03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Mar 19, 2015

Could You Just Get Over Your Negativity About Positive Focus?

What is it about those Huff Post readers who seem to get all negative about the suggestion that having a positive focus just might help? I mean, really.

The demographics tell us that our readers are highly educated, and presumably intelligent, and yet I keep getting the most cynical replies from people who seem to keep missing the point.

(If you are just now joining this conversation, you might want to click on these links to some recent articles that will help set the context. This one asks you to consider what you want out of life, really. And this one asks are you doomed by your circumstances? And this one looks at the growing prevalence of people blaming society for the ills of the world.

So let's tackle this head on.

What's the Problem With Positive Thinking?

I certainly understand what the problem would be if the only recommendations were some kind of denial form of thinking. "Geez, isn't racism great? How about that loss of life? Don't you just love the recession?''

Who on earth could possibly believe that the point of these articles is even remotely related to this kind of ridiculous sentiment, and yet read some examples of what some readers have sent:

From an editor (yes, an editor!) of a significant western newspaper:

You bring up many valuable points about the different ways we sabotage ourselves from getting what we want, but please know that, amidst the biggest economic collapse in 80 years, rising unemployment and two wars further sapping our resources, that NO ONE, not even the most puerile person, is going to believe that all they need to do to make a better world for themselves is to change their minds. Furthermore, this kind of subtext to your main theme in making one's life better is insulting and unnecessary. These problems are real and they affect people's lives daily.

If my goal in life is to live in a world without racism, for example, don't pretend the phenomenon doesn't exist in deeply embedded social and historical contexts. If your goal is to disguise these contexts, you should also know that we are onto you and yours. And in that case, good day and good luck on the ol' snake oil circuit.

And another wrote to say:

We have been ruined as a nation by "the power of positive thinking". Your answers are simplistic and really don't apply to everyday living. People need to have a source of income in order to be able to have a roof over their heads and food on their tables. I don't think you address this very well at all.

Can you believe this? Are you kidding me? Ruined by positive thinking? Creating a positive focus and taking positive action is somehow "simplistic?" Pretend that racism doesn't exist?


Far from denial or pretense, the consistent theme across these many articles over the past 18 months is one of taking charge and doing what you can to improve your life experience along with your life circumstances. To play off the editor quoted above, there seem to be many puerile comments from the "shoot from the lip" crowd distorting this kind of advice into some kind of namby pamby pabulum about just pretending that things are fine or that things will get better if you just sit around and hope.

Far from it. It takes great courage to face adversity, imagine a better outcome, and then get off your butt and do something about it.

What makes the above quoted comments and others like them so profoundly sad is that the authors must truly care and yet for some reason, seem to keep missing the point. By the proverbial country mile.

Do You Have a Dream?

Let's take racism for example. My friend the editor seemingly must have missed one of the most amazing examples of positive focus in the 20th century. The author seems to have equated positive thought about the future racism in this country with "snake oil." I can only wonder what this editor would have had to say to, or about, Dr. Martin Luther King.

Would he have preferred that Dr. King simply bemoaned the reality of racism rather than rally the country with his dream. In case you have never actually read or heard his speech, here's some of what he had to say on August 28th, 1963.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

Watch this incredible speech here:

Dr. King changed my life and the lives of millions of others that day with one of the most inspired and inspiring messages of all time. I doubt that he would look across this nation today and say that the dream has become fully manifest. Nor do I doubt that he would look back on his efforts and decry them has "silly," or regret having been on "the ol' snake oil circuit," or to collapse in a fit of futility, saying that holding a dream about desperate situations somehow doesn't "apply to everyday living."

Far from it, my friends. Without a vision, there is no future to drive toward; without a vision, there is, no action to take; without a vision, there is no inspiration to sustain us through the difficulties.

So, please, either read these articles (and I do suggest reading at least most of them) with the intention of discovering how the ideas expressed might work, and then get busy working them as best you can. If you just can't countenance a stand for a positive future, for encouragement to think, plan and act in accordance with that positive future, then don't bother either reading or lamenting these pieces - just get on with whatever it is that will make a difference.

Make whatever difference you can. Be the difference you can become.

Dare to have a dream.

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)