Negative Thinking

Andy Wibbels has made me brave enough to speak out in concern/dismay about The Secret, and today he’s added to it by bringing my attention to this article over at Bravo John Gravois! Bravo for taking Oprah/The Secret on, and putting the power of negative thinking to the task as well. John asks us all to contribute stories related to (a) the power of negative thinking, and (b) the problems positive thinking has caused. Check out his request at the end of the article.

John cites Karen Cerullo’s book Never Saw It Coming, in discussing the ill effects of overly positive thinking on disaster preparedness on a governmental level. I’m putting it on my reading list because it strikes a chord, along with the mention of all the bad associations we have with negative thinkers.

You might find this super odd coming from a coach. Why does Becca think we should think negatively?

I don’t think you should think negatively, except in limited circumstances where it works. For example, for limited periods of time, negative motivation such as fear can be a powerful force for good.

But I do know that I’ve been cut down before for appearing to think negatively. When I’m trying to understand how to prepare for something like a trip, event, or perhaps a conversation, and I don’t quite get the gestalt of how it’s going to go, I want to plan for the different possibilities. When I go backpacking with my husband, I like to pack the first aid kit by the rules. My husband tends to wing it. Also by the rules, I leave a note in the car with our planned route, and call my sister and tell her where will be, so someone knows.  People attribute grand pessimism to preparedness of that sort. Yet this is not pessimism; when I plan by going through all the terrible things that could happen, or just asking questions to get at how it could go, I’m giving my mind something to wrap itself around so I know what I’m doing. If that sounds vague, that’s related to the point: I need the vagueness to be toned down a little, so I can compute, so I don’t get overwhelmed by loose-canon thinking. I can only "jump without a net" if I know, say, what I’m jumping off of.

I often suggest to others that they do the same when they’re grappling with a daily life scenario- think about how a conversation could go, and how it could go wrong, so they can feel less shut down by the prospect of the conversation itself, and feel more prepared. Usually they don’t have to use the emergency pretend-my-pet-is-sick-so-I-can-get-out-of-my-family’s-house-at-xmas
plan, but they may at some point resort to the I-have-to-go-to-the-drugstore excuse to get some air so they can think rather than being crumbled to tears or migraines by the not-so wholesomeness of a family gathering. And the tears and migraines are reduced as well by knowing there are plans. There are escape routes. They are prepared. This is not the positive thinking zone (and believe me, I’ve had friends and even doctors tell me that this was a great way to deal with difficult family or social scenarios: look for the goodness in it). Funny thing is that it’s with that disaster planning that it begins to become possible in my experience to find small moments of goodness and ease, and to build from there.