Positive Thinking Versus Wishful Thinking

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Sometimes I think positive thinking takes a bad rap because people confuse it with wishful thinking. Positive thinking is a philosophy rooted in the idea that your thoughts are the basis for the actions you take in life and, therefore, the results you can expect.

When you begin with a foundation of positive thoughts (as opposed to negative) you increase your belief and increase activity towards a desired goal. These two factors impact achievement incrementally to dramatically depending on the situation.

Many people fail to realize that positive thinking is really about acting. It only recommends that acting from a place where your thoughts are supporting your actions yields better results than merely blind action.

Wishful thinking, with its endemic inaction, is what many people view as positive thinking. That perception devalues positive thinking in the minds of some who see themselves as “action people.”

Positive thinking has several key characteristics:

  • Positive thinking based – thinking positively about your skills, your talents, your capabilities, your options, and your potential results provides a strong foundation for success.
  • Confidence – positive thinkers have a strong belief in themselves and a sense of mission about their goals.
  • Proactive – Positive thinking is action or motion-based. It is the tremor that creates a tsunami of motion and activity towards achieving a desired outcome. Positive thinking is about making things happen through focused activity.
  • Realistic to idealistic – positive thinkers are immersed in reality, but don’t see themselves limited by it. They recognize that struggle and obstacles sometimes create better results. They acknowledge that there are obstacles (i.e. circumstances or the world are not always perfect) and work on ways around the obstacles. It begins with a realistic assessment of things and moves confidently towards achieving the ideal.
  • Deals with setbacks – recognizes that setbacks are a sign something is happening (activity). Rejection letters are a sign you are submitting your book idea. Customer no’s are a sign you are pitching your ideas. It seeks opportunities to convert setbacks into learning that can be used in achieving the ultimate goal.
  • Achieves – positive thinkers usually succeed – though not always at their original goal. Sometimes the goal evolves through the process of achievement. One way or the other, the positive thinker finds his or her way to the goal.

Wishful thinking is the empty version of positive thinking. It is the strategy of waiting and hoping good things will happen to you. It may have positive thoughts as a component, but that is where the similarities end.

Wishful thinking has several key characteristics:

  • Situation-based – wishful thinking starts out in the right place. There is an effort to create a positive thought foundation. However, that positive thinking is focused on creating the perfect environment for advancement. This approach deflects focus from the person and his or her capabilities towards trying to create the right situation for advancement.
  • Doubt – wishful thinkers have some serious doubts about their ability to reach their goals and so rely on circumstances.
  • Reactive – wishful thinking hopes that circumstances will become favorable for advancement. However, it is reactive because it waits for those circumstances to happen rather than making them happen.
  • Idealistic to realistic – the wishful thinker puts on the rose-colored glasses and hopes to achieve an idyllic state. Often, reality is something negative to be avoided. Hitting reality often sends the wishful thinker back to waiting mode – waiting for the ideal situation.
  • Setbacks sidetrack – wishful thinkers are often sidetracked by obstacles and setbacks because it undermines their “perfect situation” scenario. When obstacles enter into the picture, the wishful thinker gets stuck and gives up.
  • Waits – the wishful thinker has the same beautiful goals and dreams as the positive thinker. He or she wants to succeed just as badly, but because the philosophy is waiting on the perfect situation, it often never comes and goals go unrealized.

At times, we are all a mix of these two approaches. Few people can maintain the absolute belief and action of the positive thinker all day, every day. Many can unconsciously slip into wishful thinking in some situations. That said, they are two starkly different approaches that appear the same to many people.

Many wishful thinkers see themselves as positive thinkers. The main difference is hoping for something as opposed to acting on it. If you are a wishful thinker, you can change today by remembering to take action on your plans and realizing NOW is the only “perfect situation” there ever is in this life.

Many actual positive thinkers don’t see themselves as such because of the prevailing perception of positive thinking as weak or inactive. This causes them miss the incredible benefits of aligning the power of their minds with the power of their action. Don’t short change yourself. Take your drive for action and enhance it by training your thoughts to positively support your action.

So, what’s the difference between the two strategies in the real world? Take world peace. We all want it, right?

Wishful thinking strategy in a nutshell:

The wishful thinker says, “I want world peace. I believe it is possible, but we can’t have it now. Why start? Conditions are not favorable. Politicians are too corrupt, people too selfish, and the world is too unfair. We’ll work on it when these things change.”

Positive thought > conditions not perfect > act on it someday > goal never achieved

Positive thinking strategy in a nutshell:

The positive thinker says, “I want world peace and even if we can’t achieve it today we can begin. Conditions may not be favorable. Politicians are corrupt, people are selfish, and the world is an unfair place. However, we can take action to change those things as we work towards the goal.”

Positive thought > conditions not perfect > change conditions > achieve goal

Note that the initial impulse (positive thought) is the same in both strategies. The conclusion about circumstances is the same. It’s the decision based on the circumstances that makes all the difference.

Life gives no guarantees. Some positive thinkers never reach their ultimate goal. Some wishful thinkers get lucky.

However, becoming a positive thinker increases your chances of achieving your goals – and soon. It’s all about the decision – the decison to act or not to act.

Follow your bliss! Experience your bliss! Become your bliss!

Ray Davis
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