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The Wisdom of Negative Thinking

#highperformance #personaldevelopment Jan 16, 2024

We often knock negative thinking, encouraging ourselves to replace those undesirable feelings and beliefs with happy, positive thoughts. And there is a lot to be said for optimism.  But before dismissing negative thinking all together, let’s pause and consider its value.

With an overwhelming desire to remain positive at all costs, one can easily overlook dangers or obstacles that we need to notice.  Noticing and acknowledging a challenge is the necessary first step to overcoming it. By ignoring the downside all together, we can glide right past the pitfalls.

It is helpful to think through the consequences of our decisions and actions ahead of time, so that we can be better prepared. As a person who tends to see the bright side, the possibilities, and opportunities, I find it essential to engage with thought partners who are my opposite. In other words, I truly value the critical feedback, and “what ifs” that my more pessimistic friends and colleagues can offer.

On a side note, whether you see the glass as half full or half empty, you probably consider yourself the more realistic.  So, if you are among the more cynical people on the planet, I advise you find a more positive thought partner that can challenge your thinking.

Notable stoic philosophers in Greek and Roman times were known to take both the good and the bad in stride, and thereby maintain a sense of equanimity.  They did this by employing “negative visualization,” spending time imagining the worst that can happen, so that they could prepare for it, and so that they could better appreciate the good things in life. 

Today, cognitive behaviorists employee negative visualization techniques to treat anxiety and depression. And it can also be useful in goal achievement.

Think about this: when people imagine a future that is everything they want, without problems, and without downside, they may be poorly equipped to handle the setbacks that life inevitably throws at us. They may even give up at the first sign of any hurdle.

Employing negative visualization is not the same thing as constantly worrying about everything that can go wrong.  It’s a conscious choice to contemplate obstacles, setbacks, and potential losses. It can lead you to be better prepared for life’s inevitable challenges, and it can lead to a more balanced perspective.

Being only negative, on the other hand, can stifle your forward momentum and your drive.  A reasonable balance is to visualize success and prepare for setbacks. Anticipate. Have a plan. Be practical.

In summary, optimism and positive thinking are powerful forces in our lives.  They can be even more effective when combined with realistic planning and preparation for obstacles.  In other words, think positively, but prepare for the challenges.  Embrace the entire journey, with both the highs and the lows.

If you are interested in learning more about the habits and mindsets that make the biggest difference, this may be the right season for you to join my group high performance coaching program.  Learn more here:


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