Are positive thoughts enough?


In today’s world we often surrounded by reminders to ‘stay positive’:

“Happiness is a choice.”

“Today is your chance to shine.”

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it’s happened.”

Positive mantras and motivational quotes can do a fantastic job of lifting us up and empowering us when we’re in the right frame of mind. But are they … enough?

Enough for us to embody positivity through and through?

Enough for us to experience long-lasting health and happiness?

Enough for us to be relieved of the ill-effects of stress and anxiety?

In Bruce Lipton’s book, The Biology of Belief, he states that “simply thinking positive thoughts does not always lead to physical cures.” 

In fact, there are circumstances in which those affirmations can be dangerous or unproductive, such as:

  • When we place too much weight on them.
  • When we’re not taking steps to eliminate negativity as well.
  • When we’re expecting immediate or dramatic results.
  • When we’re not really ‘feeling’ or ‘living’ them.

How can we promote health and happiness in ourselves?

Often, it takes more than just positive thinking to bring about real changes to our minds and bodies. According to Lipton, it’s about shifting “our mind’s energy towards positive, life-generating thoughts and eliminate ever-present energy-draining and debilitating negative thoughts.”

We need to expect the rise and fall of our thoughts and emotions, accepting this for what it is.

We need to treat ourselves with kindness and compassion, even in our challenging moments. 

We need to find the right surroundings, seeking out positive news and avoiding places (online and in person) that make us feel pressured or unbalanced.

We need to tackle our persistent negative thoughts head on and get to the root of them.

Most of all, we need to remember that merely thinking positively is not going to help alleviate any anxiety and stress that we might be facing in our lives. Moreso, believing that it will be a ‘quick fix’ can make things even worse if it doesn’t work and the situation appears hopeless.

What role does the subconscious mind play in positive thinking?

The subconscious mind is more than a million times more powerful than your conscious mind. It makes decisions without actively needing to ‘think’ about them, lies just below your immediate awareness and influences your conscious thoughts, emotions and behaviour.

Conversely, your conscious mind  includes everything that you’re aware of in the present moment. It’s the feelings that you are feeling, the memories that you are drawing on, the thoughts that you are thinking and the decisions you are deliberately making.

The power of the subconscious mind is a huge piece of the puzzle when it comes to understanding exactly why positive thoughts alone are not enough. 

Why? Because positive thinking lives in the conscious mind.

When we read or repeat positive affirmations to ourselves, these actions live in our consciousness. We are aware of them. We are being intentional in what we say and think and trying to bring about a deliberate change in ourselves.

But, our conscious mind is only in charge of our lives for about 5% of the time. Our subconscious mind shapes around 95% of our life experiences (Szegedy-Maszak, 2005). So if the messages programmed into our subconscious mind are not positive ones, if they’re at odds with the things we’re trying to consciously tell ourselves … which mind do you think is going to come out on top?

There is absolutely a place for positive thinking in encouraging health and happiness in our lives. 

But it’s not a quick fix or a simple solution; it’s not going to cure anything in the long-term or on its own. For positivity to have a real impact, we first need to look at exploring and re-programming our subconscious minds – the real powerhouses behind the way we live our lives.

How can you break free from negativity if the subconscious mind is in control?

There’s no denying that the power of our subconscious mind is unrivaled and yet, our conscious mind has got it’s own superpower … the power to override it.

The subconscious mind influences our thoughts and emotions profoundly through:

  • Ingrained pathways and behavioural responses that we know as ‘habits’ and struggle to break.
  • Reflexive action without reason or conscious thought.
  • Automatic behaviours, often in functional circumstances such as driving a car or riding a bike.

But the conscious mind does have a lot of strength too, allowing us to think, plan and make considered decisions. It is self-reflective, observing our own behaviour and emotions and considering these in the context of the rest of our lives and against any past memories that it can access. 

Most importantly of all, our conscious mind can choose how to respond to outside signals and events.

It can consciously decide to overrule our pre-programmed subconscious behaviour.

It can evaluate and change what we are doing or about to do through free will.

Overriding the subconscious mind and going against our own grain is not always easy. Nor, is it always possible immediately. It might take time and considered effort to reflect, to notice and to choose differently. But it can be done. Sometimes old subconscious habits and behaviours can sneak back into our lives but this gets easier.

So … are positive thoughts enough? On their own, and in the face of seeking real life changes, they are unlikely to be. But they can be a useful tool, when used alongside other practical steps and intentions as part of a wider holistic approach to re-programming the subconscious mind. 

For practical steps towards making changes and eliminating negative habits, whilst recognising and working with the subconscious pulls, have a read of my previous blog ‘Why Do We Sometimes Get Stuck In Habits?’


Lipton, B. H. (2005). The biology of belief: Unleashing the power of consciousness, matter and miracles.

Szegedy-Maszak, M., ‘Mysteries of the Mind: Your unconscious is making your everyday decisions.’ U.S. News & World Report, February 28, 2005.

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