top of page
  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

How does positive thinking work? 3 reasons it works (and 2 reasons it doesn’t) [Wise Wednesdays]

This week, during a coaching conversation with a wonderful client who noticed what seemed like miraculous results in terms of influence on her team, we explored how she was able to create these results. We had worked on shifting a set of beliefs using the HAPI process and it resulted in her rapidly recruiting a fantastic new team member to support research on a national research initiative, with little organisational opposition which was unusual. She asked me how shifting her thinking had enabled this, so I thought I’d take time to share a response in Wise Wednesdays.

On one level it’s intuitive: think positive thoughts, create positive results. On another level, it can feel like woo woo. But as a coach, I still use the medical principle of Ockham’s razor: the simplest explanation is the truth. Here are a few rational reasons positive thinking creates exciting results:

1) Positive thoughts create positive feelings:

This is the basic mechanics of the mind-body connection. Positive thoughts create a positive state of mind.

2) Positive non-verbal communication transforms relationships:

A positive state of mind has a ripple effect through non-verbal (and verbal) communication which impacts others and multiplies mutual goodwill. Feeling safe and supported makes others more likely to help.

3) Shifting thoughts creates a sense of flow:

The experience of changing your thoughts or, more accurately, choosing which thoughts you focus on, creates a sense of freedom. Fluidity of thinking in the mind is mirrored by a felt sense of flow in the body.

When does positive thinking not work?

1) When you use it as a mask:

Forcing yourself to think positive thoughts when you need to accept where you are or the reality of a situation first will worsen negative feelings.

2) When you use it as a form of control:

Trying to use positive thoughts to control outcomes rather than simply to cultivate flow, ease and positivity will backfire. Detachment from the outcome is essential.

Great leaders have often spoken about optimism. Leadership guru Simon Sinek uses it as his brand. But I believe an understanding of the principle of ‘Right Thought’ as it is called in Buddhist psychology is much broader. It refers to a correct appraisal of the situation – not necessarily better but not worse than it is - so that the wisest response can be deployed. This simple device corrects our negative bias towards reality. This more accurate assessment of a situation means we become exponentially more effective.

In the end, we’re not necessarily thinking more positively, we’re simply thinking more accurately, but Right Thought feels positive because so much of our habitual thinking is negative (an evolutionary adaptation to threat). You could say that coaching is really in the business of being in reality – not a dream, not a nightmare, just a more accurate and liberating reality.

As our global challenges continue to amplify, I believe transformational work will become increasingly important to ensure leaders and changemakers access their full powers of influence for the good.

Thoughts? 😊

Have a great week,


p.s. Join me for the next Leaders Circle: Purpose in Times of Global War on Nov 28th at 6.30pm UK/1.30 pm EST. We'll explore how to stay on purpose and energised amid uncertainty and information overload. Find more information and register on Zoom here.

0 views0 comments


bottom of page