Most of our actions in life have trade-offs. If we eat that piece of cake, we might see it later around our waistline. If we work overtime, we’ll see a positive outcome on our bank statement but miss time at home with loved ones.
Life is full of trade-offs.
Which made me wonder: is there always this trade-off? And is it possible to have too much positive thinking in our lives? Is it possible that personal development’s panacea that ails us can actually have a toxic effect if used in excess. After all, it’s said that it’s the dose that makes the poison.
Looking more closely, I realized that too much positivity can be a dangerous thing. Take people who suffer from mania and believe they’re kings of the world, that they can fly, or possess super powers. Individuals experiencing such overwhelming positivity often become a danger to themselves as they are incapable of assessing risk.
This led me to an interesting conclusion: if we can have too much positivity, then on the flip side, there must be advantages to negative thinking. In other words: There must be some situations in which negative thinking helps us reach a positive outcome. It’s productive. It’s beneficial. Here are 3 ways I’ve discovered it to be true.
1. We Are Limited
We are often told, starting from a very young age, that we can become whatever we want — that we can do and have whatever it is our hearts desire. This, combined with nearly limitless options can leave even the most successful individuals feeling like they haven’t accomplished enough. By acknowledging or setting limitations on ourselves, we eliminate the vast majority of options that are only serving to steal our energy and attention.
For instance, it is a waste of time and energy for me to dream about becoming a professional basketball player. I’m 25, 5’11, with no experience outside of the occasional pickup game, and I don’t particularly enjoy the sport. This option is not a good match for my skills or interests. In life, most of our options aren’t good matches for our skills or interests, for our unique personalities and passions.
While we often assume that having more choices is good, what we truly want are a few good options, not a limitless number of uncertain ones. By defining what we cannot or will not do, we enable ourselves to focus on the few options that will be meaningful to us.
2. Lowering Our Expectations
Another problem with being conditioned to believe that we can be, do and have anything we want is that this thinking inflates our expectations to unrealistic levels and often endows us with a sense of entitlement. To complicate matters, we often hinge our happiness on these external events – whether or not the world conforms to our expectations. But the universe doesn’t owe us anything, and unrealistically high expectations are rarely met.
This is a sure path towards disappointment. It’s more effective to lower our expectations – if not eliminate them completely. If we’re not basing our happiness on whether or not our expectations are met, then we’ve eliminated one of our biggest sources of unhappiness and given ourselves the opportunity to be content where we are right now.
It’s one thing to aspire to do, or be, or have great things. It’s healthy to dream big and aim high. If we can do so without expecting anything, then we’ll be able to enjoy the journey, as well as whatever results may or may not come.
3. Accurate Risk Assessment
Remember our manic friends? Thinking that they can fly is not the only hazard of being overly optimistic. Incurably positive thinking affects all types of risk assessment. Taking calculated risks is one of the best ways to grow as individuals and to make breakthroughs in our lives. Taking risks because we don’t realize there are risks is simply dangerous. Take, for instance, engaging in unprotected sex, playing the stock market, and casino gambling.
While it’s impossible to say with certainty that our attitude has no influence over the outcomes in these scenarios, it would be foolish to make positive thoughts to our success strategies. And this should apply to all areas of our lives: having a realistic understanding of the situations we find ourselves in is the most important thing. Then, we can be sure that our positive thinking isn’t fantasy, and it can be used to give us direction and inspiration. Otherwise we may eventually find ourselves flying without a net – and that’s not a recipe for happiness.
These thoughts that, at first glance, seem to be negative, really aren’t once we take the time to internalize them. They’re about realism. Realism isn’t positive or negative, and by having an accurate picture of reality we can make better life decisions.
And in that sense these negative thoughts are most certainly positive.
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