Dec 24, 2011

PHILOSOPHY OF THINKING


Positive vs. Negative

It was a matter of discussion with one of the members of Vedanta society, Toronto, on the influence of negative and positive thoughts on our minds, which prompted me to write on this abstract topic. It is a well known fact that positive thinking forces us to act positively, but even after knowing this fact  people get attracted towards negative thoughts more than the positive ones. For example, people become jealous and envious after seeing somebody’s success, progress or happiness which then gives rise to negative feelings. People also become jealous if somebody is more educated or knowledgeable or spiritually advanced. Therefore the question arises, is negative thought always bad for us and as such, should it have any place in our mental faculties? Why are people so abrasive with the thought of negative feelings? Do negative feelings have any positive role in our lives? If so, then how and what should be the demarcation line for both the feelings to co-exist for the betterment of our personality?  In order to avoid repetition of thoughts already expressed by scholars, sages and seers, I have tried to take a holistic approach on the topic mixed with logic and the latest discoveries in neurological science and the human brain.
  
The human mind is attracted towards anything which gives it mental, physical, emotional or worldly pleasures. In order to obtain these pleasures, how we perceive our thoughts depends on the outcome of our rational or sometimes, irrational thinking which may be logical and or temperamental in nature. Since negative or positive thinking and the resulting pleasures are mostly sensual and gives us happiness and a sense of satisfaction or accomplishment, then in a true sense, it has to be good or positive. The means to achieve those thoughts which may be bad for others may be negative, but as the outcome gives us the mental pleasure, we cannot overtly categorize them as bad. It is inadvertent that we not only get pleasures by thinking good about ourselves only, but we also get pleasure in thinking bad about other people. Sometimes negative feelings crop up inside our mind due to failure or dissatisfaction towards a thing or a situation which is a very obvious and inseparable part of the entire gambit of the process of thinking. Therefore, the way we think negatively or positively, needs to be investigated before arriving at a conclusion.

The thoughts of worldly pleasure can have negative or positive aspects or there may be a situation where enjoyment of such pleasures may result in stabilization or destabilization of our mental equilibrium. Religious books and books of higher knowledge have given us the dictum that any pleasure which is against the law of nature or immoral in character is bad or negative.  But they have failed to mention that negative thoughts act like a springboard which prepares the foundation for positive thinking. Without the mental ground work one cannot build the castle of hope, aspiration, trust, confidence, self assurance, optimism, desire, ambition etc. In other words, without negative thinking there is no existence of positive thinking. It is an inseparable part of the same coin.

The characterization of good or bad, positive or negative thinking also depends upon the stages of our lives as they transform from one stage to another. It means that our level of thinking does not remain the same and it goes through the process of metamorphosis as we mature. The variation of our thought also depends upon our mood and circumstances; as such they cannot be accepted as good or rejected as bad.

Therefore the question arises; do these mood swings undermine our capacity to think positively and if yes, then how to distinguish between these negative and positive thoughts in our daily lives, or how do we bookmark these thoughts for corrective actions? And why do negative pleasures or negative thoughts attract us more than positive ones? Those who are advanced practitioners of spiritualism may claim to have the ability to overcome negative thinking may sound hypocritical as it is difficult to distinguish the characteristics of positive thought in the absence of negative  the way it is difficult to understand the nature of light in the absence of darkness. It is the mood swing which influences cyclical changes in our thinking of happiness or positivity and sadness or negativity which depends upon various natural phenomena occurring around us.

In order to illustrate metamorphic changes in our thought process, we can see it evolve as we mature.  For example, a toy may be the world of a child as long as he or she has the toy, but his or her world will be gone in the absence of it. Similarly, an adolescent has different perceptions that create his or her own world. As time changes, their priority changes and the definition of pleasure or happiness also changes, this may look ludicrous from the angle of an old person, for whom these pleasures may now be irrelevant. Therefore the values of thought which has a positive impact on one’s life at one point of time will seem to have a negative influence. The understanding of the meaning of pleasure has changed with the change in time but the attributes of the feeling of pleasure has remained the same. The pleasures of life are a constant and only the means to enjoy those changes with time.

Hence we see that the outcry of negative feeling is not always bad. Sometimes negative feelings make us cautious in our approach. After getting the feel of a burn, one becomes cautious of fire, which is the result of negative feeling towards it. Nobody feels positive while going through suffering or pain. It is the after-effect of an event which forces one to think positively in order to regain lost confidence and belief. We learn lessons in our lives after going through suffering, and these lessons are the inseparable part of negative feelings which cannot be explicitly admonished. Sometimes, lessons learned from bad experiences and the resulting negative thoughts provide us with an opportunity to analyze and formulate resolutions to be careful next time and continue moving forward with positive approach. In other words, negative thought ignites the process of positive approach in life.

Now with all said and done logically, what does our modern neurology say in this regard? How does our brain work mechanically in these situations and what type of chemicals is involved in developing positive or negative thoughts? If we can identify them, then can we control their activities in our brains to make our lives more peaceful and stable?

Scientifically it is difficult to prove what triggers our brain to think in a peculiar way. Modern science is still primitive in research as far as the human brain is concerned. So far we know that the process of thinking depends upon our emotion which is controlled by chemicals present in the limbic system which is a complex set of structures that lies on both sides of the thalamus. It has four main structures: the amygdala, the hippocampus, regions of the limbic cortex and the septal area. The hippocampus is important in memory and learning, while the limbic system is central in the control of emotional response. Thalamus or Hypothalamus gland is situated in the left side of our brain on top of cerebellum and connected with pituitary gland and other endocrine systems.

Having described the vital parts of the brain, it would be pertinent to understand how they work in tandem to create positive or negative impulses. It is the billions of neuron or neurotic cells which contain the secret of the brain and release chemicals like Serotonin and Dopamine which transmit brain signals from one neuron to another neuron. Serotonin acts as a neurotransmitter and helps relay signals from one area of the brain to another and any imbalance in this neurotransmitter level may influence the mood in a way that may lead to depression. Positive thinking and behaviours encourages the release of serotonin, dopamine and all other ‘feel good’ chemicals and alternatively negative thinking or behaviours, will inhibit the production of those chemicals and instead will release Cortisol that rises during stress. Therefore, a mere smile or sadness will trigger or inhibit the release of these chemicals.

Dopamine being a neurotransmitter makes people more talkative and excitable. The major behaviours dopamine affects are movement, cognition, pleasure, and motivation.  In other words, it affects brain processes that control movement, emotional responses, and the ability to experience pleasure and pain. If any of these biochemical glitches occur, the researcher believes it can lead to depression, as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, panic and even excessive anger. In certain areas of the brain when dopamine is released, it gives one the feeling of pleasure or satisfaction. These feelings of satisfaction become desired, and the person grows a desire for satisfaction. To satisfy that desire the person will repeat behaviours that cause the release of dopamine. For example food and sex release dopamine. That is why people want food even though their body does not need it.

To sum up, we must understand that every thought matters in shaping our lives for good or bad. Positive thinking helps us in shaping our future actions with confidence and conviction whereas the occasional dose of negative thinking may make us cautious of events which may become hurdles in moving ahead positively. It is up to us to weigh which thought process is more helpful in achieving results while remaining calm and happy. If we do not know how to balance the mix of positive and negative thoughts in daily life then we are going to hurt ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally. For those who do not know how to balance them, it can be suggested that spiritualism and yogic practices like asanas (physical postures), pranayama (breathing practice) and meditation may help them in controlling the flow of Serotonin and Dopamine in the brain.

I would look forward for your valuable comments and wish you all Happy Holidays.

Suman Saran Sinha

85 comments:

Kartik Sahay said...

Well explained about positive approach and negativity. In my opinion, its very personal approach of each individual towards negativitism and positivism. Its well known to everyone, that positive forces and energies are driver for success and happiness. But there are people in the sphere of Positivitism, who enjoys negativitism as long as it decry some one else. This type of situation is prevalent in our society for pleasure, fun and mockery. In result , in long term, these people of Positive Sphere also fall into the sphere of Negativism.

Great writing.

DANIEL TAVCIOSKI said...

Daniel Tavcioski - Canadian Association of Management Consultants Group•

Dear Suman, thank you for your inspirational and clear writing on such elusive topic like thinking is.

Thinking is a way we are transforming our thoughts into experience. We can fool ourselves that negative thought or feeling had not happened but it is also true that they happen more often then we are aware or willing to accept.

I like the parallel you draw between negative thoughts and metamorphosis as we mature. It seems to me that force that lies behind negative thinking is the same that drives us forward in our lives. Actually, negative thinking is not so negative if we look on it from different angle. I suppose, negative thoughts are the way we are trying to understand ourselves in the world as is. The problem may occur when those negative thoughts prevail and transform into fears which block further thinking. Then, all brain chemistry starts to work against us, although it seemed to us we were moving in an opposite direction.

Maybe, we are going through the process of personal growth as we face our fears, making thus negative thinking our first and most appropriate way to react. When we look at fears on a conscious level we tend to transform them so we can avoid unpleasant facing. That way, unreasonable positive thinking can make greatest harm, using our brain power to mask the problems we need to solve, transforming them into dangerous beliefs.

My mother used to say that there is no substitute for personal experience. I have found lately that there is, and unfortunately it is the most dangerous one: self-deception. I am a great believer in Andrew Grove's suggestion:"Make your mistakes faster!" That way, negative side of our thinking can be our most advanced teacher and guide to personal treasury.

Success always comes from within, either we are measuring it through self-esteem or through the illusion of money. Companies tend to make more and more money, so they can strenghten their market position and stay in a business game. But I always suggest my clients that there is a tremendous difference between making a solution and buying one. Successful people make solutions, people with problems tend to buy them. It is the same with the companies, although it is not so obvious sometimes.

Positive thinking strenghtens the power of our belief, but maybe negative thinking makes a foundation for believing. There is an Arab proverb that illustrates it in an amusing way: "Believe in God, but tie you horse!"
With warmest regards from Serbia I wish you and your family Happy Holidays,

Daniel

CONWYN FLAVELL, UK said...

I think I will go hunting tomorrow for a nice meal but the lions may also be hunting.

In management being negative means disagreeing with the boss. We talking about being negative as career limiting when it is blantantly obvious it is going to be a disaster but nobody is brave enough to say it. So negative (it will never work) verses postitive (can not fail) are part of the corporate debate how decisions are made. You need some negative people around to control the excesses of the positive ones.

SUMAN S. SINHA said...

I cannot agree more than you that we need to be cautious in our approach and being cautious does not mean being negative. However the negative approach towards a thing or a situation gives rise to the feeling of being cautious. Today, North America is spending millions of dollars for developing full proof security system which demonstrates fear which has negative elements in its root. I am not an advocate for negative thinking but it is a part of the risk management and the entire philosophy of risk management is based on the probability which includes being negative.

As far as the corporate world is concerned, it is full with sycophants. Otherwise, the world would not have suffered economically so hard. They hire young graduates who do not have the guts to call spade a spade, as they lack experience to handle situations which are not mentioned in the books of management. Therefore in order to garner hefty bonuses, those few on the key positions inflate the situation in their favour which ultimately causes the bubble to burst at the cost of the nation, people, and beyond.

Therefore the corporate world does not need negative people to sound the alarm but they do need people with experience and wisdom capable of handling all situations including negative ones and converting them into strength for the company.

JULIA BURLACU, MEXICO said...

Negative thinking has a role in our lives and I find it important to consider when finding myself in a new and totally unknown situation ( when I think about 2 escenarios: the good that could come out of it or the bad that could happen). We can´t rely on everybody to think or act like us so negative thinking helps us to be prepared in case things don´t go the way we "positively" expected. Too much positive thinking tricks us into thinking nothing bad could happen and that means: evading reality. Of course, there would be many examples of negative thinking to discuss and their role in our daily life.

Russell Potter said...

This is a fascinating article and beautifully written. From my own perspective I see negative thoughts as an obstacle to moving forward. Too often negative thoughts seem to act as a reason to stay in a comfort zone or to play out a "racket". In the excelent book "the 3 Laws of Performance" Dave Zogan describes the notion of a racket as a self fulfilling mental construct in which people use negative thoughts to reinforce self satisfaction. e.g. Those management consultants think they know everything...meaning I'm right and they are wrong....meaning I am superior to them. Everyday we see rackets being played out from armchair sports pundits berating their team to complaining about spouses and partners. Such negative thoughts are destructive for both the individual and for those around them.
The fascinating area of cognitive behavioural therapy is based on the idea that negative thoughts lead to negative behaviours and ultimately fear, anxiety and depression. Clearly we should be fearful of danger and the example of being burned by a fire is a good one. This is however not "destructive negative" rather it is "safety negative." Such examples are at the extreme. In the day to day of our consulting lives the destructive negative emotions, fear of change, loss of control and ego, would be one which I would like leaders and managers to balance and recognise as destructve negative. If we as individuals can learn to recognise negative and positive thoughts in ourselves we are a big step closer to making rational decisions and enabling our future personan growth.

LAMAR CHRITOPHER CHAPMAN III, ILLINOIS, USA said...

My experience has been that whether the thinking is positive or negative is subjective. This is true as far as whether the expectations are "evading reality" or exceeding reality. Of course reality for one is never the same reality for another.

All of my life I have been accused of being out of touch with reality only because of my high levels of expectation - "self- expectation"! I intentionally set high standards for myself. I've been known to raise the bar just before I'm crossing the finish line. Being self-competitive is not easy for me to settle for less! However, I find myself "addicted" to winning and truly enjoy the rush that I get when I win. Even when that rare loss happens, I celebrate the lesson. And get excited about applying what I have learned for the next challenge. I never use the "P-Word" - Problems!

Julia, I am much too lazy to be a "negative thinker"! It takes the same amount of energy to be positive as it does to be negative. So, I might as well be positive! Since I set my own reality, I am very seldom disappointed. I'm happy to say, "negative thinking" has no role in my life. Being positive is contagious. So, stay positive!

With Warmest Regards,


LAMAR C. CHAPMAN III
Oak Brook, Illinois - USA

Gregory Frenklach, ISRAEL. said...

I would also add contradictory thinking in order to have a full picture of thinking types.

Thomas Aw from Vietnam said...

There must be some elements of Negatives in everybody, for us to realise the POWER of Positive Thinking.

THOMAS AW

Dhruv Nijhawan from Gurgaon, India. said...

Negative Energy is often viewed as a hindrance in life, but it has its own importance. It helps us to develop cautious approach towards uncertainty.

JOHN BLAKOWSKI, Greater Detroit Area, USA said...

John Blakowski, CPIM, CIRM • It sounds like you all agree that negative thinking is good or at least necessary if it balances as in weighing pro's and con's or pluses and minuses. If it turns into 'Negativitis’ it cripples the human spirit. I also agree with Suman and the practice of yoga to balance emotions as well as the physical. I have been practicing yoga for about 37 years and it does wonders for the mind and the body. It helps with focusing/balancing all around.

JOE ASHOUR, Greater Chicago Area, USA. said...

Joe Ashour • positive thinking and negative thinking are barrel together or you will be hit with disappointment every time you think things will go 100% well, negative thinking some times get you prepared, but negative thinking should never be your priority.

ZUMRUT T. DOLEN, Istanbul, Turkey. said...

Zumrut T. Dolen • They provide a basis to the positive ones to exist.

Abhijeet S. Rathore (ABI), Indore Area, India. said...

Hi Suman,

The way I see it the whole process of thinking is based on our memories, experiences and learning accumulated over the years. Being a complex mechanism our mind doesn’t take anything as positive or negative. It utilize only that which in shorter or longer duration will benefit our system or in simple words will give us returns for our biological development. Rest everything is rejected as a part of non fruitful returns. I don’t know why people all over have termed thinking as a means to achieve something positive or negative. Just as we don’t have to take any special efforts to breathe, the same way our mind doesn’t need extra effort to think more than which is not required to function properly.

Rakesh Arora, Pune, India said...

My point of view is that negative and positive view-point very much depend on the context of what is that we are looking at or seeking. If we are trying to achieve a balanced approach that both negative and positive aspects are important. But we are trying to achieve a on-going learning experience that positive approach helps in better understanding and taking corrective measure to ensure success but if we are on fault finding mission that of course the selection is very simple.

CONWYN FLAVELL, UK said...

Hi Suman. I must disagree. Once we created the concept of a limited company to remove personal responsibility we allowed individuals to act without social responsibility and it is cheaper to get rid of them than allow them to continue their path of doom. I disagree with your linking caution with negativity. You can plan a project to assume the worst outcomes but still be positive

DEAN LEDBETTER, Fort Lauderdale Area, Miami, USA said...

There is no negative and there is not positive. There simply "is." In the ultimate, both are extremely contextually dependent on perspective and perception.

A lioness bringing to her pride a gazelle she just killed is performing here duty. Good for the pride. The herd of gazelles she just raided is frightened and dispersed lacking the one that was killed. Bad for the herd. We as observers see the natural events occur and may be indifferent to its affects. The same event is described three ways in one paragraph and is correct.

My point is that it is impossible to speak about positive and negative without being contextually limited. Build the context and then we have something to speak about. Lacking context the discussion is a meaningless exercise in verbosity.

SUBHASH MALIK, New Delhi, India. said...

Very interesting and thought provoking.Thanks for enlightening us.

Arun Kumar C, Mumbai, India said...

Arun Kumar C commented in the group on EVERYBODY TALKS ABOUT POSITIVE THINKING. WHAT ABOUT NEGATIVE THINKING? DOES IT HAVE ANY ROLE IN OUR LIVES?:

According to me, there is no role .. It is my belief that the vast majority of people in this country suffer from an excess of negative..

Arun Kumar C, Mumbai, India said...

Arun Kumar C commented in the group on EVERYBODY TALKS ABOUT POSITIVE THINKING. WHAT ABOUT NEGATIVE THINKING? DOES IT HAVE ANY ROLE IN OUR LIVES?:

According to me, there is no role .. It is my belief that the vast majority of people in this country suffer from an excess of negative...

Pam van Engelshoven from Caribbean Nations said...

Pam van Engelshoven commented in the group on EVERYBODY TALKS ABOUT POSITIVE THINKING. WHAT ABOUT NEGATIVE THINKING? DOES IT HAVE ANY ROLE IN OUR LIVES?:

I like the image of The Bono with his Six thinking hats including the black hat that looks for negative points to an idea. In this sense the negative is functional. Otherwise it is damaging and should be avoided, to my opinion!

Anand K.N, New Delhi, India said...

Every literatature, every spritual leaders talk about the advantage of positive thinking. There is no denying on its impact in our daily life. It provides the courage to face the adverse situarions.

But mind never stop thinking. Most of the time it thinks on negative than positive. I feel it may be easy to talk about positive thinking but difficult to practice all the time

HARRY HUSTED ,Greater New York City Area, USA. said...

Negative feelings are there and can't be ignored. However, T. Harv Eker said it best. When he was confronted with negative feelings he would say, "That's for sharing, now shut up." I believe that if we put the negativity in its place as soon as it arises, the more control we can have over it.

Gregory Frenklach from ISRAEL. said...

Some people have positive thinking approach and see the world through a prism of opportunities.
They "go to a better".
Some people have negative thinking approach and see the world through prism of problems.
They "leave a bad"
There are also people with so called dialectic thinking approach and see the world through a prism of contradictions.
They try "to get a compromise"
Different cultures (depending on countries) educate people to use one of the mentioned above thinking approaches.
For example, US educates mostly positive thinking.
But for powerful thinking we need all of the mentioned above thinking approaches.

Vijay Kongari from FINLAND. said...

Negative thinking is something that creeps up on us, where thought to banish it and focus on the positive. I think that in the equivalent of 'judging distance whilst covering one eye',
not so accurate. If we instead develop tools and methods fore out negative thinking we can hone it in an use it to our advantage.
In my experience, by elaborating on it i have come to answers and solutions that i never would have taught of or would have taken much longer to think of (and in some cases 'the right question')
Negative thinking, as long as it's not overwhelming, can be a very useful skill.

Ranjay Akhouri, NEW DELHI, INDIA. said...

In my opinion, positive and negative thinking are not pluses and minuses or pros and cons. Positive thinking is right attitude to look into a problem/situation and steps to solve/handle the same after evaluating favourable and non-favourable factors, while negative thinking is about why the problem/situation cannot be solved/ handled. Generally negative thinker look for an excuse of not doing a job, whereas a positive thinker look for the ways how to do a job within a given set of conditions.

Kumar Brar, New Delhi, India said...

Never ever have negative thoughts. Whenever you are feeling sad, angry, discouraged change your mood by switching to something which makes you feel positive like a good song, a painting , a walk whatever makes you happy and do whatever it takes to get out of this situation.
Bcoz the more you live in this kind of situation, the more you are attracting negativity in your life.

Focus on positivity and always create situations which makes you more positive by using below techniques in your life :

Gratitude : The more you express gratitude for what you have in life, the more positivity you are going to attract and then more good things in your life.

Love : The more you love the more you are attracting in your life.

Happiness : The more you remain positive and happy, the more your life will change.

Choice is yours. Believe and practice it to change your life or doubt it and create a doubtful life for yourself.

Felicity de Scarfo, Coventry, United Kingdom said...

EVERYBODY TALKS ABOUT POSITIVE THINKING. WHAT ABOUT NEGATIVE THINKING? DOES IT HAVE ANY ROLE IN OUR LIVES?
It should have no role.Alas,we all have negative thoughts from time to time. Has nobody ever felt that things are going "pear shaped" after a mishap?.It's what we do with these thoughts(or fears) that is important.

BHARAT GODRA, TORONTO.. said...

Hello! Sumanji,

It is extremely well written and is a nice reading for the holidays.

What we really liked is how nicely you have integrated the knowledge of medical sciences into the topic.

Wish you and your family very happy holidays and a terrific 2012.

Anonymous said...

Not just the thought but what you do with it is what matters.

Does a negative thought like fear or jealousy spur you on? If yes, then it is a great thing.

Does a positive thought make you complacent? Then it is a bad thing.

As per Asian philosophy, there is yin and there is yang. The world is consumed by yang thinking. There needs to be balance.

I see far too many people in the corporate world that, in their positive thinking fever, forget to do basic planning, let alone contingency planning. Contingency planning is considered negative thinking. No wonder so many thing go wrong.

Gyan Rajhans said...

Excellent blog suman ji, much needed holistic approach about positive and negative thinkings. Please accept my heart-felt felicitations. Keep up the good work.

ANAND K.N., New Delhi, India said...

Every literatature, every spritual leaders talk about the advantage of positive thinking. There is no denying on its impact in our daily life. It provides the courage to face the adverse situarions.

But mind never stop thinking. Most of the time it thinks on negative than positive. I feel it may be easy to talk about positive thinking but difficult to practice all the time

VIVEK TULJAPURKAR, Pune, India. said...

Does positive thinking make you complacent? Then it is a bad thing.

Do negative thoughts spur you on to do better? Then it is a good thing.

"Just think positive and all will be well" is a theme around which a whole industry has been spawned by snake oil-selling charlatans that we call motivational speakers.

There are plenty of stories about the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs spending sleepless night worrying about what all can go wrong and then taking preventive action. This is how great people operate. They are not in the business of leaving things to chance while hoping and praying that things will work out.

Benjamin Franklin used to say, "By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail." These days, caught up in the positive thinking fever, we fail to do even basic planning - let alone contingency planning that any task of any size of difficulty requires.

Human race is becoming a bunch of do-nothing feel-good think-positive I-only-want-to-hear-good-news dufuses.

MATT HANSES, Greater St.Louis Area, USA. said...

There is a difference between positive decision that you will causatively make things go well and blind naivete.

One can be very perceptive of bad in the world, willing to see it for it for what it really is, and aware of all the bad possibilities that may occur as a result of a decision or a course of action...and then still decide to pursue the course of bringing the best possible action to fruition and fully expect it to do so.

One can be aware of wrong and still be positive. Positive thinking doesn't blind a person to the world any more a person who thinks negatively is able to see "reality."

What is lacking are some definitions.

MATT REEVE, SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA. said...

I agree with all the viewpoints stated above even though diverse. You are all obviously very good communicators.

My 2 cents on the subject is that because the mind is so adept at recording everything it perceives - whether good, bad, indifferent, boring, painful or extreme loss - including all emotions present, and because of its high facility at throwing emotions recorded at some dim and distant past back at you in the present as soon as the mind perceives something around you that is similar to something in a moment of loss, this then makes us tend to concentrate on loss and the negative instead of the positive.

The above mechanism is on a totally subconscious level.

In order to counteract this one has two actions:
1. delete the loss from the mind so one doesn't keep re-experiencing it, or
2. ignore the losses and all the negative emotions which keep being restimulated by the present time environment triggering past losses.

Both take quite a bit of work.

Workable do methods exist to do both. As a Stress & Trauma Counsellor at natural disaster sites I have seen great results from both approaches.

For example - at an earthquake site (I was in Christchurch from Day 3 in February this year) you see a rather extreme example of this mechanism at work, which serves as great illustration as it is so exaggerated.

What you have at an earthquake site are thousands of people who are in fact "stuck in the moment of the earthquake". That's what earthquake victims are. They are not here. They are not tracking in the present time. You have heard that U2 song "stuck in a moment"? (In fact I heard that song was written after the songwriter's girlfriend read the book Dianetics - which explains the entire theory and techniques to address it).

The person is poker-faced. They have almost no emotion. (I just realised this is what Lady Gaga is talking about in her famous song poker face) they cannot emotionally respond to things happening right now as they are hardly even aware of the present time.

A fact of life at an earthquake site is there are dozens of after-shocks daily which makes this far more challenging as each after-shock sends the person straight back in time to the original incident.

This same mechanism occurs in daily life for all of us. We hear a song which is our ex-wife's favourite song - and wham - we ain't having a good day anymore. We feel critical not so pumped up, and, this is the key to it - we don't know what caused it!

We assign the cause of this emotion that suddenly welled up inside us to something in front of our eyeballs - something happening right now. It's got nothing to do with what is happening right now - because it's emotion from an incident in the dim and distant past coming back to haunt us in the present. That painful emotion of loss was appropriate back then when the loss occurred. But not now.

Great discussion and I look forward to seeing other viewpoints.

RAVI RANJAN SINHA, New Delhi, India said...

I think "positive thinking" - is used for optimistic, constructive thought... creativity, humanity, leadership... “hope and wisdom”
Negative thinking – negative thought is all about pessimism, escapist, anxiety … which leads to anger, procrastination, loss.. and failures… all inhuman action …
Positive thinking (attitude)will create positive perception… motivation to do good.. can lead to development of evolved personality……leaders like Gandhi, George Washington, Martin Luther King and business leaders like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, …spiritual leaders like Swami Vivekananda, Dalia Lama …
Corollary, influence of negative thought.. can be antisocial elements……

Positive thinking brings happiness.. for all, negative brings curse …
Wishing you all – "a blessed and pleasant 2012"

With Fond Regards!

SHALENDRA SINGH, MOSCOW, RUSSIAN FEDERATION said...

Negative thinkings are a part of our life. These make peoples to take precautions and alertness in future . That's why sometime negative thinkings are making us pre prepared. Good luck to all.

Vladimir Enache, ROMANIA. said...

Negative thinking can also mean risk forecasting thinking. It can mean that you put your risks at first and then start thinking positive.

Michael Lewis Sr., DALLAS / FORT WORTH, USA. said...

I agree with Dhruv. Negative thinking helps to identify the obstacles and find away around them. Its like the old adage, "When you're in a hole, stop digging>"

William Young, TAMPA, FLORIDA, USA said...

I try to find complainers (negative thinkers) when I start a project. More information can be gathered from them than positive thinkers. They see the problems. I also discuss negative thinkers with management because they often get annoyed by their comments. These comments need to be cultivated so the issues they raise can be resolved or put to rest. Listen carefully however, they are not always right.

Robert Nitschke, GREATER SEATTLE AREA, USA said...

If you define negative thinking as the process of "preparing for the worst scenario", then there is a definite place for this approach. Those organizations or leaders that are always preparing for those events or issues that might impact their objectives in order to have a contingency plan, have been proven to be significantly more successful than those that do not.

ARLIN PAULER, CALIFORNIA, USA said...

I find it interesting that this topic has so little interest. Perhaps people tend to be so negitive about negetive thinking that they don't engage the good, the bad, and the ugly of it.

I agree with what is here so far. Using negative thinking for consrtuctive results has gotten me to where I could not otherwise gotten to; It has been a vital tool in my creativity tool box.

Have a fun and rewarding day, Elder Dude

DIANE MONJAY, CALIFORNIA, USA. said...

I think the key is to not let negative thinking take hold and overwhelm positive thinking. Like Vladimir says, negative thinking can be risk forecasting thinking. You have to think of the down-side to a planned project or action in order to assess the risk-benefit ratio. One can turn a negative scenario into a positive one, but only after the negatives have been thoroughly and accurately assessed. It's a matter of using negative thinking as a tool for the positive, and not to allow negative thinking to freeze a person into perpetual inaction.

LJUBOMIR TRAJKOVSKI, MACEDONIA, BALKAN PENINSULA said...

For me sinergy of positive&negative thinking could be attractive. The very good aproach is "Walt Disney method". TRY. idea is " Dremer-Realist-devil Advocate". the method is well described and documented.

Have a VERY POSITIVE New 2012 year!

KIRK BEADLE, GREATER DETROIT AREA, USA. said...

If you don't have any negative thoughts you don't know your risks exist. Use your negative thoughts to identify the risks, then create a plan that addresses the risks. Your negative thoughts will never disappear completely but don't let them keep you from doing something great.

MICHAEL BOYES, BALTIMORE, MARYLAND, USA. said...

I was reading some personality research recently. As it turns out, negative thinkers make better problem solvers because they are keen to see what could/will go wrong.

I don't have the reference in front of me, but it does make sense!

SHESHA MOHANTY, PUNE, INDIA said...

Well said Kirk
Negative thinking force us to realize positive thinking
Both are important in our life but we need to use negative to concrete our positive thinking.

GERRY SOM, TORONTO, CANADA. said...

Negative thinking is important to balance Positive thinking. It is wrong to associate Positive with Good and Negative with Bad.

RASHAD RASHADSABLOOH, LEBANON said...

I guess negative thinking is useful in crisis only.

When the engine of the plane we are on is on fire, we should start thinking negatively and take all precautions to prepare ourselves for the worst, if we stay positive in that situation "looking from a rosy window" than of course something wrong is going to happen, while we are not prepared.

Other than that, keep thinking positively to live a healthy life full of hopes and joy.

MEGAN HUBER, NORTH CAROLINA, USA. said...

Negative and positive thinking are really the only two types of thinking we do! It's either one or it's the other. We have the ability and the power to be conscious about the level of negativity and positivity in our lives, we also have the ability to decide HOW those negative and positive thoughts will influence us in the future. Negative thoughts are only helpful to us when we realize that those negative thoughts are pulling us in a direction other than our best direction. Negative thoughts are only helpful when we establish that they are present and we make a commitment to move into a more positive, forward thinking direction. 77% of what we hear starting from a very young age is negative, therefore, we are almost programmed to think, speak, act, and react, in a more negative way. Thinking negatively, feeling negatively, speaking negatively only attracts more negativity. It's not until we decide that it is important for us to make a change do we begin to move in a more positive direction - thinking positively, speaking positively, acting positively to attract positivity to our lives. I guess you have to go through the negative to get to a positive place!!

On a person note, I went from a full time job working 70 hours a week, I was very successful and considered a leader in my professional, to becoming at home Mom to an infant in the blink of an eye. I lost my identity. I lost who I was. I lost what I was capable of doing. Sitting alone with a baby in my home brought with it more negative thoughts than positive and for about a year I did absolutely nothing to work on myself, to attract anything good to my life. I started moving towards a path of becoming more conscious about my thoughts and my actions as well as who I surrounded myself with and day by day I began to reach a turning point. I had to go through the negative to realize that it was important for me to work towards the positive. Once I started working towards the positive I became more confident, I felt capable, I started two business, I figured out how to be successful and I continue to make daily efforts to remain positive in all that I do, feel, and say.

HARRY HUSTED, New York, USA. said...

Negativity enters only because we lack faith or trust in our supreme being (whoever you may think that is). I rarely have negative thoughts. I am a pure optimist. I am always upbeat and positive. At least that is what my friends tell me. I think it is a state of mind from fear or mistrust. I have friends who are like me. They are also full of optimism.

SIVANANDY S., CHENNAI, INDIA said...

In our world Anything and/or Everything whether Natural and/ or Artificial be the Binary in nature. So Our Lives based on both Extremes.We have Knowledge to Assimilate both things Innately from Birth itself. Those who Manage and/ or Handle these things passionately will have Betterment.

AWONENJI KAPHESI, MALAWI. said...

Negaitive thinking is just as good as coming up with disadvantages of aparticular item or thingt but in any event there is need compare the strength of negatives and postives to make a better choice

BILL ADAMS, ALABAMA, USA said...

It all reads very well so far, I think Politics has the market cornered on negative thinking.
at least here lately.

CYNTHIA SWARD, LOS ANGELES, USA said...

I love the question you pose Suman. I am sure we each define negative and positive thinking a bit differently. Could it be that each and more is just thinking? How could we know what is positive if we have never experienced negative? In addition to the common biology of the brain our backgrounds and culture as well as the unique innate characteristics of the individual define for us how we think. I am taken by the balance folks have mention here. Thank you everyone.

SUMAN SINHA said...

Thanks Cynthia and all of you. I feel negative and positive thinking both are part of our lives and they do complement each other. It is the ratio which matters and we should know the art of balancing them. The ratio again depends upon a situation, circumstances and our mental conditions. For example - I am a very positive thinker and that is why I am able to think and write on so many topics. You all are positive thinkers that is why you have spent your valuable time in reading and commenting on this topic. For negative thinkers it is a waste of time.

But in order to live and work safely in this world, sometime we have to be negative in our approach in order to find ways to cover ourselves from the physical, mental or emotional damages. Negative thinking do provide us the vision to stabilize our mind in order to think or plan positively. Therefore blindfolding eyes in the day time, does not make it night. I think some people create hypes in favor or against of these normal psychological phenomena due to their inexperience or ignorance which prompted me to discuss this issue with all of you.

Thanks once again and Happy New Year 2012 to all of you.

CLIVE MICHELSEN, MALMO, SWEDEN. said...

If negative thinking is associated to defense routines (resistance, cynism, etc.) then it has no place in a working environment and is counter productive.No matter how you try to bend it or use it as a metaphor, "negative thinking" portrays a "negative context" is not good for team dynamics. I believe that words like critical thinking, creative analysis, pros and cons, and other applicable terms offering duality are more in line.

VINAY BHATI, GHAZIABAD, UP, INDIA said...

Despite what we may think, of thinking each one of us has very little control over the thinking process of human mind.One can control actions,but not the thoughts of others. Natural thinking is like weather and natural disasters which cannot be controlled. Whether we like to admit it or not, this is an undeniable truth.

Charlotte Friedman, New York, USA said...

IMHO negative thinking is like an old tape in the mind that just goes on and on.
If we are leaders we must learn to "MIND OUR MIND", if we can not control what we think how can we be leaders? It is important to watch our thoughts and recognize an old tape, it is often a very stubborn program, and we have to weed it out in order to replant a better garden/program. Maybe yester year we believed some of the negative stuff that keeps us entertained. But today we can see it as old thought, old idea, old belief, and select a new way.

It is said that fear is just a prayer in disguise. It is also said that if you believe that you can you will.

Which one resonates for you?

@ Gerry, Not positive as good and negative as bad, it is not a judgment call. How about thinking negatively produces fewer good results, if any. How about seeing a situation as a success and working toward it. Sadly some think along the lines of fear, struggle, and limitations.
While it is important to acknowledge what is, it is not good to project anything opposite of the result you really want.

Bhargav Bhatt, Mumbai,India. said...

It wonn't be possible to innovate a parasuit with plane without negative thinking. So of course at some extenet the existance of Negative thinking is obvious in our life to make us alert.

RENE GAGNON, AUSTIN, TEXAS, USA said...

EVERYBODY TALKS ABOUT POSITIVE THINKING. WHAT ABOUT NEGATIVE THINKING? DOES IT HAVE ANY ROLE IN OUR LIVES?

I think if you had phrased your discussion as resonating from: Does our subconscious thought flow of PRO's and CON's create a pattern that affects the role model that we portray?

DAVID HAMILTON, DALLAS / FORT WORTH, USA said...

While most people would agree that it is important to have an overall positive outlook on life in general and business specifically, a health dose of skepticism bordering on negativity may be healthy. Experiments have been done on animals showing that "adventurous" ones tend to live shorter lives than "timid" ones. While business isn't quite "the wild outdoors", some of the same dynamics apply. One has to be cautious regarding who one does business, how many projects to take on, how much to invest, how much to set aside. For many people, this comes naturally. To a few adventurous types (usually entrepreneurs), taking risks born out of natural optimism is more natural. It is part of what makes them successful and sets the apart from others. It has also been the down fall of many great business leaders. Plan for the worst and hope for the best seems prudent. But, never let pessimism rule the day.

Ijeoma Mrs.Harv, NIGERIA said...

To cap it up, there is wisdom in listening than in talking. which implies that comments should be targeted to issues on ground, so the question is WHO INITIATES THE DISCUSSION

ROBERT WEINROTH, MIAMI, USA said...

The person who controls the conversation is the one who is the better listener!

ALLAN TSANG, ROANOKE, VIRGINIA, USA. said...

It's all positive baby!

I am actually teaching this this Friday. Mindset training.

e.g. Ask someone NOT to think of the color red...and what are they thinking?
Ask someone NOT to compare you with a jerk...and what are they comparing you to?
Ask someone to look at your product as much better quality and the crappy stuff you can buy as crapMART...and what are they measuring your product up against?
Ask a kid NOT to play with something and what is on the forefront of their mind?
It's better to tell your kid he will be a success vs - he would NOT be a failure.

It is the parenting style, the coaching method, the words you choose, the way you ask questions and make statements. It should live in the positive.

Positive is what works in most cases (notice I did not say Negative does not work in most cases although I could say that) :-)

Cheers,

Allan

Major (R) Zubair Hashmi, Pakistan said...

I think it complete a human behavior, sometimes a person living in a very positive environment and behaving negatively where as sometime a person living in a very un pleasant situation but behaving very positively.it is how the people concentrate towards their goal.

John Owens, New Zealand said...

There can be a perverse attraction to negative thinking. Many can perceive negative thinking as being 'serious', 'intellectual', etc. On the other hand positive thinkers can be seen as 'light weight', 'foolish'. Scared of being seen as a Pollyanna, many of us can steer away from positive thinking!

Negative thinking is just what the term implies, negative - it takes away, diminishes. On the other hand, positive thinking adds, brings more.

I cannot think of many successful entrepreneurs who are renowned for their negative thinking.

However, I am sure that there are some that will want to a take a more 'serious' view and espouse the benefits of negative thinking.

@David Negative thinkers often describe their behaviour as being 'realist' or 'pragmatic'.

If the outcome is unknown and one wanted to imagine what it might be, then why not imagine a positive outcome as opposed to a negative one?

There is a great deal of evidence around now that shows how our thinking and attitudes can actually bring about positive and negative outcomes. People who are positive attract positive outcomes. People who are negative attract negative ones.

The problem is that the negative people think that their negativity actually showed great foresight. They were right to say that it would all go wrong, after all, it did! What they do not realise is that it was their negativity that brought about the negative outcome.

Be careful what you wish for - you will get it!

David Martin, New Zealand said...

How about straught forward honest or pragmatic thinking.

I've discovered that if negative thinking is 'bad, then positive thinking has to be 'bad' as well.

I'm for straight. honest. pragmatic thinking.


Apologies John. I still believe what you are saying is 'poppycockery'11

I have no problems with your statement .. "If the outcome is unknown and one wanted to imagine what it might be, then why not imagine a positive outcome as opposed to a negative one?"

However, especially when the outcome is unknown, I believe that is the optimum time to be very pragmatic ... very realistic.

To me Negative and positive are merely two sides of the same coin. A little like the back of your hand and the front of your hand. People believe they are different.

However, if you were to slice through your hand inevitably you wuld come to the last slice which must contain both.

Arohanui

John Owens, New Zealand said...

@David Spoken like a true negative thinker!

'Pragmatic' and 'Realistic' are totally subjective terms that are used by negative thinkers to dress up their negativity in a guise of respectability - as being sensible, almost scientific, instead of what it is, plain negative thinking!

Their stance of course, by implication, also makes everybody else wrong. Anybody taking a positive view is now unrealistic, idealistic, missing the point, not sensible.

This need by negative thinkers to dress up their negativity shows a fragile ego. There are days when I can be a negative thinker. On those days there is a part of my ego that wants to justify my negativity as being pragmatic, realistic, even enlightened! I can see something that the rest of the world is missing! But the truth is that it just plain negative thinking and does not serve me or anybody else - quite the reverse.

By the way, if you think that I am speaking poppycock about the outcome of your thinking, then you are also accusing many quantum physicists of the same thing.

If you want to be the ultimate negative thinker you could take the stance of an Irish friend of mine who proclaimed that he was only happy when he was unhappy! In a perverse way this has impeccable logic that allows him to be perpetually happy and unhappy at the same time!

Hal (Hulusi) Tezcan, Chicago, USA said...

Truly enjoying this discussion!
By the way, where is Ken?
And Penelope, great comment: "...Each generation, and sometimes, different industries have a need to place their own labels and terms on concepts and practices. Oh, to be able to communicate with a universal language..."
I've witnessed and lived this struggle... (May I add "cultural differences" somewhere in your line?)
Hal

Stephen Watzek, Phoenix, Arizona said...

Thoughts Become Things

Watch your thoughts; they become your words. Watch your words; they become your actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become your character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

Olusegun Oriade, Brampton, Ontario, Canada said...

I am completely on David Martin's side. I won't label David as a negative thinker; that would be negative! David is a thinker. Is a suicide bomber positive thinker if he expect the bomb to go off and deliver the expected damage? When two football teams meet on a field does the team with the highest population of positive thinker win? Don't all say... 'may the best team win'? A lazy can think positive sitting down in his abode but will that put food on the table? How much of positive thinking could have prevented the economic meltdown of 2008? If we think positive there will be no need to invest, insure or even plan for tomorrow because 'tomorrow will always be alright'?! The 'positive thinking' label has outlived its usefulness, I say. I think we should simply think right! It is legal.

Ibrahim Alhajri, Saudi Arabia said...

I also agree with David, being too positive or negative is "bad". One can be looked at as foolish or naive, the other pessimistic and rigid.

Great comment from Stephen Watzek.

Allan Tsang, Roanoke, Virginia, USA said...

When we say "thinking" - we are in a decision making process.

All decisions are made emotionally first and then justified rationally

When thinking is negative or positive, we are basing them on a list of things - the data we have available, the meaning we put on that data, our personal value system, our belief system, our individual experiences etc.

Any of those may be variables that contribute to a person's negative/positive thinking process. e.g. if two people have exactly the same (experience, data etc) but just a different value system, the way they look at the life of a baby may drastically differ...

Rational emotive behavior therapy and or The Ladder of inference would be a good research topic if any of you guys are interested :-)

Roy Filkoff, Hartford, Connecticut, USA said...

If you want to learn more about positive thinking and its power check out Jack Canfield's book The Success Principles. Just sitting around thinking positively doesn't do anything, but by visioning the positive possibilities it can open your mind to opportunities you may not have seen before, then of course the critical part is taking ACTION to take advantage of the newly found opportunities. Positive thinking provides optimism which is very important to motivating people to take on a challenge. People need to believe they are likely to be successful before really commit to and put forth a great effort.
Think about the difference between two assistants. You have asked them both to take on a task that is critical but difficult. You ask them if they can get it done by Monday. The first says "Yes, I will get it done for you", the second says, "I'll try my best to get it done for you". I would bet heavily on the first assistant. He made a commitment will likely try harder to live up to his word, while the second has already laid the ground work for his excuse for not accomplishing the goal.

Sandy Graham, Tampa, Florida said...

The issue with negative thinking is that it is self-destructive. What you perceive in your mind you achieve. So, if negative thinking is your primary thought process, then you will experience negative situations, failures and disappointments.

Richard A Adams, Hartford, Connecticut said...

Good discussion! In my process improvement facilitation work I often have negative brainstorming, e.g., "what are the worst things that can happen here?" "how many ways can you think of that will not make it work?" Once these negatives (could be elephants in the room....) are out there, there is nothing lurking around when we want to create a positive new process. And the negative thoughts serve as a check list for "what do we have to do to head off these obstacles?" Judicious use of focused negativity is great!

Ken Bator, California said...

Interesting question. It depends on the type of negative thinking. Fear and it's ugly sister - worry - can be paralyzing and debilitating. A moderate level of anger can motivate people into positive action

Paul John Harrison, Glasgow, UK said...

A positive anything is better than a negative nothing. With that said I am still a realist and I wont be told I am now negative for admitting this, if I was not a realist I would simply be a positive thinker with no grip of reality...not much place for that approach in business or life!

Roy Filkoff, Hartford, Connecticut said...

There is a big difference between "being negative" ie saying why things cant be done and identifying realistic obstacles that have to be overcome. I think this is the nuance being missed in this discussion. The pragmatists and realists in this conversation (of which I have typically categorized myself) are not by definition "Negative". To be successful turnaround and business consultants, it is imperative to identify the reality facing the business, but to take a "Never say No" attitude (ie a positive attitude) that we will overcome the obstacles and achieve success. The Positive thinkers here are just saying when faced with an obstacle they take the tack that there must be another way which is likely the same attitude the pragmatists are taking but calling it something different.

Trudy Phillips, Birmingham, Alabama, USA said...

Roy, I can agree with your comment. I personally take that approach with my clients. I never say NO. But explain the options, possible problems and various approachs that might reach the desired goal. As a consultant, I do not feel it is my place to "be negative". My role is to help the client see and investigate all options and then make a valid, researched, well thought out decision. This is my approach to "Bring Order Out of Chaos". Ya'll have a great weekend!

By the way, the original book on positive thinking was published prior to 1900 by James Allen - "As a Man Thinketh". It is a small thin quick read and re-read book and was the basis for Norman Vincent Peale and the Power of Positive Thinking. Available on Kindle/Amazon. com. Fantastic, thought provoking reading in one setting. I highly recommend it and periodically buy 12 and given them away.. First read it in 1968.

Roberta Budvietas, New Zealand. said...

Two things - maybe it is just can we get people to think. And then has anyone recalled the battery theory of life - it takes a negative and positive poll connected to run the car and make it move forward

Mike Del Nino, Daytona Beach, Florida said...

Great comments! I relish the role of "devil's advocate"! Asking the hard questions to stimulate passionate dialogue is definitely a balancing act, but necessary. It can sometimes be confused with "negativity", but almost always surfaces undiscovered threats, as well as opportunties.

I agree with Allen, a formal SWOT analysis can formalize the process, but sometimes passionate dialogue digs a little deeper into the emotional and creative side, plus it's more fun.

I also agree with Roy, destructive comments are designed to tear down the process, not improve it.

Rajendra Deshpande, India said...

My experience says.~
One has to be presesnt To all the thoughts you generate.~
All your negative emotions,- ANGER,, Exchange of Hot words,&...
has its roots in the negative thoughts .
All thoughts act as inputs for the actions you take Maintaining Positivity of your mind
will generate positive actions ,Positive actions generates positive results.
One has to Eliminate Negative thoughts right at the point of its origin.!
There are techniques which we all know very well.!!

Michael McFarlane, Toronto said...

You get what you think about. Think negative thoughts, then that's what you get more of. Even when everything around you is negative, find a way to be as happy and positive as you possibly can so you get more of that.

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