The catch with Positive Thinking

I recently wrote about positive/negative thinking.  The power of positive thinking will allow you to adjust your view of the world around us in a good way, without a doubt. It is, Powerful!  Research has long showed us that positive thinking can "will" us to success.  After all, optimism can increase your immunity system, increase your health and even make you more resilient.  As with everything though, there are pros and cons to positive thinking that I would like to mention.  This is something I recently became aware of and it might be something you already do and don't even recognize it.  New research has started to dig into negative thinking, this too they find can be a powerful positive tool.

It wasn’t until I read about a psychotherapist named Albert Ellis who was a pioneer for something termed “negative path”.  Ellis studied Stoic philosophers of Ancient Rome and Greece.  What he found out was that when there are uncertain futures ahead, there is actually power in focusing on the worst case scenario instead of the best case scenario.  What was the logic behind this thinking?  Julie Norem terms this phenomenon “defensive pessimism”.   This is the same as the Stoics “premeditation of evils”. She estimates that about 1/3 of Americans do this instinctively.  Mental preparedness for the worst case scenario can actually motivate you to push through and/or go around obstacles.

Positive thinking is your mind driving the thought that things will turn out fine.  There is the potential though that in doing so, there could be reinforcement that if things didn’t turn out fine, it would be absolutely terrible.  When we force ourselves to take a negative situation and move it to a positive one, we really are being dishonest with ourselves.  Basically, 100% positive thinking is a denial of negativity.  The world we live in, is it always positive?  Of course not, things do go wrong, even to positive people.  The acceptance of negativity actually allows us to learn, to be coachable.  Norem suggests that instead, try evaluating how badly something could go wrong,  this could lead to minimizing fear to a manageable size and would allow you to prepare much better.  It is also suggested that the opposite of positive thinking is to learn, to resist the urge to manipulate your inner state.

For example, imagine a task you need to get done.  Lets say you want to trim an overgrown tree beside your house.  Positive thinking tells you that when you are done, its going to look great and it will tell you that you can handle the work involved.  The required negative thinking will tell you, Ill need a ladder and there is potential that I could fall off of it and get hurt.  I could cut a branch and it could fall and hit me.  I could cut too much of the tree and end up making it look worse.

Looking back at the situation, positive thinking may not allow me to recognize or prepare for the obstacles that you may run into.  As with any good project manger, you have to think about what bad things a project to hit to ensure that you avoid and/or prepare to get around them.


Strangly enough – there is positive power in negative thinking.  Where does it put us?  As simply as one can say it, Be realistic.  See both the positive and negative perspectives as this will give you the best chances at being successful.  Be positive and realist while not ignoring negative thinking.  By doing this, you will set yourself up to achieve anything you want.