Τετάρτη, 9 Μαρτίου 2011

The Positives in Negative Thinking

I must admit, here and now, that I loved "The Secret".  The power of positive thinking and concentrating positively on goals you set just seems wonderful.  Get rid of the negatives in your life and accentuate the positives.  Turn statements like "I'll never be able to do this!" into "I will master this!"  Positively simple!! 

Since reading the book I've read several references to Thomas Edison and his long road to inventing the incandescent light bulb.  How many times did he have to try before he got it right?  Well, lots.  How many times do we think that something we are about to embark on is much simpler than it actually turns out to be?  Well, lots.  Remember the last time you had to "budget" a home improvement or, bigger still, a new build?  How far over budget did you go?  Well, once again, the answer is probably a lot.

We delude ourselves into thinking that we've done our homework, the bank agrees that X amount of dollars can be safely loaned to us and we disregard the negative little voice that pops into our heads and starts questioning our decisions.  In other words, we reinforce the decision we have already made by focusing on the positives.  We tell ourselves that the return on investment will easily off-set the expenditure we are about to make and I'll have, for example, a beautiful new house or a luxurious new bathroom. 

But what if we listened more to the negative little voice that pops into our head?  What if we tried to logically make a list of pros and cons?  The truth is that most of us don't do this as it may make us appear to be wishy-washy.  We live in a world where spontaneous decison-making and risk taking are seen as powerful, a world where wishy-washy indecision just doesn't cut it because it makes us look weak.

The ability we have to focus on and reinforce the decision we have already made is what psychologists call the "confirmation bias".  According to a November 19, 2009 arcticle in the Wall Street Journal this bias "acts like a compulsive yes-man who echoes whatever you want to believe".   It goes on to state that when researching our decision we are more likely to concentrate on data that re-confirms our decision instead of considering data that would contradict it.

The article also touches on rationalizing our mistakes by stating that it is "easier for people to rationalize than to be rational".  We put a positive spin on failure and turn it into a study of what if scenarios.  Which in my terms means, it's easier to blame anything from Mother Nature to the butterfly effect than to have considered every possible angle to begin with.  Maybe we could learn a lesson or two from FEMA and crisis management teams, people who have to look at best case/worst case scenarios on a daily basis. 

Seeing the world through rose-colored glasses or even rationalizing in hindsight using 20/20 vision isn't seeing the real world.  Thinking in positive terms is spiritually uplifting but one-sided.  Listening to the negative little voice that pops into our head from time to time isn't weak nor cowardly, it's a reality check.  Maybe the ultimate "secret" is putting a little positive energy into negative thinking.

As Always, Sunshine and Daisies



To read the complete Wall Street Journal article:  
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703811604574533680037778184.html




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