Positive Thinking versus Wishful Thinking – The Affirmation Spot for Saturday June 14, 2008

Today’s Affirmation:
“I am bigger than any doubt, bolder than any fear, and stronger any obstacle!


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 vision – 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 as 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.


Ray Davis is the Founder of The Affirmation Spot and focuses on empowering minds to think positively, achieve goals, and live dreams. He is author of the ebook The Power to Be You and the forthcoming The Power to Be You 2: 1001 Power Thoughts for Daily Life.

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Published by

Ray Davis

I am the Founder of The Affirmation Spot, author of Annuanki Awakening, and co-founder of 6 Sense Media. My latest books are the Anunnaki Awakening: Revelation (Book 1 of a trilogy) and The Power to Be You: 417 Daily Thoughts and Affirmations for Empowerment. I have written prolifically on the topics of personal development and human potential for many years. By day, I write sales training for Fortune 100 company. I began studying affirmations and positive thinking after a life-threatening illness at 25. My thirst for self-improvement led him to read the writings of Joseph Campbell, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Neale Donald Walsch, and many other luminaries in the fields of mythology and motivation. Over time, I have melded these ideas into my own philosophy on self-development. I have written, recorded, and used affirmations and other tools throughout that time to improve my own life and I have a passion for helping other reach for their goals and dreams. Ray holds a Bachelor's of Science Degree in Secondary Education in Social Studies from University of Kansas. He lives in Framingham, MA with his wife and his black lab, Mia.

9 thoughts on “Positive Thinking versus Wishful Thinking – The Affirmation Spot for Saturday June 14, 2008”

  1. Absoutely. Positive thinking changes your life. its called the ‘Law of Attraction’. Like attracts like. We dwell on negative experiences we care negative experience, it becomes a viscious circle. What do we want, Success, Happiness, Friends, Love. If we can see it and feel it, we can achieve it.

  2. Positive thinking to me is being able to take any situation in life and “find the positive”! Take the recent death of Tim Russert for example. It is a tradjedy that he had to pass on in such short notice, however, I like to think that he was like a father to many of us and that we can “find the positive” in his passing. His death taught me that we need to live each day as if it were our last. I know a lot of people say that, but really, we need to take in and savor every single moment in our lives because we never know what could happen. I was introduced to the movie “The Secret” about a year ago, and being able to change my ways of thinking into a possitive enviornment has changed my life and now I am working to help empower others! I work for a company called Life Mastery Unlimited. The CEO of the company designed a child’s empowerment program called “The Secret to The Unlimited Child” Our goal is to empower humanity one child at a time! You should check out the website and pass the word on! It can never hurt to help the world! Best wishes!

  3. Cheyenne,

    Thanks for the comment. Very good thoughts all. You stole my thunder a bit, as today’s blog was going to be on this very topic.

    I think The Secret is doing a lot of good for a lot of people. For that, it is a blessing.

    I’m so glad The Secret has empowered your thoughts and encouraged you to take action.

    Thinking and action are the twin foundations of success, peace of mind, and happiness in life. Getting your thoughts flowing in a positive direction, what your company and mine are about, is the first step.

    However, we live in a world of action and when the thoughts are not followed by action we can wind up getting stuck.

    The Secret is a wonderful doorway to introduce people to these concepts. From its success, I think it is unequaled since Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking in its impact on society.

    What you are doing at Life Mastery Unlimited is such important work. If children can be taught these principles early in life, it will save them a lot of heartache in learning the hard way as so many of us have.

    Peace and continued success to you and your company.


  4. Ray,
    I enjoy writting to you! I love to surround myself with positive people! Sorry for spoiling the blog a little bit! What our companies are doing is amazing! Positive thinking for me has led me to “take action”. It is so important in today’s world that we not only teach our children the outcome that is available from using affirmations in life, but also keep learning ourselves! Keep up the good work!

    Cheyenne Morgan

  5. Ray, I was just listening to W. Clement Stone’s audio recording of The Success System that Never Fails.

    According to Stone, “A positive mental attitude, PMA, is the right attitude in a given environment or situation.”

    That is a wonderful definition. And this is a wonderful post!

    I think you hit the nail exactly on the head and elaborating on it beautifully. From Stone’s definition or your expanded description one could have a positive mental attitude at golf, business, love, the grocery story, as a soldier on a battlefield, while a doctor performing surgery, or blogging.

    It doesn’t even limit one to pleasant thoughts although they should predominate most of the time for this is the very definition of happiness, which contributes enormously to success not to mention to a *cough* positive attitude.


    Hey, Chris

    Thanks for taking the time to leave such an insightful comment. The idea for this article came from the way I often see positive thinking portrayed in media. It seems to be generally scoffed at, i contend, because it is really wishful thinking being portrayed.

    So many peoples’ lives could be different, if they focused on keeping their thoughts positive and took action on them.

    I am not familiar with Stone’s work. I will have to look into. Thank you for the information.

    Stay inspired!


  6. Hi Ray,

    Stone coined the phrase “Positive Mental Attitude” or PMA.

    As a child, he grew up with a wonderful single mother, but was poor. They ate puffy rice, for example, and he sold newspapers at 6 to help get money.

    This catapulted what would eventually be a sales and business career in insurance (started by his mom when she bootstrapped herself from seamstress to sewing business owner to eventually buying a small insurance company).

    Over his life, W. Clement Stone gave away $277 million dollars for a variety of causes mental health, politics, and more. He lived to be 100. His wife, Jesse, 2 years younger than him, also lived to be 100.

    That’s right — both centenarians. And he dropped out of law school to marry his wife because he’d learned what he needed and because he felt his wife would be a great positive influence on him. She was.

    He was a huge believer in what he called “self-motivators”. You would call them affirmations, but they weren’t necessarily in the “I…” format.

    He’s ALSO famous for, “Do it now!” his favourite self-motivator. He would pick an inspirational phrase, idea, or command, and repeat it out loud to himself with energy 40-50 times 2-3x/day. He’d pick a different one every 7-10 days or so. This, he felt, allowed him to memorize it and for it to come to mind when needed. Things like, “A deal’s a deal, and a promise is a promise.”

    What’s more, when building his insurance empire he published a newsletter with self-motivators and other success ideas for his sales force. Many of his salespeople became rich and happy, not necessarily in that order (PMA, remember).

    Stone later teamed up with Napoleon Hill to write, Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude. Hill agreed to work with Stone on the condition that Stone agree to be Hill’s business manager. That worked out well too: We hear more of Hill than of Stone!

    If you listen to the audio program I mentioned in my first comment, you’ll get an enormous kick out of it. You can buy it on MP3 online, or if you want you can listen free on YouTube as much as strikes your fancy here.

    Unfortunately, you miss out on a fabulous audio forward by Og Mandino that is worth listening to. Find the MP3 for that. Mandino said he owed his later happiness success after post WW2 financial failure and alcoholism to Stone’s philosophy of positive mental attitude.

    Keep up the great work, Ray, and best of success!



    Thank you very much for the detailed information on Stone. One of my own “motivators” is that I get up each day to learn something. Today, thanks to you, I have. We certainly do walk in the footsteps of remarkable people, don’t we?

    Have an amazing week!


  7. i agree with you 100% about how positive thinking gets a bad rap. More people need to understand the difference between positive thinking and wishful thinking.

  8. Wishful thinking is basically having had hoped something would come true that you knew would not. It implies a certain level of ignorance. Positive thinking has nothing to do with hopelessness and in fact is the polar opposite of hopelessness.

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