The Art of Negativity

twsPositive thinking has always been deemed as the “key to success.” It reminds us that if anyone wishes to succeed, he/she must fill his/her mind with positive ideas to reap positive results.

But there is a problem. Positive thinking, when taken to the extreme, can result to the exact opposite. In a survey done by a group of economists, more than 800 out of 1000 scored as “very optimistic.” The research indicates that people who never worry, have lower job performance than those who worry from time to time. They are also likely to take risky debts, and put themselves in jeopardy; like when someone loans a lot of money for a business endeavor that he/she thinks will really be a “boom”, and turns out to be a failed experiment. In other words, extremely positive individuals might as well be described as carefree or careless – engaging themselves in everyday things without thinking about the negative consequences of their actions

This is something students cannot, and should not, do. There are times when students become overconfident before an exam, activity, or performance, and would end up not exerting enough effort in preparing – worse, not preparing at all because “It’s going to be okay.” These actions often lead to a student’s most embarrassing and disastrous moments on Earth. For instance, a student who does not exert enough effort can look like a complete fool by being unable to say anything during a presentation. Students must keep in mind that effects of optimism do not come from unjustified positivity, but from entertaining pessimism less often. Learning optimism is about building greater resiliency, improving our performance by changing the way we interpret events, and not by putting on a happy face in every situation.

Face the harsh fact, bad things happen.

Negative thinking is in fact a catalyst in the change process. Managing change means managing one’s pessimism. True transformation works best when it is driven by emotion, by support, and by believing that “everything will be okay”. After worrying that “it might not,” positive thinking and confidence improves performance, whereas negative thinking feels realistic as it protects us and lowers our expectations. The always present possibility of not accomplishing a task keeps one’s feet on the ground, and prevents him/her from dreaming “way beyond.” Without negativity, you can never even begin to plan a strategy for engaging, and confronting problems; again, because “everything will be okay” regardless of whatever occurs along the way. While it is true that positive thinking produces amazing dreams, visions, goals, negative thinking, on the other hand, produces powerful plans and strategies.

Another study showed that positive employees are seen as team players, but negative workers are viewed as outcasts and troublemakers. The consequence is that, the realistic and rational people, usually the negative thinkers, remain unheard. This is because people naturally assume that it would be better to be with people who say “we can reach even the sun”, than those who’d say that “you’ll burn.” This study also showed that those who practice negative thinking are more able to handle difficult situations. Researchers discovered that negative people communicate better, think clearer, make fewer mistakes, less gullible, and are better at decision-making. This is because pessimists have enhanced ‘information-processing strategies’ which enables them to use the critical part of their brains more successfully than cheerful people. Moreover, they pay more attention to their surroundings. They’re not always negative solely for the sake of being negative. They’re just more conscious of what’s happening around them, and as a result their moods change depending on what they notice.

Negative thinking isn’t superior to positive thinking; neither is positive thinking the remedy for all workplace ills. Sometimes what’s required is a dose of reality. And, it’s the negative thinkers, the ones who are perceived as troublesome and annoying, who often provide the cure. As New York University psychology professor Gabriele Oettingen said; “…positive thinking without a negative balance hinders a person’s abilities. The craze for positive thinking overlooks the value of negative thinking.” Positive thinking doesn’t guarantee success, but lack of it guarantees failure.

The reality is that, life requires both positive and negative thinking and this is critical for success. Pessimism becomes fatalistic and optimism becomes toxic. The real “key to success” is finding a sweet spot, a neutral range that has the benefits of both approaches which is being realistic. If one aims to succeed, he/she must see both sides of the picture, weigh them out, and figure out where he/she wants, and does not want to be.

By Kathryn Ged Ballesteros

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