Positive mental attitude

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Positive mental attitude (PMA) is a concept first introduced in 1937 by Napoleon Hill in the book Think and Grow Rich. The book never actually uses the term, but discusses about the importance of positive thinking as a contributing factor of success.[1] Napoleon, who along with W. Clement Stone, founder of Combined Insurance, later wrote Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude, defines positive mental attitude as comprising the 'plus' characteristics represented by words as faith, integrity, hope, optimism, courage, initiative, generosity, tolerance, tact, kindliness and good common sense.[2]

Positive mental attitude is that philosophy which asserts that having an optimistic disposition in every situation in one's life attracts positive changes and increases achievement.[3] Adherents employ a state of mind that continues to seek, find and execute ways to win, or find a desirable outcome, regardless of the circumstances. This concept is the opposite of negativity, defeatism and hopelessness. Optimism and hope are vital to the development of PMA.[4]

Positive mental attitude (PMA) is the philosophy of finding greater joy in small joys, to live without hesitation or holding back our most cherished, held in high esteem, and highest personal virtues and values.


PMA is under the umbrella of positive psychology. In positive psychology, high self-efficacy can help in gaining learned optimism which ultimately leads to PMA. PMA is considered an internal focus of control that influences external factors. Research has shown that through emotional intelligence training and positive psychology therapy, a person's attitudes and perceptions can be modified to improve one's personal and professional life.[5]


A study of Major League Baseball players indicated that a key component that separates major league players from the minor leagues and all other levels is their ability to develop mental characteristics and mental skills. Among them were mental toughness, confidence, maintaining a positive attitude, dealing with failure, expectations, and positive self-talk.[6]


Well-meaning friends in the US and similar cultures routinely encourage people with cancer to maintain a positive attitude.[7] However, although a positive attitude confers some immediate advantages and is more comfortable for other people, it does not result in a greater chance of cure or longer survival times.[8][9]

A study done with HIV-positive individuals found that a high health self-efficacy, a task-oriented coping style, and a positive mental attitude were strong predictors for a health-promoting lifestyle which has a significant effect on overall health (coping and surviving).[10]


Critics of PMA argue that it is not the secret to success but a by-product of success.[11] The "self-help" industry has been criticized as a scam for authors to make money due to its simplistic writing and principles. There is little evidence, however, that self-help books, life coaching, and motivational speaking are harmful; a study of 100 psychotherapy patients found that of the 43 patients reading books (e.g. PMA, religious texts, Alcoholics Anonymous texts, etc.) 4 reported "mild harm or distress" while 34 reported "benefit without harm".[12]

“Positively misguided: The myths and mistakes of the positive thinking movement” (Salerno, 2009) [13] speaks of the dangers of relying too heavily on a positive mental attitude (PMA). Steve Salerno writes that when people emphasize having a PMA above all, it minimizes the importance of self-discipline, hard work, setting and implementing goals, establishing and observing priorities, and recognizing limitations and obstacles. Rather, people treat optimism as if it’s an IOU for actual results, then look to their results for confirmation bias as “proof” that it was indeed the PMA that led them to the desired outcome. Rather than having blind optimism and believing that you can do anything in life just because you believe it, Salerno suggests that a more realistic and fruitful motto would be something like “expect failure but keep trying” such as Dr. James Hill uses in his Center of Human Nutrition.

One example Salerno (2009) gives of the harms of placing total emphasis on having a PMA is the deficits in the public school system when "self-esteem based education" was promoted. Its intent was to foster academic success and greatness through increasing students' self-worth. Students were protected from failure so that even those who did poorly would succeed, and honour rolls were abandoned so as not to hurt the egos of the children who did not make the cut. This promotion of positivity was supposed to lead each child to success, however, it was found that this grade inflation was only a temporary feat. Students were ill-equipped in post-secondary education and rated themselves as having a higher level of competence than their cross-cultural peers despite demonstrating lower performance. The PMA mindset of self-esteem based education was not only unhelpful, but was counterproductive in that it undermined excellence.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hill, Napoleon (1960). Think and grow rich (Rev. ed.). Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett Crest. ISBN 0449214923.
  2. ^ Hill, Napoleon; Stone, W. Clement Stone; preface by Og Mandino; with a new introduction by W. Clement (1987). Success through a positive mental attitude. New York: Pocket Books. ISBN 0671743228.
  3. ^ Eagleson, Claire (March 2016). "The power of positive thinking: Pathological worry is reduced by thought replacement in Generalized Anxiety Disorder". Behaviour Research and Therapy. 78: 13–18. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2015.12.017. PMID 26802793.
  4. ^ Chang, Edward C., ed. (2001). Optimism & pessimism implications for theory, research, and practice (1st ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. pp. 101–125. ISBN 1-55798-691-6.
  5. ^ Ellis, Ross; Ryan, J. A. (2005). "Emotional Intelligence and Positive Psychology: Therapist Tools for Training/Coaching Clients to Move Beyond Emotional Relief". Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association. 8 (3): 42–43.
  6. ^ Wagner, Kimberly (2011). "The mental skills and characteristics related to a major league baseball player's performance: A qualitative study". Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering. 71 (8–B): 5150.
  7. ^ Flanagan, Caitlin (2021-08-23). "I'll Tell You the Secret of Cancer". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2021-08-23.
  8. ^ Sulik, Gayle A. (2011). Pink ribbon blues : how breast cancer culture undermines women's health. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 243–244. ISBN 978-0-19-974993-5. OCLC 669499803.
  9. ^ Hopewood, Peter; Milroy, Mary J. (2018-05-29). Quality Cancer Care: Survivorship Before, During and After Treatment. Springer. p. 157. ISBN 978-3-319-78649-0. ...longer survival time is not directly linked to being in a cancer support group
  10. ^ Larry, R. S. (2010). "Exploring the relationships between perceived health self-efficacy, coping and health-promoting behaviors among non-substance abusing vs. substance abusing patients with HIV disease". Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering. 71 (1–B): 661.
  11. ^ Turner, G. (March 1980). "Positive mental bulldust". Australian Journal of Clinical Hypnotherapy. 1 (1): 40–44.
  12. ^ Halliday, G. (1991). "Psychological self-help books--How dangerous are they?". Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training. 28 (4): 678–680. doi:10.1037/0033-3204.28.4.678.
  13. ^ Salerno, S. (2009). Positively misguided: The myths and mistakes of the positive thinking movement. Skeptic, 14(4), 30-37