Why Positive Thinking Can’t Change Your Life … And What Can

There are countless “life coaches” and positive thinkers out there today who would have you believe that if you think enough positive thoughts, and are determined to be happy, you WILL be happy. They say that you can rise above your own personal challenges if you just have enough self-generated motivation.

Sadly, this is not true.


Because there is something deep within us that is much more powerful than thought. It’s called, belief. It doesn’t matter how many times you think, “I’m stronger than this!” if you don’t believe it, all your positive thoughts are shallow lies, canceled out by negative beliefs.

No matter how open minded and smart we’d like to think we are, we humans have many, many, MANY very strong beliefs. Most of our beliefs are so deeply rooted in our subconscious that we don’t even know that we have them.

Those little voices in our heads that say, “You’ve always been fat,” or, “You’re too shy to speak at that conference,” or, “You’re not smart enough to handle that project,” are often not just thoughts, they’re the expressions of our core beliefs about ourselves.

That’s why a battered woman will return to her abusive husband, or suffer through dysfunctional relationship after dysfunctional relationship. She may sincerely think, “I deserve better,” 50,000 times, but until she fundamentally believes it, she is trapped in a cycle.

Where do these negative beliefs come from?

Often, they’re rooted in our childhood. Our parents being critical, our peers being snobby, a legalistic religious upbringing, or our inundation with advertisements depicting the ideal man or woman who looks so very, very, very unlike us … All these things and many more can lay the foundation for or contribute to our beliefs.

In many cases, our beliefs are based on what other people tell us to believe. However, the key to changing our beliefs is to take responsibility for them.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Yes, your mom said, “Don’t wear those pants. They make you look fat!” But you believed her. And you still believe her.

Yes, your junior high rivals openly mocked and bullied you. But you believed them, because their ignorant, juvenile voices are still echoing around in your head.

Yes, your dad blamed his “anger problems” on you, because you were such a “stupid” and “obnoxious” child. He wouldn’t have had to hit you if you’d been “good” or “smart” or “better.” Right?

That’s what you believed! And those beliefs (even though you may have forgotten they were even there) are still shaping and influencing your adult thoughts, feelings, actions, reactions, relationships, career, and how you interpret the world around you.

Next time you feel depressed or frustrated – next time that negative, nagging voice pops into your head – ask yourself, “What core belief do I have that’s inspiring this feeling or thought?”  Once you identify those beliefs, you can change them.



“The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive.” ~ John Green, Looking for Alaska

  1. Forgive everyone in your life (past and present) who inspired or reinforced your hurtful beliefs about yourself.
  2. Forgive God for not giving you the ideal life you wanted.
  3. Forgive yourself for whatever failings (or imagined failings) you have.

Are you overweight? Forgive yourself. And instead of punishing yourself by giving up and giving in, reward yourself with a healthier lifestyle.

Are you not where you imagined you’d be 10 years ago? Let your pride and anger go, and embrace the accomplishments you’ve made, whether material or spiritual.

Don’t hold yourself to the standards of others. Don’t blame your challenges on other people. OWN your challenges. Take RESPONSIBILITY for your weakness. FORGIVE yourself and others. LEARN and GROW from your pain and suffering.

“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.” ~ Steve Maraboli, Life, The Truth, and Being Free

One fun little exercise I’ve learned is to write down your negative beliefs on a piece of paper. Whether it’s, “I am unattractive,” or, “I’ll never be a better man than my father,” or, “I’m a slut,” or, “I’m trapped in a career I hate because I’m stupid” …

  1. Write it down.
  2. Crumple it up.
  3. BURN IT!

As you watch that paper turn to ash, envision your negative belief crumbling away with. Let go of them. Let them blow away like dust in the wind. Forgive yourself for being only human. Recognize your weakness, learn from it, and become stronger by doing so.

On the ashes of your negative beliefs, you will (slowly but surely) build new, healthy, and positive beliefs. It may take the help of a pastor, friend, therapist, spouse, (or all the above), but in time, you will establish positive and healthy core beliefs. Those beliefs will result in positive thoughts, happy feelings, productive actions, and a better life.

“To err is human, to forgive, divine.” ~ Alexander Pope

“I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine.”  ~ Jane Austen

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”  ~ Plato

“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”  ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

“I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.”  ~ C.S. Lewis

“Cry. Forgive. Learn. Move on. Let your tears water the seeds of your future happiness.”  ~ Steve Maraboli

Comments 2

  1. The absolute best thing to happen to me was when Christ renewed my thinking and self-image, it took a while, but I see myself as He sees me and I don’t compare myself with others, because I like myself and have no need to always put myself on the least attractive end comparing. I love to be alone with myself, which I used to fear quietness and my own thoughts for a lot of years. I grew up in an alcoholic home, physical and emotional abuse in my first marriage at 16-26, and then myself an alcoholic from 26-35, when God entered the mess of my life and turned me around 180 degrees. He’s still working on me, and I still have to push those lies out of my head once and a while, but I am happy where the Lord has me. I am soooo grateful to Jesus! Thank You Lord.

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