Negative Thinking and Negative Attitude


Negative thinking is often confused with a negative attitude to ideas and solutions. A search for negative aspects is NOT the same as a negative approach. Looking for risks and dangers can save your life and ensure that your project or idea is save to carry out.

Edward de Bono’s approach to thinking encourages habits that are used to explore ideas. This is a positive approach even though you may be searching for ideas to reject an idea. Using a thinking framework, such as the Six Hats, may help you to control negative thinking and instead engage in a positive exploration for risks, negative points, or negative values.

Below is an xcerpt from our eBook Thinkibility – Positive & Negative.

Bias by Optimism

Unrealistic optimism is a pervasive human trait that influences domains ranging from personal relationships to politics and finance. How people maintain unrealistic optimism, despite frequently encountering information that challenges those biased beliefs, is unknown. A possible explanation is that we are selective in the type of information that we update. Optimism bias could be described as selective update of beliefs that are positive and better than expected. Thus, we may be reluctant to update information that is worse than we expected. Excessive optimism can result in cost overruns, benefit shortfalls, or delays when plans are implemented. More generally, optimism biases are related to the initiation of military conflicts and the creation of economic bubbles. Megaprojects, like those in infrastructure, are well known for their optimism biases that lead to budget overruns and technological failures.

Avoid Negativity

The search for risks should not be monopolized by negative thoughts, and the assessment should be carried out in a positive and constructive manner where the aim is to explore risks and the potential harmful effects with an idea. Under the Black Hat the dangers and risks are assessed but the metaphorical Hat is also used to make a final assessment of an idea or proposal. The request to use the Black Hat thinking is in itself more neutral than to ask for a careful exploration. However, the colour black is sometimes associated with dark thoughts and negativity. Occasionally, the Black Hat is renamed and referred to as the Purple Hat: this approach is often used with younger children.

It is important to be aware of the distinction between actively seeking for potential dangers and having a negative attitude to new ideas and solutions. The request to use Black Hat thinking can lead to an exaggeration because it is explicitly assumed that since we are metaphorically wearing the Black Hat, we must make an effort to come up with negative points and bad aspects.

Black Hat thinking is an attempt to explore negative points as objectively as possible – a kind of role-playing. In contrast, negativity is often described as character trait – a tendency of being unconstructively critical.  Sometimes a person is described as having a negativistic personality. The good news is that negativity is a way of thinking that can be changed and turned into an exploration of risks and dangers. Negativity bias is a situation when a person pays more attention to negative rather than positive experiences. If someone gives us positive and negative information about a stranger, it is easy to make a negative judgement of the stranger. If the information is more or less of equal weight, we should have a neutral picture of the stranger.

Interestingly, negative information in the form of negation attracts more attention than when expressed in a positive affirmative way. When we describe someone’s behaviour in an affirmative way, it receives less attention than when we describe the same behaviour by using a negation. Consumers often give more attention to a product that has received a little negative publicity – the negative publicity seems to raise our curiosity about the product.

However, many of us think in the same way every day, and it is nearly impossible for many of us to make it through the day without negative thoughts. It can be everyday things such as the way the traffic does not flow because of too many cars, or as complicated as the daily running of a household.  This attitude, this way of engaging with the world, is often encouraged. Finding faults and negative consequences with a suggestion or hypothesis is appreciated and this kind of thinking is linked to the critical thinking framework, which in itself is a valuable way of approaching problems.  Yet a critical approach is not the same thing as a negative approach to thinking.

Negative thinking or rather a negative approach to ideas and suggestions, is not a fruitful way of exploring a subject. In contrast, if we are metaphorically wearing the Black Hat, we check a statement or idea to see if it fits the facts.  An idea may appear to solve the entire problem but there can be a dangerous side to the idea. The Black Hat thinking asks for a careful approach and an examination of potential risks.

Awareness of the Team’s Strengths

A sport coach must be aware of the team’s weaknesses and strengths. The coach uses this knowledge to analyse how different factors affect the play. This awareness helps the coach to achieve the team’s goals. To complicate things, the team’s positive and negative aspects depend upon the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. The aim is to consider positive factors, while maintaining or eliminating the negative ones.

A sport coach cannot adopt a negative approach to thinking when he or she is exploring tactics and choosing the team. The identification of negative factors that need to be eliminated should be carried out in a way that explores the possibility of their removal or reduction of their impact.

Challenging Negativity                                                                                                                                            

We are thinking negatively when we fear the future, or expect failures. Negative thinking damages confidence, and harms performance. Challenging our own as well as an organisation’s negative thinking is important. The more we fire neurons in a certain way, the stronger the paths become, and as a result it gets more and more difficult to change the negative thinking pattern. It is easy to be trapped in pessimistic thoughts and mental loops that tell us that there are no other possibilities.

Awareness that alternatives may exist make us more aware of the depths of the possibilities. We can be stuck by negative thoughts or mesmerised by the number of alternatives and directions that we can take. The idea to replace negative thoughts with new ways makes logical sense but it is not easy. The aim is to move forward in the thinking rather than explore the world in a negative manner. Finding faults should be done with the explicit goal to find new possibilities. Different tools and methods need to be used to break negative thinking. We will discuss some methods in the following sections.

Throughout our lives, we often try to explain and endure stress and anxiety by viewing our existence with a “dualistic mind.” We create a world of private duality, a world that is limited and fixed – to what in daily conversation is called black and white thinking. This expression refers to thinking of either/or character. For example, the solution is good or bad, strong or weak, and smart or stupid. This way of thinking gives us a false sense of security and control over life’s uncertainties. Dualistic thinking makes us feel in control and it is easy to think that we do not have to search actively for other ways to describe the risks and concerns regarding a solution. This one-sided and inflexible thinking makes us ignore subtle degrees and variances.

Photo: “Cheerful Silhouette Boy” by arztsamui

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