Positive Thinking Is Useless By Itself
In nursing and other aspects of life, positive thinking is doomed to fail unless the person takes appropriate actions to ensure a positive outcome. The purpose of this article is to discuss the drawbacks associated with positive thinking.
According to San (2006), positive thinking can be described as the practice of embracing the affirmative in our thoughts, our feelings, our actions, our reactions and our speech. Positive thinkers are usually brimming with optimism and tend to look at the 'bright side.'
However, positive thinking is absolutely worthless without action. People who are blindly optimistic often get themselves into trouble because they either refuse to see danger ahead or they simply don't do anything about it because they simply trust that everything will turn out OK (Bouchard, 2010). For example, a nursing student who has just been placed on probation for the rest of the semester due to attendance problems says to himself, "Everything will be fine!"
However, he still has problems with chronic tardiness and misses clinical at least once monthly. Although this guy is thinking positively, he has not taken any concrete actions to solve the attendance issues. When the director of the nursing program forces him to withdraw at the end of the probationary period, he'll be the type of person who tells anyone with a sympathetic ear that he was a great student and that the director unfairly got rid of him.
You can sit there and hope, pray, project, imagine, fantasize, visualize, make up great affirmations and just about any other kind of positive thinking idea you can imagine, and not much will change - at least not without actually getting involved, without taking some form of action towards what you want more of in your life (Bishop, 2009).
For instance, the pre-nursing student says that she was born to be a nurse and thinks to herself, "I cannot imagine doing anything else with my life. I will be a nurse!" Even though she is thinking positive thoughts, she has performed poorly in the majority of the prerequisite courses, has a 1.9 grade point average, and is not taking action to repeat the classes or address her academic weak spots. When she is rejected by several nursing programs, she will likely tell people that the process of getting accepted into nursing school was not fair.
In a nutshell, positive thinking is not enough to make things happen. Rather, taking positive action makes things happen. You can read a great cake recipe, but until you actually buy the ingredients, follow the recipe, and wait while the cake changes from batter to cake in the heat of the oven, not much will take place (Bishop, 2009). Don't get me wrong - positive thinking is a good thing, and an optimistic outlook on life is certainly more uplifting than a negative viewpoint. In fact, positive thinking can be the precursor to positive action. However, positive thoughts are not enough to make our goals come to fruition. To turn our dreams into realities, we need to be honest with ourselves, completely realistic, and put in the hard work to get the things we want out of life.Last edit by Joe V on Jan 9, '15
About TheCommuter, BSN, RN Moderator
TheCommuter is a moderator of allnurses.com and has varied workplace experiences upon which to draw for her articles. She was an LPN/LVN for four years prior to earning RN licensure.
Joined: Feb '05; Posts: 38,035; Likes: 69,254
CRRN, now a case management RN; from US
Specialty: 11 year(s) of experience in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psychJul 25, '12Interesting article! The process of self-evaluation is indeed a difficult one. It requires making an honest assessment of one's own weaknesses, and I have found that it changed my self-identity. I did two semesters of graduate work this past academic year and, as you stated in the article, learned my weak spots and made a plan to address them.
I have to say, implementing the strategies I identified has been the best part. I've grown a lot and learned strategies that are helping in other areas, as well.Jul 25, '12I have to say I agree with you. I am a person that tends to "look at the bright side," but I am also a realist in the sense of that I know that to get anywhere one must put in the effort as well. I will provide an example. Yesterday I had my last lab exam for A&P2, which is the fetal pig. I had not been able to study effectively due to extenuating circumstance. I have excellent grades in the class up until now. Therefore I told myself that I would be okay even if I did not do as well as I would otherwise. However, that did not stop me from doing the very best I could even though I knew that I technically could get by with a lesser grade and still get an A overall. As it turned out, I got a 94 on the exam because I took my time and did my best. Optimism is great, but one must put forth the effort as well. In college and in life one reaps the benefits of what one sows... so to speak.Jul 25, '12Agreed. The "power of positive thinking" is complete bunk unless you combine it with a LOT of hard work. I saw many nursing students fail because all they thought they needed to do was pray (essentially the same thing as positive thinking, it's just "wishing") or think positive to pass exams and clinical.Jul 25, '12Not complete bunk. Many brilliant people and ideas have languished and died because of negative thinking! Positive thinking isn't the only ingredient in success but it is certainly a factor.😃Jul 25, '12Quote from cherryames1949It may be a factor, but with the very American "Power of Positive Thinking" obsession, and the recent "The Secret" ("law of attraction") foolishness, itself recycled a few times in the past hundred years, many people really do think that all they have to do is think positive thoughts, and everything will come to them. It's a variation on the sense of entitlement theme.Not complete bunk. Many brilliant people and ideas have languished and died because of negative thinking! Positive thinking isn't the only ingredient in success but it is certainly a factor.
The insidious aspect of that mindset is that, when tragedy befalls a person, the "Secret" folks blame it on the person for simply not thinking good thoughts.
If your children are hungry, you'd better do more than think positive thoughts.Last edit by Tragically Hip on Jul 25, '12Jul 25, '12I had a former classmate who, when things got rough for me, told me, "Think positive! Failure is not an option!"
Well, yes, it helps to think positive, but in my case, failure was an option and I had to focus on how correct it.
So we need to think positive, but we also need to be realistic and anticipate the negatives and what our plan of action is going to be.Jul 25, '12Quote from tragically hipwe cancer patients are constantly told to "think positive thoughts" and to "pray for your recovery." that's not bad advice, but the corollary is that cancer patients who don't do well are told that it's because they didn't pray hard enough. or think positively enough.it may be a factor, but with the very american "power of positive thinking" obsession, and the recent "the secret" ("law of attraction") foolishness, itself recycled a few times in the past hundred years, many people really do think that all they have to do is think positive thoughts, and everything will come to them. it's a variation on the sense of entitlement theme.
the insidious aspect of that mindset is that, when tragedy befalls a person, the "secret" folks blame it on the person for simply not thinking good thoughts.
if your children are hungry, you'd better do more than think positive thoughts.
believe me, i think positively as much as i can but it's difficult to accomplish late at night when you can't sleep and you're in significant pain.
think positively, but keep your doctor's appointments, and take that ativan when you need it.
Jul 25, '12This can be applied to those who put their faith in religion, without actually taking any action. I'm reminded of the saying "God helps those who help themselves"Jul 25, '12Quote from BrandonLPNI wonder who came up with that saying. It's not in the bible. In fact, the bible counsels the opposite, something to the effect, "Ask and ye shall receive."This can be applied to those who put their faith in religion, without actually taking any action. I'm reminded of the saying "God helps those who help themselves"
Edit: The saying was attributed to Benjamin Franklin (as Poor Richard, I presume), but it did not originate with him.Last edit by Tragically Hip on Jul 25, '12 : Reason: Obligatory Benjamin Frankin reference addedJul 25, '12Quote from Tragically HipThe Bible also says "Faith without action is dead" James 2:17I wonder who came up with that saying. It's not in the bible. In fact, the bible counsels the opposite, something to the effect, "Ask and ye shall receive."
God is not a vending machine that one can just stick a prayer in, and receive whatever one prayed for. Heck if that were the case, I would have a big house, a fancy car and my dream job a long time ago. I believe that God gives us the abilities and the strength to do things for ourselves when the things we are doing are according to His will.Jul 25, '12"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." — Matthew 7:7 (NIV)
I think James 2:17 was referring to doing good works, mentioned clearly in Matthew in the parable of Sheep and Goats, rather than in asking for things for yourself. The Christian God is actually, in effect, a vending machine, and the coins are faith and prayer. Or a magic genie, if you prefer.
"Heck if that were the case, I would have a big house, a fancy car and my dream job a long time ago."
They say that God doesn't always grant our wishes.
"I believe that God gives us the abilities and the strength to do things for ourselves..."
Some handicapped people may beg to differ, but people will believe what they believe. Have you ever encountered a person suffering from locked-in syndrome?
"...when the things we are doing are according to His will."
And now we are back to blaming the victim for his own failure. Instead of the new age person saying, "It's your fault; you weren't thing positive thoughts," it's the religious person saying, "It's your fault; you weren't doing things according to His will."Jul 25, '12Disclaimer: I readily admit that I am spiritual and believe in the power of prayer.
However, prayer is also another form of positive thinking because the person doing the praying is engaged in positive thought and asking for affirmations.
Many years ago, I recall one student mentioning that she fell behind in her car payments and that her vehicle would be repossessed any day now. Graduation was three months away, and she would fail the nursing program if she had no mode of transportation to and from school and clinical rotations.
People were actually making statements such as, "Think positive!" "Pray on it!"
Positive thinking is the catalyst to positive action. However, positive thinking by itself is not enough to get things done. No amount of positive thoughts will magically pay off this student's car. For that to happen, she would have had to take concrete action (borrow money, get a second job, etc.).
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