I will chalk this one up to just plain luck. A couple weeks before the coronavirus 19 took over our lives, I finished reading a powerful book entitled, “The Power of Bad – How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It.” Timely indeed.
The book describes why all humans tend to think negatively (survival instinct) and how this thinking does truly have a negative impact on the way that we live our lives. The book has several ways people can overcome the built-in bias toward negativity.
The ability to overcome this built-in human negativity impacts every aspect of one’s life – relationships, work careers, investing and can have a powerful effect on our behavior. While this negativity was useful when the world was a much scarier place due to the harsh climate that our earlier ancestors lived in, much of this negativity is now detrimental.
The authors – John Tierney and Roy F. Baumeister – tell various stories of great individuals who had major hurdles trying to overcome either a long-term negative outlook or a sudden burst of negativity that was adversely affecting them.
They tell the story of a fearless NASA astronaut who suddenly became overwhelmed by negative thoughts that a special spacesuit would end up killing him and thus ended up causing him panic attacks jeopardizing the flight. With the use of a well-established technique – cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), he was able to successfully complete his space mission.
Proponents of CBT therapy found that depressed people suffer from extreme negativity bias in the way they view themselves, the world, and the future. They found that simple techniques, like writing down your fears and forcing yourself to consider an alternative interpretation of the situation, could have a major impact. This technique has been studied repeatedly showing that it is just as effective as the over prescribed drug Prozac – without the potential side effects as well.
The book goes through five strategies on how to overcome whatever your personal demons may be – flying, public speaking, etc. One simple technique that everyone can do is simply breathing. Taking a deep breath tells the brain that everything is fine and that we are safe. This one technique can be used whenever anxiety starts to build.
The book also describes how when we see reviews that are negative, either regarding a restaurant or the economy, that people tend to believe that those reviews have more insight than ones that were more optimistic. There is comfort in negativity.
The book also discusses how one negative person in the group can negatively impact the entire operation of that group. This is so common that it has a platitude: one bad apple can spoil the barrel. I recently heard about a technique where after you hire a new employee, you ask the person to keep a journal of their feelings for the first couple of weeks on the job and that you will review the journal with them at the end of each week. The negative complainer will reveal themselves instantly with complaints filled throughout their journal. If a person has a negative view early, they are probably not going to be a long-term productive and successful candidate.
Germane to the current environment, the authors have a section called “crisis crisis”. The sense that “things are going to hell because of unprecedented threat”. This feeling is typically paired with a desire for “the glories of yesteryear, when citizenry was virtuous, the nation was great, and the earth was pristine”. The authors advise to be warned about the “merchants of bad” – journalists, politicians and self-appointed experts who use current events to stoke ancient emotions”.
This “crisis mongering”can lead to an over-sized fear of risk, the authors warned. This is evident from the severe stock market downturn in March 2020 due to the fear of the coronavirus. If this mindset takes hold, the authors point out, it would “stifle progress and squash innovation”. It can also negatively impact your investments if you reacted to the short term pain.
The book points out that advocating and emphasizing the upside of the situation is most beneficial during times like today. We have overcome other diseases, wars, and economic depressions to become the wealthiest and healthiest humans who have ever lived on earth. How could this world be so good if all the negativity was remotely true?
Focus on the long-term outlook for the globe which is nothing but positive. Optimism is the only reality.
“I am an optimist,” Sir Winston Churchill once said. “It does not seem too much use being anything else.”
Hope you have a great week!
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