Can Negative Thinking Actually Be Good For You? How to Turn Your Worries Into Your Greatest Strengths

HJ: DISCLAIMER:  This post needs to be understood in the context of everything else posted on the Healers Journal, which can be summed up like this:

Exploring what could go wrong isn’t meant to justify worrying or fear — it is simply ‘research’.  Sometimes, it is very helpful to explore what potential outcomes may be and prepare accordingly.  You should still first and foremost trust your intuition supremely, however, sometimes we don’t always get a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or the decision to be made is more complicated than that.

In these cases, exploring undesirable outcomes can help us make the best choices.  The fact is, that the bigger picture is more complex than we can ever know.  Sometimes what seem like ‘mistakes’ are actually necessary to help us learn a lesson and become stronger and even more successful because of it.  However, other times, it can place a pretty big burden on us… one we might want to try and avoid…

It is important not to let yourself get carried away in the process described below.  It is a useful tool if you can stay centered.  The danger is that for those who have an issue getting caught up in fearful thinking, it can be paralyzing.

However, for someone who is centered, it can be a very powerful tool in becoming successful and making excellent decisions.

We release this concept because it is something we engage in with big decisions and it is helpful, but again, we trust intuition first and foremost and we are able to not let ourselves get caught up in fear and negativity.

Ryan has a very different perspective on life than we do here at the Journal, but that which contradicts us can also be a source of great wisdom.  It is important search for the wisdom in his words and discard what doesn’t serve you r what you know in your heart of hearts to be true.  This is not just a lesson in looking at things differently, it is also an exercise in discernment, which is an essential skill on the path of life.

As always, know thyself.

– Truth

The Importance of Negative Thinking

Why you should consider the “Worst Case Scenario”

By Ryan Holiday | Psychology TodayThe Obstacle Is The Way

A CEO calls her staff into the conference room on the eve of the launch of a major new initiative. They file in and take their seats around the table. She calls the meeting to attention and begins: “I have bad news. The project has failed spectacularly. What went wrong?”

What?! But we haven’t even launched yet…

I know it seems strange and maybe even counterproductive to demand that your employees think negatively instead of optimistically, but in business circles today, everyone from startups to Fortune 500 companies and the Harvard Business Review are doing this exercise. In a direct response to optimistic, feel good thinking, these leaders are encouraging their employees to think negatively.


The technique that the CEO above was using was designed by psychologist Gary Klein called apremortem. With a premortem a project manager must envision what could go wrong, what will go wrong, in advance, before starting. Why? Far too many ambitious undertakings fail for preventable reasons. Far too many people don’t have a backup plan because they refuse to consider that something might not go exactly as they wish.

In fact, I think more companies need a Chief Dissent Officer, someone to shoot down the bad ideas that our blind spots and naive optimism too often miss. They catch us when we are puffed up with visions of our own greatness and preordained success. Remember Netflix’s aborted attempt to split into two separate companies? Or when Google Wave was marketed as “the next Gmail,” only to be shut down in a little over a year? If only these great companies had stopped to envision the possible travails that awaited them—they might have been able to prevent them.

No one has ever understood this better than Mike Tyson, who, reflecting on the collapse of his fortune and fame, told a reporter, “If you’re not humble, life will visit humbleness upon you.”

The practice goes back much further than just psychology though. It dates back many thousands of years in fact—to the great Stoic philosophers like Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca. And they had an even better name for it: premeditatio malorum (premeditation of evils).

A writer like Seneca would begin by reviewing or rehearsing his plans, say, to take a trip. And then he would go over, in his head (or in writing), the things that could go wrong or prevent it from happening: a storm could arise, the captain could fall ill, the ship could be attacked by pirates.

“Nothing happens to the wise man against his expectation,” he wrote to a friend. “. . . nor do all things turn out for him as he wished but as he reckoned—and above all he reckoned that something could block his plans.”

By doing this exercise, Seneca was always prepared for disruption and always working that disruption into his plans. He was fitted, as they say, for defeat or victory. And let’s be honest, a pleasant surprise is a lot better than an unpleasant one.

In the case where nothing could be done, the Stoics would use it as an important practice to do something the rest of us too often fail to do: manage expectations. Because sometimes the only answer to “What if . . .” is, It will suck but we’ll be okay.

We often learn the hard way that our world is ruled by external factors. We don’t always get what is rightfully ours, even if we’ve earned it. Not everything is as clean and straightforward as the games they play in business school. Psychologically, we must prepare ourselves for this to happen.

If it comes as a constant surprise each and every time something unexpected occurs, you’re not only going to be miserable whenever you attempt something big, you’re going to have a much harder time accepting it and moving on to attempts number two, three, and four. The only guarantee, ever, is that things will go wrong. The only thing we can use to mitigate this is anticipation. Because the only variable we control completely is ourselves.

The world might call you a pessimist. Who cares? It’s far better to seem like a downer than to be blindsided or caught off guard.

If we prepare ourselves for the obstacles that are inevitably on their way—we can be rest assured it’s other people who are not. In other words, this bad luck is actually a chance for us to make up some time. We’re like runners who train on hills or at altitude so they can beat the runners who expected the course would be flat.

Anticipation doesn’t magically make things easier, of course. But we are prepared for them to be as hard as they need to be, as hard as they actually are.

You know what’s better than building things up in your imagination? Building things up in real life. Of course, it’s a lot more fun to build things up in your imagination than it is to tear them down. But what purpose does that serve? It only sets you up for disappointment. Chimeras are like bandages—they hurt only when torn away.

With anticipation, we have time to raise defenses, or even avoid them entirely. We’re ready to be driven off course because we’ve plotted a way back. We can resist going to pieces if things didn’t go as planned. With anticipation, we can endure.

We are prepared for failure and ready for success.

Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of The Obstacle Is The Way. Based on timeless philosophical principles and the stories from history’s greats, The Obstacle Is The Way reveals a formula for turning difficulty and tribulation into advantage. Ryan is also the author of Trust Me, I’m Lying and Growth Hacker Marketing and currently an editor at large for the New York Observer.

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1 comment on this postSubmit yours
  1. This message IMHO is congruent with many of the good teachings here in THJ. Holiday is asking us to anticipate the reality we find ourselves in. By doing so we are prepared to better handle obstacles as they arise.

    From my POV I would use the term “Have Full Awareness” of what’s probable. Holiday saying anticipate communicates the same premise I believe.

    The paradox is we must have the awareness to understand that obstacles intrude and simply don’t vanish because of our focused intent. They must be dealt with. Because we are aware and understand this (not deceiving ourselves) we then operate from a position of strength to move through obstacles and continue forward.

    It’s through the trials of life we grow (obstacles), when handled correctly we emerge stronger. The starting point for most is accepting they’re a natural occurrence to help you grow, don’t wish them away. Embrace them (anticipate – accept- understand -be aware) and you will grow stronger and wiser as a result.

    Peace and Strength to all.

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