The negative side of positive thinking

the-negative-side-of-positive-thinking

I am a pessimist. Being a pessimist has made me happier because I am never disappointed. If I experience feelings of optimism I push them to the back of my mind because when things turn out better than I expected, I feel even happier. My life is happy because I am not encumbered by false hopes and delusion.

We are constantly told to think positively. There is a mountain of books on how to think positively, some with ridiculous titles like I Can Change Your Life. The truth is, I can’t change your life, but you can! Buying the book will certainly change the life of the snake-oil salesman who wrote it and filled it’s pages with meaningless platitudes.

So… is the glass half full, or is the glass half empty? The answer is… the glass was twice as big as it needed to be. In any event, it doesn’t matter how positively you think about it, you’ve still got to wash it when you’ve finished with it!

Thinking positively is futile. This is because there is a very great danger you will neglect the practical issues normally associated with achieving goals, such as hard work and application. Thinking too positively can actually prevent you from reaching your goals.

This has nothing to do with the inevitable disappointment you will undoubtedly feel when you don’t achieve your goals – it’s because positive thinking can make you lazy and complacent! Positive thinking is no good if you can’t understand the practicalities needed to make your daydreams come true. Positively thinking you will succeed is no good if you don’t have the awareness and the drive to get up early and make it happen. Success is about making your own luck.

The ancient Greeks practised negative visualisation three centuries before the birth of Christ. This helped them, like Lemony Snicket, prepare for a series of unfortunate events. These ancient Greeks were called The Stoics, and stoicism is still practised today by those whose feet are placed more firmly on the ground. The Stoics mentally prepared themselves for things going wrong and practised dealing with them in a positive, practical way!

I am a stoic. I have no illusions about guardian angels, fate, or a universe that will provide. I make my own luck and I succeed by applying myself to the task in hand. I don’t have time for fantasy. I know what is achievable and what is not. An elementary knowledge of maths and a calculator comes in handy.

The Roman Emperor Claudius began each day expecting interference, ingratitude, insolence, deceit, disloyalty, ill will and self-interest. [I Claudius / Claudius the God; Robert Graves.]

The simplistic view of positive thinking encourages you to be lazy. Positive thinking is easily confused with imaginary successes and inevitably leads to complacency. When the future doesn’t pan out the way you expect, the shock of disappointment can be devastating, particularly in the more suggestible, such as the people who put all their eggs in the one fantasy basket.

Maybe a little negative thinking would be better, preparing one for some of the potential and inevitable bumps along the road. Better to spend some time thinking about how to overcome obstacles and recover from disappointments. That way, when you encounter them, you will be better prepared to deal with them.

There is – apparently – a technique called mental contrasting. It involves imagining yourself achieving a task but also thinking about the obstacles and how to get round them. It has been around for thousands of years, even before the time of the ancient philosophers.

Getting a grip of both worlds can help you find a more healthy balance between optimism and reality.

Positive thinking is all right in its own limited way, but it’s no good on its own.

To succeed, you need to consider all the information. That way you will be more resilient, better prepared and better equipped to respond in a more constructive and reasoned way. It’s all about being able to weigh the positive and the negative before taking important decisions.

Now that IS positive thinking!

 

Copyright Andrew Newton 2016.