How to go beyond positive thinking

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Stuffed toy sitting next to a coffee cup that reads "Today is gonna be a good day."

It’s no mystery that positive thinking is a valuable part of good mental health. You don’t have to be a genius to know that negative thinking will get you nowhere. So why should you go beyond positive thinking?

There’s nothing wrong with having optimism for the future.

It’s important to be able to believe that somehow everything will turn out okay. I believe we refer to that as hope.

But how do you make that hope tangible?

How can you feel invested in how things turn out instead of just hoping for the best?

I can remember when I was first exposed to the power of positive thinking. It was in my early married years when my husband and I became part of what was then known as Amway.

Amway was a multilevel marketing company that sold everything from toilet paper to vitamins. Not only could you buy products you used every day, but you could also make a little money and grow a business.

Well, we didn’t make a lot of money. But what we did do in Amway was make excellent friends.

Those excellent friends encouraged us to listen to cassette tapes each week. These cassette tapes had inspiring stories from people who had gone before us in business. They also contained positive messages from the big guns of positive thinking: Napoleon Hill, Norman Vincent Peale, Zig Ziglar, you name it.

The idea was that if you listened to these positive messages enough, you would just start to believe them. Your brain would naturally absorb these messages.

If you listened to them in place of negative feedback — for example the daily news — you would really start to see growth and progress in your business and your life.

Garbage in, garbage out. 🗑️

Makes total sense.

This was an earth shattering concept for me at the time. If I’m honest, negative thinking is kind of my default mode.

I’ll look at what’s not working before I try to figure out how to make things work. (Hmmm…..this might actually make me a good therapist. 🤔)

I’ve often been accused of always finding ways to shoot holes through things right off the bat.

I understand now that it’s part of my personality, but I know there is much power in trying to be positive first. So this was a real challenge for me to apply these principles to my everyday life.

I’m grateful for this time in Amway because I learned that I had the power to map out and visualize a life that I wanted with positive thinking.

I could choose to keep that picture in front of me. Using the power of my own thinking, I could march towards that picture.

But the hardest part about this for me was that every time I looked at myself in the mirror and said, “This is going to be the best day ever,” and “I am awesome,” I didn’t believe it.

In my perspective, there was too much evidence that said otherwise. It felt like I was lying to myself.

All I could see was that I had several issues I needed to resolve that day and being awesome didn’t really give me a roadmap for how to solve my problems.

I was just giving myself a whole lot of thumbs-ups. 👍

What I was missing was adaptive thinking.

Adaptive thinking goes beyond positive thinking.

You have to do more than just believe things will be okay.

  • What happens if they’re not okay?
  • What do I do then?
  • Am I still awesome even though I dropped the ball?

This is where anxiety can so easily enter the picture because you don’t feel like you have any control over the outcome.

In order to solve problems, you have to know what role you play and which of your strengths you will use to come up with a solution.

Adaptive thinking allows you to keep a positive attitude as your foundation and lets you build on that to actually generate solutions to your problems.

Adaptive thinking helps you form contingencies.

Being able to plan around unexpected stuff without losing your stuff is the biggest key in remaining flexible. Anymore, being flexible is everything, especially at work.

Positive thinking would tell you to hope for the best when something you didn’t expect flies in to your day. You got this!

Adaptive thinking would tell you to consider all the possible scenarios in front of you and come up with solutions based on how you’ve handled these things before.

Of course you should stay positive that you can handle whatever comes your way.

But adaptive thinking gives you some real data in the moment so you can see how this might actually turn out. This is how you calm yourself.

Adaptive thinking helps you create observable and measurable plans instead of going off of some vague feeling of trying to feel better about the situation.

Adaptive thinking focuses on your strengths.

We all have things we are really good at. Those strengths give us the confidence to solve the problems that may pop up in the day.

When you are faced with a difficult situation, using positive thinking to hope for a positive outcome can help you persevere.

Adaptive thinking, however, lets you focus on your specific skills that will help you power through this situation.

  • Are you good at bringing some order to chaos? Focus on using that skill to make a step-by-step list of the things you will take care of today.
  • Are you the person who can find solutions under a rock? Bring that strength to the equation to help you and your team see the light at the end of the tunnel.
  • Are you the empathetic one who can help keep the peace in tense situations? Please, yes, your strength is superhuman and can help your team survive some tough times. (Why is there no Superman emoji?)

Focusing on the strengths you’ve already developed builds tremendous confidence for the next challenge that comes along. You have results you can point back to. 👈

“I’ve got this because I’ve done this before.”

Feeling inspired or hopeful is a great place to start. But you will really succeed when you go beyond positive thinking to focus on applying your strengths and skills to a challenge.

Use adaptive thinking to paint yourself a track record of what you’ve already done really well.

Adaptive thinking allows you to be curious and forward focused.

Positive thinking is forward focused all by itself. It always points you to believing you can succeed in some future moment. This is great.

Adaptive thinking takes you to the next level by letting you create that specific future moment for yourself. It allows you to explore your own natural curiosity.

  • What questions can you ask to look at this problem from all angles?
  • What strategies can you look at now that will set you up for that next level?
  • What have I done before that didn’t work?
  • What did work?

Interacting with your strengths, skills, and investigative prowess helps you keep moving toward your goal.

How do you build adaptive thinking into your day?

Let’s say it’s time for your annual evaluation at work. Nobody really enjoys these, including and especially your boss.

But you have a bit more of a disadvantage of being judged by someone who doesn’t sit in your seat every day. Performance evaluations are ripe ground for positive thinking because you really have no idea how this may go. You want to feel as good as you can when you walk in the door.

If you’ve had a bit of a tough year in meeting your goals, you may already be a little worried.

So you tell yourself that things will be good. You’re a valued employee, you know that, and you can handle whatever your boss may bring up.


But take that positive attitude a step further.

  1. Before the meeting with your boss, make a list for yourself of specific areas where you already know you missed completing some things.
  2. Ask yourself some questions about how and why you missed the mark. Don’t beat yourself up, but do come up with some data on what you could have missed.
  3. Generate some ideas for how you can come up with a plan to address those issues. What will you do differently next time? Who can you collaborate with in the future that might help complement your skills?

If those ideas come up in the meeting, you have some actionable and forward-focused stuff to bring up if you need it. Now you have a better chance of contributing good information to the meeting and being a little less on the defense.

This takes you much further down the road than just telling yourself things will be fine.

I wish I had done more of this when I was in the corporate arena.

When I did finally understand the importance of adaptive thinking, I came to the conclusion it was time to leave that arena.

So that prompted a whole new round of adaptive thinking.

But I was confident I could take the next step because I started a new chapter of my career based on the track record I had already built.

I was positive about my career change, but adaptive thinking helped me to be pragmatic about what I needed to succeed.

Think about it

What are some areas where you could apply adaptive thinking?

Drop me some comments below! 👇👇👇


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You’re busy at work and at home, and you take care of everyone else. You’re allowed to have a few minutes in each day to set your focus, regroup and feel a little more in control.

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