Balancing Positive and Negative

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It’s common knowledge that a positive attitude is better than a negative one. However, that idea is too simple to be entirely correct.

The truth is more subtle: too much positivity can be just as unhelpful as too much negativity. What you really want and need is a judicious balance between the two.

Here’s why:

What’s Wrong with Too Much Positivity?

We often talk about the problems of Pollyanna, a fictional young girl with an unfailingly optimistic outlook. While she did OK in the made-up stories, in real life we find that too much optimism can easily cause a person to overlook and underrate important problems. That’s a mistake which can lead to unsatisfying outcomes – particularly when the problems could have been adequately addressed if given their proper due.

In fact, there are studies that show people who are extremely “positive” in their outlook tend to perform less well than people who are more balanced. One reason may be that it’s draining, difficult, and discouraging to try getting better every day, despite all the exhortations to do so.

What’s Wrong with Too Much Negativity?

We often talk about the problems of people who see the proverbial glass as half empty: they tend to worry too much about relatively small concerns, and they habitually anticipate undesirable outcomes even in favorable circumstances. Too much negativity can easily cause a person to focus on and overrate any imperfection or impediment to success. That attitude can lead to weak motivation and half-hearted efforts toward a task, project, or goal.

In fact, there are studies that show people who are extremely “negative” in their outlook tend to perform less well than people who are more balanced. One reason may be that expectations often limit results.

On the Other Hand…

The relative value of positive and negative outlooks is further complicated because each of us feels most comfortable at a particular place on the positive-negative attitude spectrum. Moving too far – for whatever reason – from our natural “set point” is likely to throw us off our game.

For example, a person who is most comfortable with a heavily positive attitude may rely on that optimism to feel motivated and confident about an upcoming challenge. Intentionally dampening that positive outlook might well cut into that person’s motivation to prepare and try hard, as well as sap the confidence that helps them relax and perform at their best.

In the same way, a person who is most comfortable with a strongly negative attitude may rely on that pessimism to energetically investigate potential problems in an upcoming challenge and fully prepare for them. Intentionally squelching that negative outlook might well leave that person relatively uncertain about how to fend off difficulties that actually arise.

Why Balance is Better

Experience shows that getting comfortable with a judicious balance of both positivity and negativity tends to produce more satisfactory outcomes in a wide range of situations.

This is because a balanced outlook often gives rise to a more realistic appraisal of what’s good and bad in the current situation, along with a better grasp of whatever opportunities may be available to pursue and complete the task, project, or goal at hand.

A readiness to find the positive elements in the situation generally means:

  • You’ll identify and utilize resources, opportunities, and possibilities that could lead toward favorable results.
  • You’ll put in a solid effort to make the best of the situation and to drive toward where you’re trying to go.
  • You’ll provide inspiration and lend motivation to others who, in turn, may sign onto the task, project, or goal at hand and give it their best efforts, too.
  • You’ll more appropriately measure and celebrate progress toward completing the current task, project, or goal.

At the same time, a readiness to grapple with the negative elements in the situation generally means:

  • You’ll recognize and appraise obstacles, difficulties, and headwinds for what they objectively are.
  • You’ll put in appropriate efforts to minimize current and potential impediments to progress toward completing the task, project, or goal at hand.
  • You’ll recognize times when you and others may be running out of gas or facing discouragement, and more willingly support any necessary rest or recharge so the effort to succeed can continue as long as may be prudent.
  • You’ll be alert to signs that a particular plan of action, or the entire effort, may have reached a sensible limit beyond which it should not go.

In short, a balanced outlook helps you steer clear of calcified, doctrinaire, or ideological points of view that can often lead to less satisfactory results.

Instead, a fair balance of both positivity and negativity improves the potential for you to keep moving forward in all the places where progress is possible, while avoiding any pitfalls and blind alleys that could ultimately limit your success.

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