The incredible power of negative thinking

Particularly right now with all the COVID, recession, and police brutality protests, all of which I believe are intimately connected and interrelated, stress reduction and professional development gurus are touting the power of positivity. Just stay positive, they say, and things will work out. Well, I’m here to tell you that’s all BS. Things may well work out, it’s true. But not because you’re “thinking positive.”

Every other LinkedIn post I encounter is full of “amazing” people, “incredible” ideas and “unbelievable” opportunities. The bar has really been raised, is all I can say. With so much amazing, incredible and unbelievable stuff, regular stuff doesn’t have a chance in hell.

What all this “amazing, incredible, unbelievable” talk really does is raise expectations. Then when the expectations are let down, as at some point they inevitably will be, comes the crushing disappointment. They’ve done studies on this. Despite its name, cheerleading does not lead to cheerfulness.

Look, things are unsure. It’s OK to feel disturbed or even nauseous about it, and it’s OK to be honest about it with other people. Yet for some reason that’s OK in a personal setting but not a professional one. For example, I’ve noticed that people are a lot more honest on Twitter than they are on LinkedIn, I guess because you’re supposed to lie to your work colleagues even about super-simple stuff. Being professional means you have to put a smile on everything–if you want to keep your job.

Except of course that it doesn’t. Unless you’re a server or a bartender, you don’t have to smile to do your job–in fact, it might distract you. And the same is true if you’re a writer, art director, busy sales director or coding team manager. Smile if you’ve just heard a funny joke or if your wife just sent you a picture of your baby’s first step. Otherwise, just stop it.

And going negative is less stress, since you don’t have to spend a huge part of your mental energy filtering your comments or monitoring the state of your face. You are what you are and it is what it is. If someone asks how your day is going, say “Terrible.” Chances are they’ll agree, or at least be sympathetic.

Also, and this is important, the world needs dissatisfied people. Necessity is the mother of invention. Without dissatisfied people, do you think hand sanitizer would have been invented? Or nachos, or electric toothbrushes? Of course not.

So do something good for your sanity, your dignity, and maybe even the world. Join me in going negative. Or don’t. I could care less either way.