Study Investigates Power of Positive Thinking, Questioning

From self-help books highlighting the potential of making daily affirmations to special motivational programs promising people that positive thinking can unilaterally improve their lives, the idea that claiming the possible for oneself is nearly equatable with attaining the actual goal has been increasingly prevalent in recent years, though some critics have questioned the ultimate message behind the idea. Recently, a study performed at the University of Illinois put positive thinking to the test, and found that asking questions about personal success or failure was actually more effective than affirming success. The study worked with participants in a series of experiments and from each obtained evidence that the basic question, “Will I succeed?” correlates with greater actual success than the statement, “I will succeed.”

In the first experiment, participants spent time either affirming that they would succeed or asking if they would succeed before performing an anagram-based task; those who asked rather than affirmed performed better on the task. This experiment was followed by another in which participants wrote either, “Will I” or, “I will” before performing the same task; again, those with the questioning stance showed better overall results. Following these experiments, participants performed the same phrase-writing task, and were then asked about their intentions to exercise during the following week. Participants also filled out a questionnaire intended to ascertain their intrinsic motivation. Both performance and motivation levels were found to be higher for the questioning group.

The work suggests that while positive thinking is a popular method for inspiring motivation, asking questions about personal outcomes may be more powerful. Through actively thinking about the challenge or task at hand, people may be better-equipped to perform their best than when operating on the simple belief that they will succeed, and the study’s support of this idea may go a long way towards helping people understand how eslf-motivation may improve their lives.

© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Collison


    June 2nd, 2010 at 1:51 PM

    Although positive thinking is not a magic pill to problems, it can help in a chain-reaction kind of a way…positive thinking often results in actions and these actions can surely result in finding possible solutions to the problem on hand.

  • M.benson


    June 2nd, 2010 at 3:56 PM

    whenever in a tough situation or when I have to do some task which is not easy,I speak to myself and dare myself to do the task and fast!it often works for me because its almost like I say to myself-“Hah,can you actually do this?” and my other-self replies “YES!” and goes about actually doing the task :)

  • conner


    June 3rd, 2010 at 4:57 AM

    Maybe it’s all about the idea that “will I” gives you a goal to pursue- “I will” sets up expectations and you are afraid that you will fail

  • Hope


    June 5th, 2010 at 8:05 AM

    I think questions could be more successful because it’s about choice. Will I or won’t I? Affirmations are definite. While you may be able to say “I will”, if you don’t feel it inside, that won’t work. Questions leave room to think about the answer and decide. The Yes that comes from that is more powerful.

  • Charlene


    June 5th, 2010 at 9:55 AM

    I’ve been interested in the power of positive thinking for many years and can’t deny that when I focus on affirmations, they leave me cold. I prefer to visualize and think good thoughts than chant a phrase.

  • Philip


    June 6th, 2010 at 11:57 AM

    Having never been a fan of affirmations, I’ll give this a try and see how it works out. I like the ideas of having to answer the questions rather than just parrot a phrase. Thanks!

  • Belle


    June 6th, 2010 at 6:40 PM

    I read before that when you repeat something numerous times, even if it’s not true right now, your brain can’t tell the difference between reality and affirmations. It will absorb it like a sponge and adjust your behaviors to reflect this new self-belief. So if you say “I’m kind to everyone I meet” and even if you’re not now but want to be, you’ll find yourself displaying that kindness more and more. The affirmation becomes part of your core belief system about who you are.

  • Becky


    June 9th, 2010 at 10:26 PM

    The biggest mistake made about positive thinking is not taking any action towards what you want. You can affirm “I have a great job” all day long. But if you can’t see the good side of the one you have, or don’t watch the classifieds to see who’s hiring to find that great job, you’ll not get far with that thought. You need to pitch in too!

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Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on