Why Positive Thinking Doesn’t Work

There is a lot of talk about the power of positive thinking. Law of Attraction meet up groups are everywhere. Think positive and positive things will happen is the main premise. So why, so often, doesn’t the positive thinking theory work?

To begin with, I agree, thinking positive thoughts are helpful but they are NOT the end all, be all. It’s just part of the larger story. I have been talking about this for years. It can be misleading- and frustrating not to mention it can keep you overweight, broke, and looking for love in all of the wrong places.

So, I was delighted to come across the search based teaching of Gabrielle Oettingen via an email from Brian Johnson.

Oettingen, is a psychology professor at New York University and the University of Hamburg and she, like me, is a skeptic.

Oettingen spent more than 20 years testing her theory that positive thinking ALONE doesn’t really work.

And I’m not surprised at all that the research confirmed she was right. The positive vibers and dreamers often just have their head up in a cloud without producing the desired results.

Here’s why. You have to factor in the REAL LIFE challenges. If you only focus on the outcome without considering a few set backs that might occur along the way, once a problem occurs – you are toast.

You aren’t mentally prepared. You crash. You burn. I have personally seen this over and over again.

In Oettingen’s new book, Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation  she discusses a more realistic way of visualizing the future which I believe is spot on.

In my coaching practice I have clients actually visualize the worse case scenario so that they can adapt to the fear ahead of time. If it were to happen they would be less likely to have a total melt down. It’s all muscle memory. Doing an exercise like this builds up your courage and resilience muscle. It helps you rehearse when the stakes are lower and your less vulnerable.


Gabrielle calls her method “mental contrasting.” And she created an easy to remember acronym called WOOP. (love it).

W- Wish
O- Outcome
P- Plan

Wish- You are instructed to dream your dream.

Outcome- You are asked to get really clear about your desired result.

Obstacles- You are then asked to visualize the barriers that might prevent you from achieving them. Make a mental note. Jot them down.

Plan- Lastly, you mentally rehearse overcoming possible challenges with a written plan in hand noting each action step that you may need to implement.

So think “WOOP” and bravely factor in your “what ifs, ” darling. I want you to be mentally strong as you create your AMAZING life.

Oh, and I would LOVE to see in the comments below if this video and Oettingen’s method resonated with you.

To Flourishing Your Life,





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