I grew up in a family that survived by preparing for the worst: blizzards, drought, broken fences, and the threat of wildfire. There was a positive side to this negative thinking—as ranchers who made a living by raising cattle, we kept them fed, watered, and safe from Wyoming’s fierce winters and suffocatingly hot summers.
I remember Dad always anticipating the worst possible outcome as the severe seasons rolled by so he could prepare, and land on his feet when confronted with the unknown.
As an FBI agent, we planned arrests by giving priority to what could go wrong. We were not optimists who hoped everything would go according to plan.
Both my Dad and my fellow FBI agents were intelligent thinkers who were mentally tough. That is, they weighed the possibility of a negative outcome with equal heft as the possibility of a positive outcome.
Intelligent thinking is another term for positive thinking. Let me be clear—positivity is not optimism that always expects things to change for the better, nor is it pessimism that always assumes the worst will happen.
It is often as difficult for optimists to be positive thinkers as it is for pessimists. Positive thinking is not denying the contribution of negative thinking. In fact, it’s wise to prepare for the worst that could happen in business and life.
The term “positive thinking,” however, has been polluted by the relentless cheer of motivational speakers who pressure their audience by goading them to stamp out all traces of negativity.
While this approach seems to be popular with some audiences, it’s not a particularly sophisticated—or realistic—approach to life.
Mental toughness is not being afraid of negativity; instead, it is learning how to harness its power so it works for you.
Here are 5 ways negative thinking can make you a positive thinker:
1. Be A Positive Thinker By Accepting Your Negative Emotions
Observe all of your emotions and sensations as they come to the surface—not just the feel-good ones. Do not try to suppress a negative emotion simply because it’s negative. Be honest about what you are feeling.
TIP: Acknowledge all of your emotions and try not to judge them as being positive or negative. Then let them pass. The key is to not dwell on those emotions which are counterproductive or undesirable.
2. Be A Positive Thinker By Embracing the Possibility of Failure
The all-positive approach of motivational speakers is relentless in its pursuit of perfection. The more realistic approach of positivity, on the other hand, does not reject failure. In fact, positive thinkers embrace failure as a challenge—a call to action to keep moving forward.
TIP: Do not give up and walk away, searching for something easier at which you will finally succeed. If achieving this goal is important to you, continue to approach the problem, but from different angles while at the same time honing your talents and skills.
3. Be A Positive Thinker By Looking for Positive Options
Positive thinking is embracing the reality of a negative outcome in a situation, but continually looking for and finding the positive options that every situation offers.
Thoughts are stubborn; once you let them take hold and grow roots, it is very difficult to erase them from your mind. Whatever grabs your attention rules your life. So, you need to control your thinking.
Researchers confirm that the very thing your mind focuses on is the same thing that you will start to notice in your daily life.
Your survival instinct has warned you of the possible negative outcome; now, you need to counter that warning with a positive response that will prepare you as you move toward the obstacle.
TIP: Recognize the negative aspects of your situation, but don’t dwell on them. Turn your attention to the positive options available to you.
4. Be A Positive Thinker By Believing You Can Prevail
Positivity is believing we can prevail in our situation, regardless of the circumstances. Prisoners of war and Navy SEALS have found that their belief in their own ability to prevail in extreme and adverse conditions is what kept them alive.
Survival, in one form or another, is at the heart of mental toughness. It is prevailing over our circumstances and moving forward.
TIP: When things look tough, you will need to have the grit to be persistent and understand that failure is not the end—it simply represents another way to approach our situation.
5. Be A Positive Thinker By Differentiating Between Visioning and Fantasy
Visioning is based on solid science. By visioning our performance repeatedly, our brain stores that information as a success. And with each success, our brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine. This is the chemical that becomes active when we encounter situations that are linked to rewards from the past.
Use your dopamine not only to see rewards, but to move toward them.
Dreams can easily turn into fantasies if we let our thoughts get out of control, and fantasies can actually lessen our chance for success. Those who are adamant optimists about a positive future will experience a greater shock when things go wrong. If people fantasize only positive beliefs about their future, they are less prepared and more stressed when things don’t workout they way they had hoped.
TIP: For you to be a leader, you must see things as they really are. Then see them the way you can make them better.
Mental toughness is not just surviving through tough times, it is thriving, and not letting the environment control your thinking. Don’t pretend the negative aspects of your situation don’t exist, but don’t dwell on them. Instead, believe you will prevail by looking for, and finding, positive options.
What suggestions do you have for learning how to harness the power of negativity?
© 2016 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.
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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.”