The Ying Yang of Positive and Negative Thinking
In the world of self-help and personal development, one of the biggest things you hear is that positive thinking will help get you where you want to go. That you must change all your negative views to positive ones. That you should always be a optimist. I see where people are going with that… but it’s only half the truth. The key is learning how to use both positive and negative thinking together.
I was a Pessimist Before I was an Optimist
It might sound odd, but looking back on my life, I believe that I was a pessimist for much of it. At one time, I was so focused on the bad things which were going to inevitably happen, that I never saw the good things for what they were.
I don’t know how I became a pessimist, really. Perhaps it was being picked on at a young age and then moving on to being socially awkward and not wanting to do anything outside my comfort zone? That might have been it.
I do know that it got worse in some ways when I got to college. I went through several instances of depression when I first got there. Mainly because one of the few things I was decent at (getting good grades) I was no longer capable of doing – so it seemed. So instead of having time to figure out who I was and working on problems in my own time, I felt I had to keep up. I went from being the victim to being the delinquent. I looked for what was wrong with a given situation, other people, and how I could exploit them. And as you could probably imagine, this was a bad habit to get into. It turned me into someone that wanted to fix everything and everyone. What I saw wrong in others was a reflection of the insecurities I saw in myself. It also made me think that nothing was my fault.
Obviously, this perspective quickly drops one’s self-esteem and confidence and keeps it down. How come? Simply because your subconscious mind is always listening. Crap in, crap out.
If most of your thoughts are of judging others, then you’re going to probably think negatively of yourself and of the world, too.
In fact, it was only recently that I started learning how to give compliments (without being weird) and how to receive them.
Moving from Pessimism to Optimism
When I first got into LTD in 2006, going out of my way to think positively was very liberating but difficult at the same time. I was so used to putting others and myself down. Half the time I didn’t even realize I was doing it until members of my upline pointed it out. (Thanks Gabe and Dave!) I didn’t realize that many of the bad vibes that I had with other people were because of my own words and actions. It was then that I realized I wasn’t a great as person as I had thought.
In the book, he talks about how there is a feedback system not too different than the Trigger => Habit => Reward system that I talked about here.
His model is: Programming => Beliefs => Attitudes => Feelings => Actions => Results. Your results then reinforce or chip away at the programming in your head. Cycle starts over again.
As you start taking control and being aware of this loop, your life starts to take a turn for the better. You are now present and start to realize that you can actually achieve things that you set out to do. Life isn’t just about chances and things outside of your control.
Hoping Your Life Away
However, something I’ve seen time and time again are people wishing their way out of things actually getting done. That as long as they focus on how awesome the future is going to be, that it will magically happen for them. In fact, for the longest time after getting involved with LTD and reading self-help book after self-help book I was caught up in this mindset. This limbo mindset can be described as doing something completely different than what you should be doing to get you the desired results you want.
Or, in other words, you’re practicing to be a basketball player but want to be a professional baseball player. Both types of players want to win, true. But how many people remember Michael Jordan as a baseball player? Not many outside of classic sports and sports trivia world. He didn’t have nearly as much time practicing and playing baseball as he did basketball. Therefore, he wasn’t as great. (Not totally knocking him, though. A professional athlete is still a professional athlete!)
Positive Thinking is a great thing. However, on top of the mentality to succeed, you need motivation to get started. Most of the time, stress is that motivator.
Appreciative Inquiry or Problem Solving? The Realist Uses Both.
In the above video, Kelly talks about how stress can actually be a good thing in your life. However, by many yet today, stress is considered a big killer. They believe that you have to do anything you can to avoid stress. Some of them might even believe a Positive Mental Attitude (PMA) is all that you need to succeed and that all your stresses will simply melt away (or they’ll somehow take care of themselves…?).
Ha. Likely story, right?
When you have a stress at home, school, or at work, you have a choice to do two things. You can either see all the good effects the stress has made, or you can simply find a solution for the stress. In academia, looking for the good is called Appreciative Inquiry.
Again, I’d argue that it’s only half the solution.
The truth is that stress is a sign that you care about the thing that you’re stressing out about.
What I’ve found is that if you don’t have stress, you don’t really have that initial motivation to get started in your next journey. If you don’t see things that are wrong with life… then how can you possibly help to fix them and add value to others? You can’t simply block bad things out of your mind. You must recognize the problem that is there then choose on how you’re going to deal with it. This is the proper use of Negative Thinking. It is basis for the Scientific Method (aka the Problem-Solving Method).
In the end, the difference between good stress and bad stress isn’t the stress itself, it’s what your reaction is.
Do you see stress as a threat? Do you see it as a challenge to make your life and the life of other’s around you better?
I would recommend to try to see the stress in BOTH perspectives. See it as a threat and then see it as the challenge. Threats have to be dealt with immediately, challenges make us better off when we overcome them.
Is the glass half full or half empty? It’s both. Fill it up the rest of the way and get on with life.
I want you to specifically look for an instance in your life where you might get stressed and start freaking out. For many of us, we ourselves, or people we know, school is starting up again. Maybe you have a big review coming up at your job? Or perhaps you have a presentation you have to give to a potential client?
Whatever the situation, I want you to look at it as an opportunity to knock one out of the ballpark.
Then, I want you to prepare for that event as if you’ve done many before and this is just another notch on the wall. Prepare proactively and not reactively. Have a strategy. Sure, you could miss, but if you prepare for the big day with a little bit of positivity and enough caution to take the event seriously, you’ll probably do better than you expect.
Let me know how it goes for you and if you changed anything from when you typically handle a stressful situation.