As I was listening to a highly successful sales coach tell us how to be more effective, I couldn’t help but see from his approach how positive thinking is killing us.
The Value of Positive Thinking
I’ve been a fan of positive thinking since I was a kid. My mom used to love listening to people like Norman Vincent Peale, Robert Schuller, Zig Ziglar, and more. She would always help me to frame my thoughts in a more positive, solution-oriented way.
There are so many reasons to think positively. Positive thinking keeps our minds open to solutions. It makes other people gravitate toward us because of the joy and charisma we exude. It helps us see silver linings and be more happy with our choices.
There are many reasons we need positive thinking to be at our best, but just like many things there can be a negative. Too often the positive things we have include negative consequences that we don’t anticipate and properly prepare for.
This is one of the reasons most people don’t see how positive thinking is killing us, not even this highly successful sales coach.
The Downside of Positive Thinking
As I was listening to this sales coach he told the audience what nearly every positive thinking person always says: “You have to remove all the negative from your life. Turn off the news, don’t hang out with people who aren’t positive, think of only positive things.”
On some level this is great, but this coach goes on to show the serious problem with this approach and how positive thinking is killing us. He talks about how he went on a steady “diet” of only positive news and information for a month. It worked so well he did it another month. And another month. He now says he’s immune to negativity. That’s a recipe for disaster.
We seem to think that we just need to focus on the positive so we can be successful. It’s the kind of thinking that makes the richest man in the world run a company where a large chunk of the people that work for him are on food stamps. In fact, John Oliver ran an interesting piece on it recently.
The Consequences of Ignoring the Negative
When we get so stuck on being positively focused that we won’t pay attention to anything negative there are huge consequences. Our climate crisis. Children suffering. A drain on our natural resources.
So many of these things can be dealt with but we have to spend some of our time dealing with negative things. Avoiding things we don’t like, averting our eyes, focusing only on success: these are the things that lead to disaster.
Because while we’re focusing on only the good things, we’re not seeing the things that need improvement or need adjustment or need attention. We’re too busy feeling good about our world to think about those that are suffering in it.
This is how positive thinking is killing us. The good news is that there is a better way.
A Better Approach
If we want to make the world a better place, we have to expose ourselves to even the stuff we don’t want to see. We have to do the right thing even when it’s challenging or doesn’t send us off like a rocket ship toward our goals. If our goals require us to ignore those who are hurting, they’re not only bad goals, they will cost us in the long run (see Climate Crisis).
Making a million dollars while the people who did the work earned pennies on the dollar is wrong. Ignoring it because you want to only focus on the positive does not remove your moral obligation.
Instead, here are three ways to have a positive focus, without ignoring your moral obligation to make the world a better place.
- Important Over Urgent: Instead of focusing on the positive only, focus on the important. Avoid things that seem urgent or salacious, but are really just there to get your attention.
- Concerned Yet Positive: Don’t shy away from bad news. Be ready to accept the truth. But don’t use it to be negative or angry. Use it to be motivated. You have to know what’s wrong to change it, but you also have to act to change it.
- Solution Focused: Reactions should be solution and partnering focused instead of problem focused and critical. Don’t focus on what’s wrong; look for how to fix it.
It’s disturbing how positive thinking is killing us. By burying our heads in the sand we’ve become swamped with poverty, wealth inequity, a climate crisis and more. We can’t ignore it.
We need to focus on what’s important, stay informed but positive, and be solution focused. We can’t ignore the truth. We must be ready to change the world, no matter how hard that might be.