Why Having a Positive Attitude Isn’t Enough

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Have a positive attitude!

We hear this advice all the time. Have a positive attitude and things will work out.

Unfortunately life isn’t that simple. Our lives are filled with heartbreaks, losses, failures, and setbacks. There has to be more we can do than prop up the ideal of a positive attitude.

I’m not opposed to having a positive attitude. In fact, I believe maintaining a positive attitude defines how close we get to realizing our life potential. The only problem is that positive attitudes don’t just drop from the sky. A specific mindset is required in order to generate an authentic positive attitude.

Let’s dive deeper.

Enter the Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck achieved positive psychology stardom through her groundbreaking book Mindset. She defines two kinds of mindsets people can have: growth mindsets and fixed mindsets.

Dweck describes a growth mindset as maintaining the belief that skills grow through effort. People with a growth mindset are focused on getting better. With enough effort, change is possible. Any trait or skill can be developed from bad to good or from good to great.

If growth mindsets represent the ideal, then fixed mindsets fall on the opposite side of the spectrum.

Dweck describes those with a fixed mindset as focusing on permanent traits. The key word is “fixed.” Anything that is fixed remains the same over time.

If ability remains the same over time, why try? Any attempt to improve looks plain stupid.

Sucking at Math

How does one’s mindset affect one’s attitude? There’s no clearer example than learning the subject of math.

Let’s meet Sarah and Leo, both of whom struggle at math. Sarah is aware of her struggles, but believes through hard work she can improve and eventually become great at math. Leo is also aware of his struggles, but continuously tells himself he “sucks at math.”

An onlooker can easily claim Leo has a negative attitude while Sarah has a positive attitude. All Leo has to do is change his attitude. Right?

Not quite.

What Leo needs to focus on isn’t his attitude, but rather his mindset. Why? Because a positive attitude is a byproduct of having a growth mindset.

Currently Leo believes he sucks at math, which indicates he has a fixed mindset. Leo can be as positive as he wants, but until he has a mindset makeover not much will change.

In order for Leo to succeed at math (or anything else in life), he will need to convert from having a fixed mindset to having a growth mindset. As a byproduct, he will go from having a negative attitude to a positive one.

With this understanding we can come up with two simple equations:

Growth Mindset = Positive Attitude

Fixed Mindset = Negative Attitude

The Cart Before the Horse

Having a positive attitude without a growth mindset is putting the cart before the horse. It’s like learning multiplication before addition. It’s like teaching a child to walk before they learn to crawl. It’s like….

You get the idea.

The best thing you can do is maintain the belief that through effort things can change. Belief in change generates the positive attitude society values.

Focus on maintaining a growth mindset. The attitude will take care of itself.


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