I was having a conversation with my friend Todd Beeler the other night and somehow we got on the subject of motivation. Now Todd is definitely someone I would call an expert on the subject. He makes his living training sales and marketing folks to become more successful. He has published an audio book on CD, The 7 Hidden Secrets of Motivation (which will be formally added to my library as soon as I add another category for Motivation because without successful motivation there we’ll never be able to achieve lasting success in any of the other 4 areas.) The audio book is in the same “Your Coach in a Box” series with the likes of Denis Waitley, Gary Null, Joan Minninger, and Barry Neil Kaufman.

Todd’s a good guy to have as a friend.

Anyway back to our conversation. I don’t even remember how we got on the subject. But we started talking about positive thinking as a motivating force.

Now I’ve read Zig Ziglar’s book, See You at the Top, which is all about how powerful positive thinking is and how it alone will propel you to the highest levels of success. Zig is a brilliant man and his book has sold thousands upon thousands of copies. I’m not in any way disparaging him or saying he’s wrong.

But positive thinking alone hasn’t yet worked for me. I figured I was just defective, maybe not destined for success somehow. Or maybe I was just not smart enough to figure this whole success thing out (but too stuck on positive thinking to allow myself to admit it!)

So when Todd said what he did, it got my attention. And here is what he said:

You know the problem with positive thinking is that is just doesn’t work.

Whoa! Hold the phone. Here is a successful person who makes his living helping others improve their motivation and he’s saying positive thinking doesn’t work?!

I wanted to hear more about that, for sure.

He went on to explain that positive thinking on its own leaves out something critical to our success and if we skip that step we will either give up on our attempts at positive thinking or become rather silly people to be around, like the folks who wouldn’t admit that the Emperor had no clothes.

Todd used an example from math to explain his point. Fortunately for me he was using very basic math! 😉

He asked me what you get when you multiply -10 (which represents a negative situation you find yourself in) by +10 (which represents the application of positive thinking). Well, let’s see. A negative times a positive is a negative, so the answer is -100. Todd said that positive thinking, on it’s own, often actually makes situations worse than if it hadn’t been used at all.

Then he asked me what -10 times -10 was. That’s easy: +100.

And which result would you rather have? Obviously positive 100 is way better than negative 100!

If +10 represents the application of positive thinking then -10 represents the application of “negative” thinking. Here’s how it works:

When we are in the middle of a bad situation, for example maybe we find ourselves deep in debt, just applying positive thinking doesn’t help our situation. Thinking things like, “I’m wealthy. I have lots of money. I can buy anything I want” doesn’t move us closer to success. In fact it is likely to compound our problem by driving us deeper into debt.

Instead, Todd recommends that we apply some “negative” thinking and face our reality. We must first acknowledge that we are in debt and that we have to take the hard steps required to overcome it. Only after we begin to change our negative situation (by accepting the reality of it and taking the necessary steps to improve it) to a situation that is more positive will positive thinking begin to propel us forward.

Now he explained the concept a whole lot better than I can. So if you don’t have an opportunity to spend an evening in his living room, I recommend you get his CD set and hear his explanation for yourself.

Oh, and what about Zig Ziglar? Does that mean he’s wrong? Well even he has backed slightly away from his position on positive thinking in his follow on book, Over the Top. Here’s a quote.

In the years since I wrote See You at the Top, according to my family, I have learned a few things – among them, to be more compassionate, more accepting, and more understanding. I have apologized to my children for being such a stickler in their growing up years about not letting them express negative feelings of any kind. Ol’ Zig has learned an awful lot about life in the last twenty years, primarily that much of life involves moral absolutes and that truth is truth, and mistakes are minimized when you acknowledge them and take appropriate action.
(emphasis mine)

So I think Todd is on to something. There is indeed power in negative thinking.

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