The Power of Negative Thinking


A very interesting article and very true.

Executive Summary:

sometimes the best way to address an uncertain future is to focus not on the best-case scenario but on the worst.

Seneca the Stoic was a radical on this matter. If you feared losing your wealth, he once advised, “set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?’ “

To overcome a fear of embarrassment, Ellis told me, he advised his clients to travel on the New York subway, speaking the names of stations out loud as they passed. I’m an easily embarrassed person, so in the interest of journalistic research, I took his advice, on the Central Line of the London Underground. It was agonizing. But my overblown fears were cut down to size: I wasn’t verbally harangued or physically attacked. A few people looked at me strangely.

Just thinking in sober detail about worst-case scenarios—a technique the Stoics called “the premeditation of evils”—can help to sap the future of its anxiety-producing power. 

Positive thinking, by contrast, is the effort to convince yourself that things will turn out fine, which can reinforce the belief that it would be absolutely terrible if they didn’t.

the “cult of positivity” is the importance of setting big, audacious goals for an organization, while employees are encouraged (or compelled) to set goals that are “SMART”—”Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.”

rigid goals may encourage employees to cut ethical corners.

those given a specific target to reach lied far more frequently than those instructed merely to “do your best.”

Goals may even lead to underachievement.

they finish work as soon as they reach their mental target for what constitute a good day’s earnings.

Focusing on one goal at the expense of all other factors also can distort a corporate mission or an individual life,

Behind our fixation on goals, Prof. Kayes’s work suggests, is a deep unease with feelings of uncertainty.

suggests that learning to accommodate feelings of uncertainty is not just the key to a more balanced life but often leads to prosperity as well.

45 successful entrepreneurs, all of whom had taken at least one business public. Almost none embraced the idea of writing comprehensive business plans or conducting extensive market research.

“effectuation.” Rather than choosing a goal and then making a plan to achieve it, they took stock of the means and materials at their disposal, then imagined the possible ends. Effectuation also includes what she calls the “affordable loss principle.” Instead of focusing on the possibility of spectacular rewards from a venture, ask how great the loss would be if it failed. If the potential loss seems tolerable, take the next step.

The ultimate value of the “negative path” may not be its role in facilitating upbeat emotions or even success. It is simply realism. The future really is uncertain, after all, and things really do go wrong as well as right. We are too often motivated by a craving to put an end to the inevitable surprises in our lives.

Might we benefit from contemplating mortality more regularly than we do?
There are some facts that even the most powerful positive thinking can’t alter.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324705104578147333270637790.html

 

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