So much of coaching and personal development is based on the theory that negative thinking is not good for us and we need more positive thinking. Because of this, the upside of negative thinking often gets overlooked and disregarded. In truth, learning to tap into its wisdom can be enlightening and even motivating.
In studies conducted at the School of Psychology at the University of New South Wales, researchers discovered that negative people communicate better, think more clearly, make fewer mistakes, are less gullible, and are better at decision-making. The reason? Negative people have enhanced ‘information-processing strategies’, which means they use the critical part of their brain more successfully than cheerful people.
As human beings, our brains have a ‘negativity bias’, meaning we are built with a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news. The bias is so automatic that it can be detected at the earliest stage of the brain’s information processing.
In a series of studies by John Cacioppo, then at Ohio State University, now at the University of Chicago, he showed that the brain reacts more strongly to stimuli it deems negative.
Participants were shown pictures known to arouse positive feelings (say, a Ferrari, or a pizza), those certain to stir up negative feelings (a mutilated face or dead cat) and those known to produce neutral feelings (a plate, a hairdryer). The results showed that activity in the brain’s cerebral cortex that reflects the magnitude of information processing taking place increased when participants were shown images that stirred up negative feelings.
The brain developed systems that would make it unavoidable for us not to notice danger because our survival depended on it. So we need to understand that negative thinking patterns are normal, though remember that excessive negative thinking patterns are not healthy either.
In the same way, too much positive thinking can be unhealthy. It all comes down to balance.
People automatically connect positive thinking with happiness. They presume they can mask their true emotions with superficial signs of joy and expect it to bring contentment. For example, if you are always telling yourself that you’re fit and healthy, but your actions are that of laziness and unhealthy habits, then you are just perpetuating a lie that doesn’t help you.
The key is your awareness of your own thoughts; then you can decide which type of thoughts you want to focus on. Here are some points that you might want to consider:
- It’s not negative to ask yourself logical, rational questions or seek out ways to change your current situation if it’s going to enhance your life.
- Being negative is good if it serves the purpose of creating positive growth. Anger directed in the right way can create drive and passion.
- Being negative is one thing, being realistic is another. The difference often lies in how we say it.
- Being positive is not automatically good, especially if it is used as a mask to hide behind and to pretend that nothing needs to change.
So, remember that negative thinking isn’t superior to positive thinking, but neither is positive thinking the panacea for creating and living an amazing life. Sometimes what’s required is a dose of reality.
Dean Griffiths is the founder and CEO of Energy Fusion, the first interactive online platform to subjectively assess physical and mental health.