positive thinking versus reframing nlp tips

Tony Robbins, Positive Thinking & Losers

Being positive is not the same as getting results!Or… How Reframing Differs From Positive Thinking

I saw Anthony Robbins the other day on the Today Show. He was talking about helping folks deal with the current difficult financial times. He told Ann Curry that the financial experts he consults told him they thought there was a good possibility things would get much worse (I’m paraphrasing here).

Ann Curry looked at him strangely and said something along the lines of “Well that’s not very uplifting!”

In that moment, I felt a bit sorry for Tony.

Being Positive vs. Getting Results

A lot of people think his job has to do with being positive. It doesn’t really. It has more to do with getting results. How can you get results if you don’t first understand where you are? That sometimes means taking off the rose colored glasses! If (and it’s an if) the stock market continues down from where it is, you’re better off knowing that’s going to happen than trying to think your stocks higher with your positive attitude. Thinking that your positive thinking alone will lift your stock portfolio, help your team win, make you more money or cure your cancer is a recipe for disaster.

Life In Loserville?

I sometimes see the same attitude from NLPers. They are rightfully jazzed about the enormous potential NLP and hypnosis hold for improving lives. Hey, so am I. But then I’ll hear them say, when it’s not especially appropriate–“Come on, you can do it. Keep your chin up,” or some other positive blather.

I know lots of people who have tremendous positive attitudes but little skill and little desire to develop skill. Why? Because “If I just keep my positive attitude, everything will turn out fine.” Many of these folks don’t even run with the opportunities the universe drops on their front door! There’s a word for people that has positive attitudes and take no action–losers.

Positive Thinking vs. Reframing

But there is an NLP technique called reframing that sounds similar to positive thinking. So, what is it and what are the differences between reframing and positive thinking–the differences that make a big difference!

In NLP, reframing can be thought of as helping someone alter their perception of an experience so that it has a more positive, practical or useful meaning to them.

An example might be someone who has a belief that they can’t stop smoking because they’ve been smoking consistently, 8 cigarettes a day, like clockwork for 20 years. The reframe might be, “Wow, you’re really consistent with your habits. We can use that ability to be consistent to help you with this new behavior pattern of being free from cigarettes.”

Now, that reframe alone would not typically be enough to have someone stop smoking. But, it would be part of the process. It would help take a belief that runs counter to success and help align it more toward the goal of stopping smoking.

A Strong Belief Can Counter A Hypnotic Suggestion

Here’s the thing…

Hypnotic suggestions tend to work best when there’s not a stronger counter-suggestion already present! A belief can be thought of as a hypnotic suggestion. If a person has a preexisting belief that runs counter to your suggestion (such as they won’t be able to quit because…), your suggestions will battle it out in there.

An easier way to proceed, for everyone, is to loosen up those old belief systems before you fire yours in. It’s true in therapy, persuasion, sales, personal relationships… anything.

Here’s How Reframing Differs From Positive Thinking

Now, in NLP and hypnosis, emotional state is key. Take a moment and consider this…

If someone wants to stop smoking and expresses how it’s going to be difficult to quit, what is their emotional state likely to be at that moment. Maybe frustrated? Resigned? Probably not positive! What happens if you express a view 180 degrees opposite of what they’ve just said? “Come on. You can do it! Keep your chin up. Think positively.” My guess is that they would be annoyed. I would be.

I can be stubborn–I’d dig my heels in and defend my belief, making things worse. Also, you’d lose rapport with me.

Depending how set a person is in their belief, you might even make that reframe a two step reframe. Initially, get agreement on how consistently they’ve behaved. Later on, suggest that their ability to be consistent will be helpful.

Come At Beliefs From An Angle

In my experience, it’s better to come at that belief obliquely. Give them a way to think about it that they’ve never thought of before. Whatever they’ve done so far is an accomplishment, an achievement. Figure out how their ability to achieve can help them in their current goal.

If you can do that, you will surprise them. They’ll say things such as, “I’ve never thought of it that way before.” The surprise will help take them out of the negative emotional state and lead them toward a state that’s more conducive to getting to their goal.

It’s Not Tony’s Problem, It’s Mine

OK, I was projecting. When I felt sorry for Tony Robbins (imagine that), I was really thinking about how I feel when NLPers are surprised at me when I say I think something bad is going to happen. “Hey, you’re into NLP. How come you aren’t more positive?” Well, NLP is not about being positive or negative. It’s not about being one particular religion (or religious at all). It’s not about having any particular set of beliefs. Even the presuppositions of NLP, the principles upon which NLP is based let us know that “These beliefs may or may not be real–but we’ve found them very useful!”

Positive Thinking vs. Cancer

I’ll leave you with one last thought about positive thinking. I’m sure I’ll take a lot of crap from the positive thinking crowd (comments are open on this post). I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Having a positive attitude doesn’t directly affect head and neck cancer survival, according to one of the largest and most rigorously designed investigations ever on the subject.


More than 1,000 people head and neck cancer patients were studies and positive emotional states did not correlate with a higher chance of survival survival.


PS: Merry Christmas

About The Author:

Keith Livingston is the main instructor for Hypnosis 101. Keith has been studying hypnosis since he was a boy and doing hypnosis & NLP training since 1997.

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  1. You are so right positive attitude doesn’t directly affect head and neck survival and positive emotional states did not correlate with a higher chance of survival, and here is the but…. by staying positive you are open to enjoy the moment to the fullest

    1. Great comment. Surviving is not the only possible goal. It’s also about how we spend the time we have.

  2. I’ll weigh in first on the cancer patient studies: one of the studies mentioned found that people who filled out a questionnaire tended to live about the same amount of time whether their answers stacked up to a “positive attitude” (per the designers of the questionnaire) or otherwise. In the other, patients undergoing psychiatry and participating in support groups didn’t experience longer survival than those who did not. At an information level, that doesn’t tell me a lot about any one patient.

    A friend of mine has the type of cancer covered in that study. When he told his doctor he was maintaining a sense of humor and a good attitude, his doctor said, “Oh, that won’t make any difference.” And in this way, the results of studies, reworded (and re-languaged) into abstracts and headlines can be used to affect individual patients. I have worse horror stories than that in my client notes.

    That said, however, I agree that NLP is not the same as “positive thinking.”. It might be easy for some to confuse reframing with merely thinking positively, and to confuse NLP with some sort of motivation training. I hope your readers have a better understanding of what we do than that.

    1. Hi Bridget,
      The results of studies can be used to affect individuals. Apparently, some people, under the impression that positive thinking is a factor in survival, feel stressed out when they’re not thinking positively! They think they’re not doing their job. Anyone who’s interested in this phenomenon can search for “tyranny of positive thinking” to learn more.

      And there are people out there that will use almost any data to generate a negative reframe. Some of them are doctors.

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  5. I this positive thinking is quite dangerous if that’s all the person believe. I agree with you when you say positive attitude with no action = loser. You can’t just sit and happily thinking that money will come to you without doing nothing.

    I’m working on getting some positive result for my online business, I need to train my myself to be more focus and work fast. How do I train my brain to do that? I’m researching about self-hypnosis now.


    Chetz Yusof

  6. Keith, I had not considered the “tyranny of positive thinking” angle. You have a great point there.

  7. Yah I second that. Bridget makes a good point about the “tyranny of positive thinking” That would be a paradigm shift for me.


  8. Great article. Because it seems many people have a different understanding of positive thinking, we can’t even be sure we’re talking about the same thing! Some people (typically naysayers, negative people and ultimately people who are not achieving and getting what they want out of life) see it as just hoping something will work your way, without much intelligent action. We know it is not that. Tony’s work, as well as my work, in my opinion, is more about actually directing and conditioning your own mind. It’s about helping people to retrain tendencies that produce less than good results. It’s so important to actually try the shrimp, before you say you hate it, or that it isn’t good. Heck, even the name of my website has the words “positive mind” in it, but it means something entirely different than what most people define that phrase as. Overall, great article. It’s nice to talk about these things with other people because ultimately, it’s human beings learning about themselves, and interacting with each other about what they’ve learned.

  9. Keith

    Well you certainly have touched a nerve re: positive thinking. I do believe it’s more powerful to focus on a expecting a positive result as opposed to expecting doom and gloom (turn off your television, this actually can make a world of difference).

    Nice article…


  10. positive thinking is fine as long as you have scoped and understood the shadow side of the things you are being positive about (i.e “ok so i believe this will work out fine, but what’s my plan B if it doesn’t).

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