Which is best? Positive Thinking, or Positive Action?

Claire Boyles Hiking Co. Wicklow, Ireland 2010
Claire Boyles Hiking Co. Wicklow, Ireland 2010

Yesterday on facebook I posted:
"this afternoon I walked through a gate near my place, and a guy with a bike asked me to hold it open for him. I had to apologise and explain that I was ill & the gate was really heavy & I couldn't hold it open for him. HE said sorry to me. I walked away, feeling guilty for not helping him. How silly is that?" 


A kind friend posted a comment, suggesting that if I said that I was ill then I would create that I was ill, and in fact thinking as if I wasn't ill might help me a lot more.


This is my response:  



I have experienced symptoms of my illness for over a decade, and have been told on numerous occasions by the medical profession that there was nothing wrong with me, because none of the usual physical indicators were present when they did their tests.  I went about my life as normal, not allowing the pain & weakness prevent me from doing anything I wanted to do. The result was that I made myself even more ill.  I thought and behaved as if my body was fully healthy. 

Today I choose to accept reality as it is. My body is weak, and I need to take responsibility and behave in ways that takes care of it. The reality of my illness is that my mitochondria in my cells are unable to release energy the way they did, (I was eventually diagnosed by the doctors a year ago) so making a decision not to stand and hold open a heavy gate, which would result in my experiencing pain and discomfort in my body is a healthy choice. 

So, for over a decade I chose to focus on the positive, of what I COULD do, and I pushed my body way beyond what it could do. And this has resulted in my getting progressively more and more ill. 

Today, I chose to see reality as it is, and take positive action towards creating the reality that I want.

For example, I choose not to give my body extra stress that it doesn't need. I bring awareness to negative emotions such as feeling guilty for taking care of myself, so that I can release them, as they no longer serve me. EFT (Tapping) is a useful technique I've found for letting go of them, as and when they come up. 

I also am extremely careful about what I eat, taking appropriate supplements, I don't eat foods that do not serve my body; instead I choose to eat foods that create health.  

Being in a fuzzy state about my illness up until a few months ago, where I believed I would get well, I believed that if I just focused my mind I'd be able to do what I wanted to do, did not produce positive results.

The reality is that although I still believe I will heal, I have to deal with the reality first. Right now, I need to behave in a gentle way when expecting my body to perform tasks for me. And choosing not to do certain things, is a very healthy, loving and compassionate way to treat myself, of which I am very proud.


So, when given a choice- positive thinking, or choosing behaviour that is loving and kind & supportive to my body, encouraging it to recreate health, I chose the latter, any day. 

Do I believe I'm going to be able to hike up mountains again?  Absolutely, can I do it today?  No.  Would saying that I can be helpful to me?  It wouldn't be true, and if I were to hike up a mountain it would expend the energy that I do have on getting up the mountain, and I'd prefer it to be spend on repairing the cells in my body, so that they're restored to health and able to perform the way they used to perform.   First things first, once my cells are healthy, then I'll climb the mountain.  Until then, I'm quite happy being honest about the reality of what I'm not able to do, and focus on what I can do: being honest about the limitations of my body, and encouraging health in my cells.  


So which produces better results?  Thinking that I am well and healthy?  Or being honest that I’m not and taking appropriate action to create health?


Comments: 23
  • #23

    Claire Boyles LifeMatters (Monday, 31 October 2011 05:16)

    Thanks Sandy :) You're right of course, positive thinking is useful, when used in conjunction with accepting reality as it is :)

  • #22

    Sandy Seeber (Thursday, 27 October 2011 11:24)

    Thank you for this article. I totally agree with you on helping yourself first. Reality is often hard to accept, but once we do we usually have done the first step towards all that we want. I do believe that positive thinking creates results, but that will only happen as long as we are true to ourselves and as long as we accept our reality as it is.

  • #21

    Claire Boyles LifeMatters (Sunday, 23 October 2011 09:55)

    Hi April,

    Thank you for your lovely feedback :)

    I do agree, positive thinking is helpful, judging people for saying it how it is when it sucks, is not so healthy though!

    You're right of course, that's why I posted the original post on facebook, to point out how silly it was for feeling guilty for taking care of myself.

    Thank you for reading & thank you for your feedback I love it!

  • #20

    April (Sunday, 23 October 2011 05:03)

    Hi Claire

    I love this frank and honest post. I agree that you have to be honest about your health issues and stick by your decision to not do what you know your body cannot cope with.

    On the flip side I do believe that positive thinking goes a long way impacting our day to day living, and in some instances you can think yourself well. However I think there are some limitations to this.

    You should not feel guilty because you did what you had to do to preserve yourself, and it was obviously the right thing to do at the time.

    Thank you for sharing.


  • #19

    Claire Boyles LifeMatters (Friday, 21 October 2011 08:21)

    Thank you Caroline :)

    Living in the moment is certainly my aim, whether that moment be a moment of happiness, pain or apathy. My approach is to be 100% honest with how I am right now, because I will find a quicker, more effective way out of that situation just by accepting it fully.

    Yes I meditate regularly- most weeks I go to Camden Open Meditation which is lovely. If you're round this way on Thursday evenings you would be very welcome and it would be lovely to meet for real :)

    info about it here: http://www.openmeditationcamden.com/

  • #18

    Claire Boyles LifeMatters (Friday, 21 October 2011 08:13)

    Hi Majella,

    Thank you so much for such a thoughtful response, I'm working on letting go of the guilt, that's what my original facebook status was about, recognising it & letting it go, as it doesn't serve me :)

    You're right, I'll be back to full health before I know it, carrying 2 bikes AND holding the gate open ;)

    Thank you :)

  • #17

    Caroline Law (Friday, 21 October 2011 07:37)

    A great post, written from the heart.

    I'm all for living in the moment and I suppose positive thinking can be counter intuitive to this when it becomes a blinkered concentration on the future, with stipulations for happiness for example 'when I'm .... everything will be ok and I will be happy'

    As you've said, it's possible to have a positive attitude whilst being realistic.

    Have you tried meditation or Yoga Nidra? I think they would really compliment what you're talking about here. It involves taking your awareness (not the imagination or the thinking part of your brain) deep into the body. On a basic level it is extremely soothing and can lead you through an amazing journey of self discovery and healing.

  • #16

    @Majella21 (Friday, 21 October 2011 03:44)

    Hi Claire,
    This is such a thought provoking post, and one that we can apply to so many areas of our lives. I believe you can't act positively unless you think positively. But thinking positively is not just about dreaming of how things might or should be, although that can be part of it. It is about assessing the current situation and deciding what positive action to take to get to where you want to be.

    I know from your post that this is how you live your life. What I really liked about your story was that you were honest enough and assertive enough to state what your needs were in that situation. You just need to work a little harder at not feeling guilty about that. Celebrate that little victory for yourself that will bring you nearer to your goal of getting well.

    I think this approach applies to everything that we do in life. Very few people have achieved their dreams without taking the positive action, often very hard work, or making hard personal choices. Just willing ourselves to do or be something, without following up with the actions-be they great or small-rarely yields results. The first step is to be authentic to ourselves and to recognise what our own needs are. I often think of the Cabin Crew instructions at the start of a flight. If the oxygen is needed, look after your own needs first and then you can help others.

    Thanks again for this post. It has got me thinking about the actions I need to take to get to where I want to be in my professional life. Just 'wishing it' will not get me to where I want to be.

    Keep doing what you are doing and you'll be able to open the gate and lift the bicycle through at the same time! :-))


  • #15

    Claire Boyles LifeMatters (Friday, 21 October 2011 03:23)

    dear Eileen & Phil,

    thank you so much for the support & encouragement :)

    I hope by sharing my journey it can help others too.

  • #14

    Claire Boyles LifeMatters (Friday, 21 October 2011 03:19)

    Thank you Charles, I couldn't have put it better myself!

    "Delusional (without accepting unavoidable facts) positive thinking only ever leads to disappointment, unfulfilled dreams and at worst to people giving up, becoming despondent and ultimately depressed if not caught in time.

    Positive thinking is so often wrongly touted as the solution to anyone's problems, or the route to success and this causes many people to become disillusioned."

    This is the point I wanted to highlight, and there are so many people out there that have been newly exposed to "Positive thinking" that then go even further, and judge others who they perceive as not being positive! Ugghhh, where's the compassion for other human beings?

    I'm already reaping the rewards, my illness is not something that will miraculously disappear in one day, but my body is slowly starting to feel stronger, which is such a blessing after being so ill for so long. Thank you for being you, and that being so lovely & supportive!

  • #13

    Claire Boyles LifeMatters (Friday, 21 October 2011 03:03)

    thanks Juan, you're right, of course they're both useful, and definitely not holding open heavy gates is helping my body do what it needs to do to get back to health :)

  • #12

    Eileen (Tuesday, 18 October 2011 05:54)

    Hi Claire, it seems that have you gone on a journey and reached a point recognising that positive thinking can have many layers. You are indeed taking positive action in looking after your health and recognising what serves you best. Pretty impressive I would say!

  • #11

    Phil Collins @hypnophil (twitter) (Saturday, 15 October 2011 17:10)

    I agree 10o% with you. What you are doing is exactly right for you. Allow your body heal you.

  • #10

    Charlie Wright (Saturday, 15 October 2011 04:42)

    Delusional (without accepting unavoidable facts) positive thinking only ever leads to disappointment, unfulfilled dreams and at worst to people giving up, becoming despondent and ultimately depressed if not caught in time.

    Positive thinking is so often wrongly touted as the solution to anyone's problems, or the route to success and this causes many people to become disillusioned.

    However, positive thinking is an essential weapon in the armoury of tools required for overcoming problems, but ONLY after the brutal facts of reality have been confronted and taken on board. (read the book "Good to Great" by Jim Collins, best business book ever read and applies to life in general not just biz).

    So Claire I'm delighted to hear about your new approach. Not only should it bring great results but will also make you feel far better about everything at a deeper more tangible level.

    Positive thinking never saved lives, only positive action coupled with a dose of reality and supplemented by positive thinking.


  • #9

    Juan Jose. (Saturday, 15 October 2011 03:04)

    Positive thinking will actually anticipate joy, happiness as it is your state of mind. Accepting the reality of your situation and taking the initiative towards recovery is a positive action that you must take. I do believe that taking positive actions such as -not holding a heavy gate for someone- to better your body conditions will produce better results.

    Be well my friend. :)

  • #8

    Claire Boyles LifeMatters (Friday, 14 October 2011 15:49)

    Thanks Ciara, it's very gratifying to know that I've written something that has provided someone with an insight into a different perspective. This makes me very happy :)

    Positive thinking is great, without it, I wouldn't of course be able to take positive action

  • #7

    Claire Boyles LifeMatters (Friday, 14 October 2011 15:47)

    Hi Paul, agreed, positive thinking is useful, most definitely, and I support and encourage positive thinking in every way.
    What my objection is, is to the concept that saying exactly how something is, is somehow negative, whereas I believe avoiding reality can be much more negative than saying it how it is.

  • #6

    Claire Boyles (Friday, 14 October 2011 15:45)

    Thanks Dr Sims, Minister of Motivation :)

  • #5

    Claire Boyles (Friday, 14 October 2011 15:44)

    Thanks Miriam, really appreciate your support & I think you've clarified further what my thinking is. Of course I believe in thinking positively, if I didn't believe I could get healthy, then I wouldn't be able to take positive action.

  • #4

    Ciara Smartprint.ie (Friday, 14 October 2011 15:39)

    Wow, great article, really thought-provoking! Think I'm swayed by the argument, didn't think I would be... thanks for that

  • #3

    Paul S Allen (Friday, 14 October 2011 15:03)

    Positive thinking may not bring about a cure or recovery but neither will negative thinking. It will however improve your current state of being.

    Three thoughts
    1: Always hope, never lose hope, while there is breath in you there is hope.
    2: Choose your own attitude. "The last of human freedoms - the ability to chose one's attitude in a given set of circumstances." Viktor E. Frankl
    3:Accept the reality of your situation acting appropriately, while searching for a solution. Remember the Stockdale Paradox "This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."

    Positive thinking is positive action.

    Paul S Allen

  • #2

    Dr. Walter Sims (Friday, 14 October 2011 14:46)

    Very well said my friend...love it!! Accepting and appreciating where you are is good medicine ;)!!! Much love to you my friend.

    Dr. Sims

  • #1

    Miriam Ahern (Friday, 14 October 2011 14:36)

    Very Interesting post Claire. The power of positive thinking can't overcome the physical restrictions of reality for most of us mere mortals. The key, I think, is to maintain a positive outlook on that over which we have some control. In your case, how you chose to manage your recovery. Taking positive thinking to a level where it loses its grasp on what is achievable is destructive and counter-intuitive. I say go with your intuition.