionally valuable, but not in the context of fast and effective pattern change.

    Two great resources on this topic are: “The Biology of Belief” by Bruce Lipton (cellular biologist and former Stanford School of Medicine professor) and “PSYCH-K® The Missing (Piece) Peace” by Rob Williams.

  • Steve

    Reply Reply December 5, 2009

    Hi Suzanne,

    Bruce Lipton’s book, The Biology of Belief is a great resource for anyone who wants to study the effects the environment has on our beliefs and the way we think at the cellular level. I strongly recommend it.

  • Eric Whalley

    Reply Reply December 5, 2009

    “Make sure to do what you love. When you’re honest with yourself and everyone else all the other things in life just seem to work themselves out.”

    I think that’s one of the main impetus’ to living a fulfilling life. Pete and Steve exemplify this with their comments.

    Suzanne, Thank you for sharing that information with everyone. In my previous neuroscience research I found that the mind is such a powerful tool that can be used both for good AND evil, depending on what is inside it and how you use it.

    There is so much research showing that our perceptions of life are massively underpinned by biological processes that we have little realisation or awareness of, hence SUBconscious.

  • Niall Harbison

    Reply Reply December 6, 2009

    Positive thinking is important but one thing that gets me going is fear. If you are really scared of failing you are sort of forced to think positive and it will eventually get you achieving rsults in super fast time :)

  • Mike Blackstone

    Reply Reply December 7, 2009

    Everyone who has mentioned the power of the unconscious mind is right on target.

    Jill Bolte Taylor, in her book “A Stroke of Insight,” has identified the uncounscious mind as equivalent to the right hemisphere (most brain scientists now say the right hemisphere supplies emotional content—feelings—thoughts and speech coming from the left hemisphere) of the brain. That fits with my 21 years coaching experience.

    What works for me is making a committed decision (a left hemisphere activity) for myself (first—before I have any real idea how I am going to pull it off), then coming up with a single first step, and then surrendering the rest of the unfolding of that committed decision to my right hemisphere (shades of 6-step reframing).

  • Diana Levinton

    Reply Reply December 7, 2009

    Hi Steve et al!
    Positive thinking works…for those who lead seminars, workshops or even produce movies such as “What the Bleep…” and -more recently- “The Secret”. As long as there are people anxious to buy “fast learning”, miracle solutions and so forth, the ones selling those “miracles” will have a clientele. Reading that Dr. Lipton, for example, is “an internationally recognized authority in bridging science and spirit” triggers in me the question “Recognized by whom?” ¿Peer scientists? Hardly.
    What is it that makes us long for bridging those two realms? Why not link hair dying with art? Electricity with happiness?
    Positive thinking is related to neurotransmitters… and that is all we know so far. The rest is literature, not science.
    May be if we start thinking in terms of what we already have, acknowledge it and look around to see ways to give and share, instead of craving for ways in which to be wealthier, more successful (?) and so forth, we would discover that there is a world beyond our belly buttons and stop staring admiringly at it.

  • Eric Whalley

    Reply Reply December 7, 2009


    Spot on!! Its our craving for “perfection” and the “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” mindset that keeps us from realising what we already have and have achieved. Its something Im only just beginning to come to terms with myself.

  • Douglas Eby

    Reply Reply December 9, 2009

    Hale Dwoskin (author of The Sedona Method) agrees: “Positive thinking takes an immense amount of effort and, for most people, it doesn’t even work! It only covers the negative thoughts with positive ones and can still leave you crying on the inside.”

    From my post Hale Dwoskin on why “Positive Thinking” fails to build lasting personal growth.

  • Pete Przyszlak

    Reply Reply July 4, 2010

    Strange that this comment should suddenly re-appear from “TheMindMedic” when it is word for word Identical to a reply from Steve to one of my earlier comments in December last year, what’s going on?
    Anyway, relating to the initial statement it’s right about linking your thinking with feeling, you can choose to think positive as you can choose to feel positive, you can do it! try listening to Louise L Hay or Bob Proctor and actually practice consistently what they suggest. I think processes like NLP or Cybernetic Transposition work in the same way but are just to complicated. It’s much simpler to take the path like Buddha and just be Mindful and live in the present. If you can feel good now, you can feel good tomorrow.

  • Steve

    Reply Reply July 4, 2010

    Hey Pete P,

    I saw the comment you were referring to and deleted it. Thanks for pointing this out to me. It’s very much appreciated :)

  • Sonja

    Reply Reply October 17, 2010

    I started doing positive aff’s 2 yrs ago. I started with Louise Hay. I was manifesting materially left and right. But I never seemed to keep it. I got 3 raises in one yr. Bought my car, had a nice house. Everything was going great. Then I lost it all, got layed off work, went on to work, but made lot’s less. Lost the car, etc. Now speed up to now. I found out that your patterns/habits you learned as a child if negative will get in the way, if positive will make you manifest quicker. As for me, mine was negative. I was doing affirmations and being positive, but I didn’t know what to do when bad things happend. I was trained to run away, hide, get desructive when something bad happend. The point I’m making is the your pattern will get in the way. You have to change your pattern. Create new thoughts/experiences, and most important FORGIVE EVERYONE AND yourself. The techniques I am using are as follows: I started meditating 4 hours a day. I Started doing mantra’s, still doing positive affirmations, and writing them down 10 times each a day, and forgiving people. I don’t care if I have to do this at 10 pm or 5 am. I find the time. It’s that important to me to change. The result after 6 weeks is this: I can stop a negative thought in a few seconds. I live in the NOW. I do not think of the past or the Future. As soon as the NOW thinking started, I was filled with love and peace. I am so in tuned to my thoughts. I am manifesting forgiveness and relationships healing with everyone…family, husband, X husband, and my mom. I don’t really think about the material things anymore because I am so happy in the Now. But I know all I desire will come. My process has taken 2 yrs to get here. Alot of learning. The harder your childhood was, the more you have to work at changing your mind. Don’t give up.

  • Jessica perm

    Reply Reply December 7, 2010

    Always being positive is a strength which comes from within..think about positivity, live in a life where everything is positive….just load a positive custom homepage and start your web journey with it…www.sleeksearch.com…
    Believe me, it will you more power…

  • Stan

    Reply Reply December 30, 2010

    I have to agree with Sonja, the patterns you learned as a child can be very destructive and can take time as an adult to reverse.

    If you were always a positive thinker then there is no problem, but if you developed a habit of negative thinking just replacing them with positives isn’t really going to work.

    What you have to do is realistic thinking, you have to keep a daily mood log and write down the negative thoughts that made you feel upset during the day and then write down realistic thoughts to dissolve the negative thoughts, this is a new pattern you need to learn.

    Otherwise positive thinking is just a layer on top of all the negative thinking.

  • Leszek Cyfer

    Reply Reply February 21, 2011

    Positive thinking is usually equalled with wishful, urealistic thinking, avoiding real life issues.

    What I call positive thinking is some sort of Polyanna play – Each time I am faced with some bad circumstances, I look for positive aspects of given situation. Thus when I severed my Achilles tendon and was grounded for several months I concentrated on the fact that I have all that time for myself. I’ve read books I didn’t have time for before, listened to podcasts and audiobooks (it really helped when I coudn’t sleep because of pain), watched entire “Lost”, “Heroes” and “Stargate Atlantis” series, made paper models (a paper airplane model I made during that time scored later a second place on national championships. When in hospital I made friends with my copatients, flirted and joked with nurses, heck – flirted with my anesthesiologist during the operation :)

    This all reminds me of the book “The Luck Factor” by Richard Wiseman, who spend years researching differences between lucky and unlucky people and figured out the way to learn luck. This finding and concentrating on positive aspect of every situation is one of techniques from his book:

    “Lucky people tend to see the positive side of their ill fortune. They imagine how things could have been worse. In one interview, a lucky volunteer arrived with his leg in a plaster cast and described how he had fallen down a flight of stairs. I asked him whether he still felt lucky and he cheerfully explained that he felt luckier than before. As he pointed out, he could have broken his neck.”

  • Steve

    Reply Reply February 21, 2011

    “…flirted with my anesthesiologist during the operation”

    That is totally hilarious Leszek :D

    I can totally SEE that you were able to find the positive aspects of your situation. You are a great example for others ;)

  • Ryan

    Reply Reply December 29, 2012

    Consider this for a moment, you are a vibrational being. Tasting, hearing, smelling, touching, and seeing are 5 ways to interpret vibration – feeling is the 6th.

    your feelings are your 6th sense. Your “Solar Plexus” or “gut-feeling”, is feedback registering vibration. Feelings are feedback from your higher-self based against the reality you are living, some would call this “empathy”, or even “intuition” at more advanced levels.

    Your mind thinks a thought, and a feeling is then produced to indicate whether or not this feeling is in alignment with Source (The ‘God Consciousness’ that flows through all), or out of alignment.

    A good feeling means that the thought you are thinking (or situation you are experiencing) is in alignment with Source, a negative feeling means that it is out of alignment with Source.

    When you think a negative thought, you are in discord with the Universe. You can viscerally feel the discord. The Universe is indicating you are ‘pinching’ yourself off, or disallowing the Fuller-You to come through.

    Feelings and thoughts work in conjunction with one another. A Thought + A Feeling = An Emotion. Your Emotion is your State-of-Being – your point of attraction – the happier you are – the higher your vibration – the more in-sync with the Universe you become.


    Being AWARE of your thoughts is imperative to consciously creating. Do not LIE to yourself. It is important to be HONEST. Find out where you are in terms of your thoughts on a specific part of your life. Ignoring them will make the problem bigger, adding more negative thought, or energy, without any effort towards shifting the thought will also aggravate your situation.


    Shifting Your Thoughts;

    NLP is one of many process’ to help move a thought. You start with where you are on a thought, and then gradually make the thought better until it turns into an affirming thought that benefits you. You can feel it if you are being honest with yourself.

  • r value fiberglass

    Reply Reply April 9, 2013

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