Do You Fear Positive Thinking?

Oh, my friend, it’s not what they take away from you that counts.
It’s what you do with what you have left. ~Hubert Humphrey

Do you ever fear positive thinking? I do.

Of all the fears that might haunt us, why in the world would we fear a positive attitude?

Immediately following my accident, I wanted desperately to believe in the possibility of recovery. I knew that a good attitude would help me tackle the hard work ahead. But somehow I couldn’t find the courage to maintain a consistent positive approach.

I faced a difficult road with an uncertain destination and I consciously chose to imagine the worst, despite ample evidence that most of the “worst” never happens. I understood intellectually that the course of my recovery depended on my outlook, but I resisted the urge to look for possibilities in a difficult situation.

What’s the source of this irrational fear? What’s courageous about adopting a positive attitude?


During my rehab I met men and women with completely severed spinal cords and illogical expectations of complete recovery. Families cheerfully affirmed their absolute conviction that God would provide a miracle and their loved one would certainly walk again. I thought these folks were whistling in the dark, pretending that nothing was wrong in the midst of disaster.

My injury actually offered more reason for realistic hope than many others, but I think I was afraid of appearing naïve. I tried to seem mature and pragmatic, but I really worried about what others might think. I feared being labeled as a Pollyanna; I didn’t want others to think I lived in denial, so instead I denied myself the power of optimism.


I think we choose pessimism as a defense against disappointment. By expecting failure, we remove the risk of shattered dreams. Fearful of uncertainty, I chose the false security of hopelessness and a death spiral of depression and darkness.

I’ve learned that hope doesn’t have to involve unrealistic wishes. “Hoping” for a new bike or a magic cure is more of a wish. True hope is expectation rooted in faith. When I learned to place my hope in Jesus’ consistent presence and God’s promise to always work for good in all things, I reversed the death spiral and entered a cycle of growth and optimism.


In an article called Eight Keys To Confronting Adversity I talked about something I call realistic optimism. I don’t advocate following Pollyanna down the path of denying reality. I see little advantage in pretending that everything’s rosy and sunny when it’s not. Problems can’t be solved or obstacles overcome unless they’re first recognized.

But realism doesn’t equate with pessimism. Realistic optimism isn’t denial, it means becoming what Norman Vincent Peale called a “possibilitarian” when he said, “No matter how dark things seem to be or actually are, raise your sights and see possibilities – always see them, for they’re always there.”

Possibilitarians – realistic optimists – don’t ignore the darkness, but they also don’t fear seizing the opportunities that exist on even the most difficult path.

We all wander at times in a deep forest with no familiar landmarks. Some folks ignore the danger and skip blindly along, trusting that luck or God will somehow guide them away from surrounding peril. Some despair of ever escaping, so they sit in darkness and await inevitable calamity.

But some look up to a sky that stretches beyond the darkness and follow the light of hope and opportunity. They recognize and even fear the reality of their circumstances, but they’re not afraid to look beyond immediate danger to discover and anticipate possibilities.

I want to become a confirmed possibilitarian.

Why do you sometimes fear optimism? How do you replace your fear with “possibilitarianism”?

The sun shines and warms and lights us and we have no curiosity to know why this is so; but we ask the reason of all evil, of pain, and hunger, and mosquitoes and silly people. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson