Negative Thinking Never Helps
Jeff Keller

I've never had someone come up to me and say, "I'm always negative and it's working out great for me.  I can't wait to get up in the morning!"  And yet, positive thinking still has its skeptics.

Some people tell me that positive thinking doesn't work or that it's "unrealistic," especially in today's turbulent world.

"Look around you," they say.  "How can you be so positive?"   Well, let me ask you this:  can the world be lifted out of negativity by adding MORE negativity?

The truth is, there are certain things that negative thinking will do for you.  It will make you sick.  It will make you very unpleasant to be around.  And, it will significantly limit what you can achieve.

Let's take a closer look at why negative thinking doesn't serve us.  For starters, we all operate under the Law of Dominant Thought.  Simply stated, we're always moving in the direction of our dominant thoughts.

Most of us have heard about the "self-fulfilling prophecy"-- that we get what we expect in life.  Expect negative results and, sure enough, you'll produce negative results.

As I'm sure you've found, negative thinking also causes you to feel more stress and to have less energy.

Scientific studies have demonstrated that negativity weakens your immune system.  How many times have you gotten sick during a stressful period in your life?

If you're still not convinced about the effects of being negative, take out a sheet of paper and write down your list of all the benefits you're getting from negative thinking.  I think your list is going to be very short, if you come up with anything at all.

Let me make an important distinction here.  It's quite natural for a person to feel sad in response to a tragedy or the death of a loved one.  There's a period of loss and grieving that differs for each individual, and we don't expect a grief stricken person to be positive in the short run.

However, even a person in that situation will not be served by holding onto their negative thoughts indefinitely.  (By the way, if you've suffered some trauma or have had a difficult time releasing negative thinking, by all means get counseling.  That's not a sign of weakness.  It's a constructive step to help you move forward in your life.)

Doing What Comes Naturally

From everything I've observed, babies are naturally positive.  They're usually smiling and seem to be enjoying life.  I haven't met any negative, frowning babies.  That's why I don't buy the argument that negative thinking is just natural.

Those who think negatively do so out of habit.  They have conditioned themselves to think that way.  In Western societies in particular, we've developed the tendency to focus on minor irritations, even though these annoyances are only a tiny part of our overall lives.  We tend to focus on the 5% of our lives that are going "wrong"... instead of the 95% going well.

We'll sigh and tell everyone about the traffic jam or flat tire on the way to work.  Yet, we'll never comment about the miracle of our existence--the billions of cells in our body that somehow allow our brain to function, our heart to pump blood or our eyes to see.

We don't appreciate that we have enough food to eat or that we have a roof over our heads, while there are millions of people who don't have these gifts.  It's no wonder that so many people think negatively.

The newspaper is filled with negative news.  Television and radio reports dwell on tragedies and crimes.  How often do you read or hear about people helping each other or doing something positive?  Hardly ever.  If you do nothing to counteract this bombardment of negativity, you're going to think negatively.

At any time, however, you could take control of this situation.  You could stop watching and listening to all of the negative news and read something positive instead.  You could limit your contact with "toxic" people and make sure your life is filled with positive inputs.

If you did that, your "natural" inclination would switch and you'd begin to think positively.

Quick Mental Exercises

I'll show you that you have much more control over your thinking than you might believe.  Try this experiment.  Right now, think about your favorite movie.  You might even get a picture in your mind of your favorite scene in that movie.

Now, let's think about your favorite meal.  What is it?  A fresh salad ... a juicy steak ... grilled salmon?  Whatever it is, just think about it.  Now that your mouth is watering, let's move on.  Think about being out in a snowstorm, with two feet of snow on the ground.  Can you see the snow and feel the cold on your toes?

In each case, you were able to control what you thought about.  You could shift your thinking in an instant.  It has been said that positive thinking is harmful because optimistic people ignore things that can go wrong or are easily duped and taken advantage of.

In other words, if you expect the sun to be shining all the time, you're just naive and are sure to be disappointed.  But positive thinking doesn't mean that you ignore reality or refuse to consider the obstacles that might arise.  On the contrary, the positive person expects a positive outcome but prepares for overcoming obstacles.

For example, if a positive person is planning an outdoor wedding, he or she won't use the power of positive thinking to make sure it doesn't rain on the big day.  Rather, a positive person is prepared with contingency plans, focusing on things that she can directly control, such as having a tent available in case it does rain.

By this point, I hope that you're receptive to the idea that negative thinking won't help us.  So, the question is: how can we change our thinking to become more positive?  The answer, simply stated, is that you must change what goes into your mind every day.

Start by eliminating as many of the negative inputs as possible. While you can listen to the news for a few minutes to catch the important headlines, there is no need to hear reports of the same murders and bombings over and over each day. At the same time, replace the negative inputs with positive stimuli.

Read positive materials on a daily basis. Listen to positive audio tapes or CDs, or to music that inspires or relaxes you.

Here's another technique: monitor your everyday language.  When you find yourself beginning to complain or talk negatively, switch immediately to something positive. Say something like, "I really have so much to be grateful for" and start listing some of those things.

Condition yourself to focus on constructive solutions to challenges, rather than harping on problems or fretting about things outside of your control. Make a commitment for the next 30 days. Think about what you want instead of what you don't want.

Think about what you're grateful for rather than what you believe is missing in your life. Saturate your mind with the positive. After 30 days, you can then decide whether to keep focusing on the positive or to revert to your negative thinking pattern. I think I know which one you'll choose!

Jeff Keller is the President of Attitude is Everything, Inc. For more than 15 years, Jeff has delivered presentations on attitude and motivation to businesses, groups and trade associations throughout the United States and abroad. Jeff is also the author of the highly acclaimed book, Attitude is Everything. For more information, go to


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