The Myth Of Positive Thinking

“In the arena of human life, the honours and rewards fall to those who show their good qualities in action.” – Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics, 4th century B.C.)

One of the most popular myths about success is the power of positive thinking. The idea, in a nutshell, is that you can change your life by changing the way you think.

Promoters of positive thinking are everywhere, and the message has appeared and reappeared in countless books, seminars, and speeches. The lure of the idea is easy to understand: If success depends merely on the way you think, it is both easily and instantly possible. If I want to be a better father or negotiator or basketball player, all I have to do is put the right ideas in my head. Then, presto! — I am what I wish to be.

This is an idea that was popularized in the 20th century but is actually much older than that. In fact, it dates back at least 2,500 years.

Some people — perhaps some of the Sophists — were making the case for positive thinking in ancient Greece. If not, why would Aristotle have found it necessary to point out that we are what we repeatedly do — that excellence is not an act, but a habit.

This subject came up recently. We had played a guess-how-many-pieces-of-candy-corn-are-in-the-bottle game for an office Halloween party and were speculating afterward as to whether there was some correlation between those who guessed very high and very low and their working personalities. After some discussion, it seemed clear that there was. The optimists guessed higher, the pessimists lower.

“Which is better for business?” LH asked me.

For me, the answer is simple. It makes no difference. Success does not depend on attitude. When I survey the successful friends I know, they line up equally on both sides of the optimism/pessimism line. .

Several of my friends are extremely optimistic. In the gravest of situations, they will be smiling and joking — expecting some good to arrive. Most of these friends are financial failures — except, of course, for those who happen to be married to wealthy pessimists.

I do, however, know some very successful optimists, as well as plenty of rich and powerful sourpusses. I know a few gloomy failures as well.

The bottom line: I can’t say there is a correlation between how you feel and whether you are successful.

So what DOES separate the losers from the winners if it’s not their attitude? That’s very easy to answer. The difference lies in what they do.

Successful people do the things that success requires:

* They dream about being successful.

* They set goals.

* They get to work early.

* They do important rather than busy work.

* They network.

* They have a bias for action.

What do failures do? That’s simple too:

* They dream about goofing off.

* They try to do as little work as possible.

* They shirk responsibility.

* They watch a lot of television.

* They blame their failings on others.

The secret to success is action, not attitude. It doesn’t matter what your attitude is. What matters is what you do with your time. If you do the right things — the very things I urge you to do every day in ETR — you will be successful regardless of your emotional condition or mental attitude. If you do the wrong things, no amount of positive thinking will save you.

If you want to succeed in life, don’t spend any time looking at yourself in the mirror and shouting. Don’t bother singing happy songs or walking on coals. Don’t even spend much time reading about positive thinking. Instead, start doing something positive.

Set some goals. Break them down into monthly, weekly, and daily objectives. Then get to work.