Photo by Bruce Mars
I make an effort to surround myself with positive people. Positive thinking is a cornerstone of mental toughness because positivity creates a mindset that can adapt to obstacles and roadblocks that show up in both business and life.
Unfortunately, positive thinking has become ensconced in a culture of woolly and fluffy assumptions that imply all we need to do is visualize what success looks like — and it will happen! It has been reduced to weak platitudes and shallow quotes meant to inspire us to soar to greater heights.
If that wasn’t bad enough, positive people are also confused with optimists. Let me clarify for you: positive people believe they will prevail in their circumstances rather than believe their circumstances will change. Optimists, however, believe that things will change, and for the better. Positive people rely on their grit and determination to make the most of a bad situation because sometimes, shit happens. They’re stuck in an undesirable situation and no amount of hope will change it.
An optimist can never relax; they can’t afford to let sadness creep in. They can try to follow the famous self-help advice and eliminate the word “failure” from their vocabulary; but then how will they explain failure when it strikes? And it will. Positive people are not afraid of failure because their minds can adapt to their new circumstances and plan for a better iteration next time.
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When times get tough, here are 5 things positive people never do:
1. Fall for sappy slogans
I’ve read so many articles on how to fill my life with happiness that I’m ready to puke. Happiness is the by-product of vacuous and superficial sappy slogans that prey on our emotions. You want real happiness? Grab hold of something with more substance, like joy and contentment.
Positive people avoid cheery, sappy slogans that are intended to lift the user’s mood when they repeat them. Post-it notes litter mirrors and computers across the country and while they boost our mood for a while, the results are temporary.
Researchers have discovered that there is a distinct difference between happiness and meaning. When we achieve our goal, we experience happiness for a short period of time. When we achieve a goal freighted with value, we experience joy and contentment that provides meaning for our life.
How To Make It Work For You: When you try too hard to convince yourself, and others, that you’re happy and lovable, all you’ve done is remind yourself, and others, of what you don’t have! Instead, focus on goals that are meaningful to you. Happiness is the by-product.
2. Forget to plan for the worst case scenario
When you remind yourself of what could go wrong, you’re not being a pessimist. You’re being smart. You will encounter rude bosses, conniving colleagues, and pain-in-the-ass customers. Why not prepare for them?
There is a place for those who plan for the worst-case scenario so they can plan on how to turn the situation around and make it successful. They imagine every conceivable setback and obstacle and find ways to cope and overcome the adversity before it becomes a reality. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy suggests spending time thinking about the potential downside of a conversation or event in advance can help you avoid an “oh shit” moment.
How To Make It Work For You: Imagine how you would handle a bad situation. Assume for a moment that a rival buys your company. Jot down a few ways you might come out on top if it happens. For example, arrange to meet key executives of the rival company so they know you’ll handle the situation in a professional and respectful manner.
3. Set unrealistic goals
Positive people are always realistic about their goals. Gabriele Oettingen, professor of psychology at New York University and the author of Rethinking Positive Thinking believes that part of the problem is that people tend to visualize their goals as already accomplished without thinking about the obstacles that stand in the way.
If a person is optimistic about the future, they’ll enjoy it in the moment but they won’t get the energy and motivation they need to attain the goal. Oettingen touches upon the need to differentiate fantasy from visualization. Visualization is a science-based way for people to achieve their goals. The problem happens when fantasy raises its ugly head. The brain is smart and it can tell the difference between a desire to stretch our performance to meet a goal and our fantasy about it.
A goal might be to play the guitar. Your fantasy might be for you to perform in a sold-out rock concert. When we daydream about the future, we convince ourselves we’re already there and are less inclined to put in the effort required to reach our goals.
Oettingen feels that a bit of negativity can help us determine whether or not it’s worth it to pursue our goals. Positive people are not afraid to look at the negative side of an equation. They know it might have something important to tell us. When they contrast the future with the current reality, and assess the obstacles, they might let go of the dream and focus on more realistic goals.
How To Make It Work For You: We need to be on the lookout for what might go wrong without allowing negativity to overwhelm us. Positive people can hold the tension of a pessimistic evaluation alongside a positive one.
4. Let anxiety take over
In her book, The Positive Power of Negative Thinking, Julie Norem wrote “At first, I asked how these people were able to do so well despite their pessimism. Before long, I began to realize that they were doing so well because of their pessimism.”
Norem found that pessimists turned their anxieties into action. Because they expected the worst, they were prepared for it and put more effort into finding a solution.
Oliver Burkeman makes an interesting observation in his book, The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking. He argues that because people are led to believe they should always feel happy and motivated, they often put off tasks that don’t make them happy. If life were perfect and there were no such things as unpleasant tasks, that mindset might lead to success. But, in the real world, this mindset leads into a downward spiral of unaddressed tasks and actions.
How To Make It Work For You: Learn to live with the unpleasant tasks and get on with the job at hand. Co-exist with what isn’t perfect and do something anyway.
5. Ignore the sweet spot
Pessimists help us anticipate the worst and prepare for it. People who never worry have lower job performance than those who worry about it on a regular basis. Studies have shown that when CEO’s are optimistic, they take on more risky projects and often put their companies in jeopardy.
Positive people know how to weigh the wisdom of both pessimists and optimists. Pessimists are catastrophes waiting to happen while optimists are impractical. Positive people look for the sweet spot that combines the benefits of both approaches.
How To Make It Work For You: Your success is not determined on whether you are an optimist or pessimist, but rather how you choose your strategies to process information from both sides.