Why Positive Thinking Isn’t Enough

Positive thoughts can break a bad mood, encourage commitment, and help manage fear; but positive thoughts aren’t going to carry us through life without action.

What smart people tell us

“I think, therefore I am.” The famous quote by René Descartes.

Descartes suggests that we are the product of our thoughts. What we think about all day long is who we are. Descartes wasn’t the first to suggest this concept, though.

Siddhārtha Gautama, more commonly known as the Buddha, once said, “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”

The Buddha suggests that not only are we the product of our thoughts, but the entire world is the product of our thoughts.

Are they right?

What about Aristotle’s famous “we are what we repeatedly do” philosophy?

Aristotle suggests that we are the product of our actions. What we do consistently everyday is who we are. “Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”

Is he  right?

Which is it? Are we the product of our thoughts or our actions?

What history tells us

Throughout history, it is clear that the individuals who took action are the ones who altered the course of their lives and the lives of others.

Though there have been many great thinkers, it was the people who spoke, enforced, created, destroyed, avenged, and fled that changed the world.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Ghandi, Margaret Fuller, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Galileo, Mother Theresa, William Shakespeare, Muhammad, Jane Austen, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joan of Arc, Jesus, Eleanor Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela…

These people shaped our world through their actions. They dedicated their lives to hard work in order to accomplish their goal.

What the media tells us

You can’t find a movie or mini-series that doesn’t have an “if you believe, you will achieve” theme in it.

From How I Met Your Mother to The Edge of Tomorrow, all the main characters have to do is focus intently or let go of their minds and their bodies will follow. That’s even a quote from one of my favorite movies, L.A. Story, starring Steve Martin. “Let your mind go and your body will follow,” asserted the talking freeway billboard (who later demanded a hug and made bagpipe noises).

In the movies, it is very simple. Just close your eyes tight enough and *poof* out pops your dreams, right there in front of you, ready for you to live them. Kind of like when Mary Poppins and Bert jumped into the sidewalk chalk drawings in London.

Of course movies are fiction; but when we watch enough fiction, our brains tend to adapt to fictitious ways of thinking.

What daily life tells us

In order to achieve our goals, live the life of our dreams, and create positive change in the world, we must prioritize both thought and action.

We must align our thoughts with the outcome we desire, then align our actions with our thoughts.

We can think anything we want, but nothing will happen until we act. Thus, we need to practice our actions in order to align our actions with our thoughts; and in order to perform the right actions, we need to have the right thoughts.

It begins with thoughts

The Dali Lama said, “In order to carry a positive action we must develop here a positive vision.”

We must have a positive mindset if we are to have positive actions. It all starts in our heads.

The only thing in this world the we have any sort of control over is our thinking.

If we want our lives to be better, our bodies to be fitter, our careers to be more meaningful, and our relationships to be more loving, we must first think about these things and use our thinking to develop understanding.

Through understanding we can develop compassion for others and ourselves. We can develop strategies and plans that can be put into action in order to create the life of our dreams.

Then, we apply our thoughts

We likely will do and say what we think about all day long.

If we think about how angry we are, we will likely act like a grump. If we think about how excited we are, we will likely act happy and energetic. If we think about how daunting work is and how everything is going wrong, we will likely act sluggish and defeated.

So, if we want our lives to grow in a particular direction, we must orient our thoughts in that particular direction.

Then, we must act.

We cannot wait for life to go *poof* and suddenly have everything we’ve ever wanted displayed in front of us.

Thinking isn’t enough. It is never enough.

In order for our lives to be the way we want, we must put our thoughts into action. Get our minds right, then go.

Aristotle said it best: “We become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions.”

Then, we think again

Thinking doesn’t cease upon acting.

We must think about our actions, evaluate the outcome, reorient our minds, then act again.

Thinking and acting is like our minds and bodies dancing. When our thoughts and deeds are in-step, we achieve our goals.


How long have you relied on positive thinking alone to change your circumstances? Do your actions align with your thoughts? Do your thoughts reflect the outcome you truly desire?

 (photo credit: Joris_Louwes via photopin cc)


    • Rachael says:

      Glad it is helpful, Chris Mom! Still working on developing these habits myself… Thank your for sharing your thoughts!

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