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Why Positive Thinking May Prevent You From Winning

01/09/2014 05:15 EST | Updated 03/11/2014 05:59 EDT

A few weeks ago I had a tweet off with a life coach from California. She told me that if I want to be happy and achieve my potential I should think positive and expect miracles. That it's within my power to "manifest destiny" and live the life I imagine.

It's appealing to think we can control our lives by thinking positive. That's why so many people have bought into the law of attraction. The idea that 'like attracts like': That your thoughts and emotions attract outcomes of the same frequency and caliber. So if you are happy, kind and compassionate, you'll attract fortuitous people and situations. Walk around with a sulk on your face and you'll draw angry people and crummy outcomes that mirror your inner states.

If only life were that simple...

There are three problems with this theory:

1) First, it implies that anyone can avoid pain and suffering by thinking positive and generating fuzzy feelings. If the people of Haiti, for example, would have meditated for ten minutes a day under a tree and thought about rainbows and riches, the earthquake that devastated their island wouldn't have happened. Or if the people of Japan would have exuded more positivity, then the tsunami that destroyed their homes in 2011, wiped out their infrastructure, and plummeted the Japanese economy into a recession might have drifter to yonder shores. Lost your life savings during the 2008 economic downturn? You obviously weren't smiling enough. Wall Street corruption, the housing crisis, the Eurozone, the war in Iraq- all these wouldn't have mattered if you would have been more gleeful in your attitude towards money.

2) The law of attraction relegates our universe to a predictable machine devoid of mystery. Like a vending machine where you shove into a slot a few quarters, press a button and get a coke, the law gives you exactly what you deserve based on your mental and emotional output. So forget about belief; forget about mystery, awe, wonder, and the unknown (everything that makes life interesting, exciting and worth living), and accept that the universe is governed by a single predictable law.

3) And what about the idea that opposites attract? (My wife and I are a classic example, and are doing just great!).

I am going to share with you a different story about success and the realization of human potential. And it has little to do with positive thinking.

Consider life coach Tony Robbins: At 17, Robbins ran away from home wearing only the shirt on his back to escape his overbearing mother. He eventually got a job in sales and did extremely well, but his success brought resentment from friends and left Robbins feeling alone, isolated and depressed. Robbins gained weight, lost his job and his money and spent his days watching soap operas in a tiny Venice Beach apartment.

Was Robbins thinking positive? No. Was he aiming high and feeling like a million bucks? No again. And yet it was from this place of desperation that Robbins took control of his life and transformed into the inspirational life-coach that he is today. As he writes in Unlimited Power: I went from being "an extremely unhappy person living in a 400-square-foot bachelor apartment, thirty pounds overweight, with floundering relationships and limited prospects, to a centered, healthy, respected individual with great relationships."

Rhonda Byrne shares a similar story. "My life had collapsed around me" she describes in her forward to The Secret. "I'd worked myself into exhaustion, my father died suddenly, and my relationships with my work colleagues and loved ones were in turmoil. Little did I know at the time, out of my greatest despair was to come the greatest gift." Ironically, Byrne's success (i.e. The Secret) wasn't born from happy thoughts and warm feelings, but from a very different kind of experience.

Eckhart Tolle? His years of anxiety and depression prompted an awakening that led to him becoming a best-selling author and spiritual guru. And he'll be the first to tell you he wasn't feeling too good about himself when he turned his life around.

Deepak Chopra? Wayne Dyer? Louis Hay? Similar story.

The point I am trying to make is this: even the greatest optimists and spiritual masters had dark moments and difficult days. In fact it was these moments, not positive thinking, that brought out the best in them and forced them to change. It was their pain that drove them, that gnawed at them, to transform their reality and alter their course.

The truth is that we aren't born into our potential. We grow into it. There's a process. A journey. You have to become who you are. And this journey, I have found, is lined with signposts that help bring to the surface what lies beneath. Like gold, diamonds, oil and other riches buried within the earth, you have to dig deep to find your treasure. You have to create the conditions that bring your unique individual qualities about. And more often than not, creating these conditions involves pain and struggle -- not singing kumbaya or meditating in an ashram.

So what are the takeaways?

1) Positive thinking will not prevent bad things from happening to you. We grow old, we get sick, we lose loved ones, we die...its part of the human experience.

2) Moreover, it's these "bad" things, these challenging unbearable moments we all experience that have the power to unleash our potential and create a life that is far greater than our wildest dreams. Like a lotus flower that opens towards the light but is rooted in the mud and darkness beneath it, we need the "bad stuff" to help bring out the good.

Perhaps then we don't attract what we want, but what we need for our personal growth and development...

Yes the mind is powerful, and yes you should think positive, but embrace the inevitable pain life throws your way. It holds the key to your highest potential.

And isn't that positive thinking?