New Year’s Goal: “Think Negative”

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

I’m an optimist by nature — I usually expect things will all work out. But for the new year, I plan to maintain a more realistic mindset by “thinking negative.” What do I mean by that?

When I “think negative,” I factor into my habitual positive thinking an assessment of the difficulties, challenges or obstacles that may be in front of me. I attempt to understand any potential risks or pitfalls in my path. Wherever I’m headed, whatever my goals might be, I can’t afford to be unreservedly positive.

There are several clear advantages to “negative thinking,” including:

♦ When you’re focused on “thinking positive,” you may not be adequately prepared for the challenges of your journey, and therefore fail to meet them successfully.

♦ Thinking through the negatives keeps you from being overly surprised or disappointed when things don’t go as you’d hoped or planned.

Thumbs Down♦ You are more likely to avoid magical thinking. (“I WILL meet my deadline, I will, I will!” As the deadline flies right by.)

♦ If you can honestly acknowledge possible negatives and keep going, then you’re probably on a path that’s right for you.

♦ When you’re realistic about potential challenges, you are often pleasantly surprised at the smoothness of your path.

♦ If you’re “thinking positive,” you may be inclined to think your path is going to be easier than it really is, so you won’t allow enough time to accomplish the goal, and you may not have enough diligence or discipline to get it done.

There are countless ways to apply “negative thinking” to the writing life:

♦ Instead of telling yourself simply, “I’m going to get published,” you realistically assess the obstacles and tell yourself, “I’m going to work hard, be persistent, and bust through all the barriers, and eventually get published.”

♦ Instead of telling yourself, “I know thousands of people are going to want to buy my book,” you look at how many people publish books with little success, then determine, “I’m going to pull out all the stops marketing my book so that anyone who might like it will have the opportunity to buy it.”

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not disputing the value of positive thinking. I do it all the time! But the key to success is realistic optimism — what I’ve been referring to here as “thinking negative.” Bring reality into your positive thinking, for a much brighter chance of reaching your goals.

Do you believe in “thinking negative” sometimes? How can it help you in pursuing your goals?


Click to Tweet:

Try “thinking negative” for a change – via @RachelleGardner. Click to Tweet.

“Think negative” for a better chance of reaching your goals, says @RachelleGardner. Click to Tweet.

Positive thinking can leave you unprepared for challenges, says @RachelleGardner. Click to Tweet.


64 Responses

Leave a Reply

  1. Becky Povich says:

    Interesting thoughts….I don’t think the “realistic optimism” would work for me, though. I’m a full-fledged optimist, through and through! 🙂

  2. Shirlee says:

    Not original from me, but I quote it when I am tempted to reach for my rose-colored glasses:

    I’d rather be pleasantly surprised than rudely disappointed.

  3. I don’t consider that negative thinking. It is realistic positive thinking.

  4. I see what you’re going for here, but for me thinking positive covers all those aspects that you’ve grouped under “thinking negative” or “realistic optimism.” You don’t have to be a Pollyanna to think positive, to cover your ears and say “la la la” every time you hear something negative. In my opinion, the true nature of optimism is to defy negativity, not deny it.

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Dina, of course I agree with you. The whole “think negative” thing is a way to have fun with it, twist the topic, and get people to take a look at realistic optimism. 🙂

  5. Didn’t someone say: “Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed”?

  6. Another way to put it–“Life is a play that’s unrehearsed. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.” Good advice, Rachelle.

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Richard, I love that one. “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst” is a nice, concise way to say it.

    • Hadn’t heard this one, Richard. I like it!
      Rachelle, I get what you’re saying here. I tend to think mostly negative. Hubby says I’ve often failed before I begin something because I can only see everything that CAN go wrong. He’s so right! So, this year, I’m working toward dispelling all negative thinking with that hope that I’ll manage to dispel some of it and come out more balanced. 🙂

  7. I completely agree with what you’re saying here. I used to be an optimist, but am now a realist. I view what you’ve described above as a subcategory of being a realist. You can go either way. If you put a positive spin on your realistic views, you will work that much harder to help reach your goals. Attaching negative feelings to your realism will hold you back from even trying. I’m an optimistic realist all the way.

  8. I’m afraid I don’t agree with this concept at all.

    The attitude “I will prevail, no matter what” needs a period after it. Standing alone, it can sweep all before it. Watered down in any way, its very foundation is weakened.

    Walking a new path, the obstacles are unfamiliar. Trying to imagine them just sets up straw men which can loom huge in our view, and suck out our energy. Far better to say, “I will make it” and leave it at that, adapting, improvising, and overcoming along the way.

    Without that attitude, one tends to stop inventing new options when old ones stop working.

    And without that attitude, I’d be long since dead, so it’s kind of personal to me.

    • Carol McKenzie says:

      Exactly. Beautiful. Thank you. I’m going to print this and tape it to my monitor.

      Every problem encountered is an opportunity presented to us. If you dismiss them before the even have a chance to manifest, you’re missing out on a whole range of experiences, growth and opportunities.

      Limiting something, even under the guise of being ‘realistic’, limits everything. Like attracts like; limiting thoughts attract limited results.

      I get the ‘turn it on it’s head’ idea for the post, but for me, it’s such an anathema to how I function on a daily basis. And no, I don’t wear rose-colored glasses nor am I a Pollyanna. I’m a realist, but I’m open to whatever the universe has for me.

      • I love that – ‘limited thought attract limited results’.

        I think it speaks to something important, that a buoyant optimism gives us the ability to take advantage of opportunities beyond those we have foreseen.

        In one of Norman Vincent Peale’s books, he talks about a track athlete who specialized in the high jump. During his training, the man found the bar set at what seemed an impossible height.

        His coach told him – “Throw your heart over the bar, and your body will follow.”

        We have to dare to win. And daring is, by nature, wholehearted.

  9. Great words. “I’m going to pull out all the stops marketing my book so that anyone who might like it will have the opportunity to buy it.” *grinning*

  10. MaryAnn Fry says:

    I give my full attention and effort, and try not to outline the result. When I’m inspired, I act from a deep space, and that is its own reward.

  11. Catchy title! I so agree … think positive, but factor in “what could happen” … it helps us prepare and avoid the pitfalls. When you KNOW bullets are flying, you can try to dodge them (thinking about Andrew!). That is with all of life. My daughter received a guitar … starting her first lesson. As she placed her fingers on the strings, her tiny 15 year old fingers couldn’t quite reach all the string placements. She kept saying, “I can’t” … I said, “First, think positive … if you ‘really’ want to play, you can … but expect it to take a little while to get the hang of it and expect sore fingers … but keep trying.” If you plan for possible blisters, instead of trying to conquer the world, you can play a little each day. If you don’t plan for the possible blisters, you may have to go weeks without playing until they heal.

    • And one thing I constantly have to remind myself is that God’s plan may not equal my plan. And that is a very good thing.

    • Have to remember, though…that sometimes you can dodge INTO the line of fire.

      There is an old proverb – Roman, I think – that the only hope of the doomed is not to hope for safety.

      Kind of like saving our own lives…he who tries to save it will lose it, but he who gives life up for JC’s sake will find it.

      • Absolutely, Andrew. We must have been writing at the exact same time this morning … as soon as I posted, I saw yours. I value what you wrote. It’s beneficial to learn from others’ mistakes. I guess that is why most people choose to go second. Watch the first person and learn from them … learn what to do and what not to do (sticking to safety). But … what if we have our own brilliant plan for that obstacle course!! “New options”… New plans … innovation. What if we go first and make it!?

  12. Susan says:

    This is so true. It is unrealistic to visualize success without understanding the nature of reaching our goals in anything we attempt in life.

    We can assume an Olympic medalist envisioned the reward of a medal countless times, but we also realize, she didn’t reach that level of success without solid preparation and strong performances along the way. She had to make a monumental initial investment of time and commitment with a strong focus of positivity but a keen awareness of the numerous obstacles in her path.

    Magical thinking may be pleasant but it can’t compete with realistic
    knowledge and preparation required to reach success in this business.

  13. Jim Gilliam says:

    In the real world you MUST have real expectations and that’s a cold hard fact. In the diving community there is an old but true adage: “Plan your dive and dive your plan.” In the underwater world, failure to pay attention to detail can cost you your life, in the writer’s world failure to realize what could go wrong won’t lose you your life, just money, but still.

    Jim Gilliam

    • The cold hard fact is that we’re all going to die anyway.

      I did some closed-circuit operational diving, and appreciate the need for planning, but you can only take that analogy so far. The ‘diving’ part of the job was largely risk management (I mean, it was just transportation, so to speak), but even that had to be subordinate to the ultimate goal.

      In the real world, I think that the maxim “a plan never survives its first contact with the enemy” holds sway. We can’t fully predict or control the actions of that ‘enemy’.

      It’s just better to meet life with an aggressively positive attitude. To use another analogy – it gives you momentum, and that helps blow through walls. The ones you saw ahead, and the ones you didn’t.

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Jim, I like the analogy. I’m a scuba diver too, and I always used to hear the same advice. It’s applicable to diving and life… and in both cases, always be ready for unforeseen detours.

    • R.T. Edwins says:

      Could not disagree more, but that’s because I have seen the drastic difference between having “real expectations” and having “positive expectations.”

      Real expectations produce mediocre results and often times leads to giving up and failure. Having positive expectations produce astounding results and lead to achievement.

      Tell me this, do you think Helen Keller had “real expectations” or “positive expectations” when she transcended impossibly difficult odds to shock and amaze the world? Do you think the Wright Brothers had “real expectations” or “positive expectations” when they decided to ignore all the people who told them that flight was impossible? Do you think Ghandi had “real expectations” or “positive expectations” when he almost single handedly inspired a revolution? Do you think Henry Ford had real or positive expectations when he insisted that his engineers produce a V8 engine, despite their continued claims that it wasn’t possible? I could go on forever and ever with this, but the point is this: If you are always expecting what’s “real” or predicatble, you will never transcend the odds. You will never revolutionize anything with that attitude. You will never discover something new or better if you aren’t looking for it. Positive expectation is at the very heart of every single innovation that humans have ever created. They were all developed by people who expected more than what everyone else accepted as “real”

      “One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.” -Henry Ford

  14. Ariel Paz says:

    Happy New Year, Rachelle. This is so timely., I am learning that I need a balanced approach of life: expecting good things to happen but also keeping in mind the negative consequences of not doing my part and that there are things out of my control. It helps me stay motivated yet at peace with the pace of progress. Keep looking up!

  15. Lori Schafer says:

    I’m neither an optimist nor a pessimist – I’m a realist. And as a realist, I agree with everything you’ve said here, Rachelle. Sometimes things do work out on their own… sometimes they don’t. It’s up to us to do everything we can to nudge the scales so that they balance in our favor. Then even if we fail, we know it’s not because we didn’t put forth the required effort.

  16. I have always had the mindset “prefer for the worst, expect the best”. I AM an optimist, but I do realize not everyone thinks I am all that and a bag of chips. And even though I crown myself queen on a daily basis.

    I am old enough to know that one must WORK toward one’s dreams, and young enough to still believe I can succeed in the impossible.

  17. This post makes me think of a sign I once saw that said Murphy (of Murphy’s Law) was an optimist. He’s the guy who said if something could go wrong, it will. It made me think of the glass half full/empty analogy. Who will see the glass as half full? The one who expected it to be empty. Who sees it as half empty? The one used to it being completely full. It’s always important to know the realities of a situation and find the joys therein.

  18. Generally, people start out being idealistic. When reality hits it’s easy to give up. I know. I’m a church planter AND aspiring author.

    I love your approach. Optimism that’s not kept in check by reality isn’t faith. It’s foolishness, and it leads to abandoned dreams and low self esteem.

    Nice post.

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Interesting point — there’s quite a difference between idealism and realistic optimism. I naturally tend toward the former, but constantly train myself for the latter.

  19. Sorry. I should follow that comment up with the note that I’m all about living the Christian dream with a sense of adventure. That’s what my blog (and book) are about.

    You have to have both.

  20. Joe Snoe says:

    “Think Negative” is a terrible slogan. I’ve done well in most of my endeavors but I always internally denigrated my self-worth thinking anyone could do what I do. And I’ve had many people along the way (with the best of intentions) prepare me for failures. When I trucked on, I over-achieved, which I assume will happen being a novelist.

    I agree with the body of your message but I wish you had chosen a more positive title like “Anticipating Hurdles” or “Combatting Barriers” or “Plan for Setbacks” or even the old saw, “Management By Exception.”

    To end upbeat, I’ve been reading your posts for almost two months and eagerly anticipate each new one. They are well worth reading.

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Sorry it didn’t appeal to you, Joe, but as you could tell from the body of the post, I was just having fun with words there. As an optimist, I always think positively, not negatively. Sorry, I was just a little bored with the “expected” positive titles. 🙂

      • Joe Snoe says:

        I know.

        I feed off your optimistic nature.

        You help many readers here hang on and keep the faith.

        You do good.

  21. I feel one of the only good things to come out of my rotten childhood is that I don’t have great expectations. That doesn’t mean I don’t push myself to achieve my goals or that I quit easily–I’m much too stubborn for that–but it often means the disappointments don’t get me down for long. They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so I’m figuring I should be Xena the Warrior Princess by now.

    Thankfully, God has blessed me many times over since those difficult years, so it’s helped to make me more of a realist than too much of a pessimist.

    • I love that Cheryl. And I love that, regardless of our own or others’ expectations, we serve a God who has great expectations for us.

      • Merran Jones says:

        Cheryl and Shelli, I totally agree with you. We live under the love of a God who ultimately wants good things for us, even though we can’t always see it when we’re living through the trials.

        On the topic of ‘Negative Thinking’, I’m naturally a pessimist who is cautious with my dreams. My husband is naturally the overblown optimist. I like to think we’ve balanced each other out over the years 🙂

        Thanks for the post Rachelle

  22. I can’t imagine ever being that positive! I’m sort of a natural Eeyore. However, because I love writing, I’ll keep doing it, despite the many rejections. 🙂

  23. Elissa says:

    As an artist, I “think negative” all the time. Paintings and drawings are made of both positive and negative space. Sometimes an object is better defined by drawing the negative space around it than by drawing the object itself.

    As far as life goes, I’ve always been a realist. You can’t surmount obstacles that you refuse to admit are there. Still, even though negative thinking helps you see the obstacles, it’s the positive thinking that gets you over them.

  24. Dee says:

    With any new endeavor it’s good to take off those rose-colored glasses for a few moments to assess potential pitfalls.

    But don’t stop there! Do some brainstorming—in advance of your project—for how you can overcome those challenges. It’s a fun process if you enjoy puzzles and problem solving! You’ll feel both optimistic and confident about the journey ahead.

  25. Kristin says:

    I used to be a full-fledged optimist and after a year of family funerals, I kind of “turned dark.” I can honestly say the optimism served me better. This is a great post and a reminder to remain realistic, but if you can, go for the optimism — ignorance is bliss in my opinion. LOL

    • Kristin, “ignorance is bliss” made me chuckle. When my daughter went thru chemo for cancer as a baby … I had no idea all the obstacles that we “could” encounter. Like another said, I just tackled the ones we faced as we faced them. Years later, I found out all the things that “could have” gone wrong … and I was so thankful I didn’t know them during that time … I would have been a nervous wreck. Example: I didn’t know the port-a-cath could get an infection and not be an option. I’m so thankful I didn’t know that. Never had a problem with it. But if I had known, that is where my focus would have been, probably.

    • Interesting – I was just thinking about an ‘ignorance is bliss’ aspect of my life.

      We’re rebuilding a Jumo 211 airplane engine to power an airplane (Avia S-199) we’re rebuilding…and the problem is that Jumos are terribly rare. There’s just not much support for a 70-year-old 1400 hp V-12 German airplane engine these days. The engine that we’re using as a core came out of a swamp. Yes, a swamp.

      I figure – I HAVE to figure – that the parts I need will turn up when I need them. And that I can afford them. And that they will be airworthy. It’s a leap of faith, and involves turning a blind and ignorant eye to the real difficulty of the project.

      So far so good, but if anyone has a VS-11 prop hub and a crankcase cover they’d like to donate…

  26. I’d like to agree with Joe Snoe’s comment above.

    Rachelle, you do more good than you may realize. You’ve inspired so many of us to keep going. I may not agree with the ‘Think Negative’ concept (notwithstanding the tongue-in-cheek nature of the title), but there’s great wisdom and encouragement there.

    Thank you. Truly – you do good.

    • So agree with Joe and Andrew … Rachelle, you get us thinking. Great job! Thank you!

      So awesome about the airplane, Andrew!

      • Thanks, Shelli! Building a WW2 fighter, essentially from scratch using hand tools, is a lunatic project.

        But I guess it’s a case in point – if I looked at the difficulties I’d never have attempted it. But taken one piece at a time, it can be done.

        We started with the hardest bit first, and got it done. That’s not a bad general strategy, I think

  27. I don’t comment as often as I’d like because of time constraints, but this one hit home. Over twenty years ago I began my business marketing a language arts program I developed while homeschooling my children. I had no idea what I was in for, what the obstacles would be, how hard it would be, but here I am, blessed beyond measure that God lead me along the journey through the pitfalls and hardships and successes. If I had anticipated the difficulties ahead of time, I would have considered myself unequal to the task. If I were a realist, I could never have imagined the degree of success my business has achieved. I never set unrealistic goals, because I never set goals. I know this is against the norm, but I really do NOT know what I can accomplish. Only God does. And it isn’t my job to dictate to Him what I can or can’t do. It is my job to let Him lead me however and wherever He wants. And to work my hardest to do my best. Period. It is enough for me to know He knows what lies ahead.

  28. Anna Labno says:

    I need to be more optimistic this year.

  29. Sorry. Positive is my middle name.

  30. I didn’t allow myself to really start writing until a few years ago. I try to stay positive as I write and study how to write better. I prayed a lot about this journey and even quit once, but I finally decided I’d work as hard as I can and leave the rest up to God. I hope to be published one day, but maybe God has me doing this to encourage others. Whatever the reason, I plan to enjoy the ride.

    Thanks for such a thought-provoking post today!

  31. Balance is essential. As we’re holding on to our dreams, we hope and pray for success as we strive to meet our goals. We encourage ourselves that our hard work and improvement will eventually succeed. But we also must be realistic. As we see that the number of readers of our blogs are low and we have a book to sell, we must be clear-eyed enough to double-down our efforts, beef up our marketing, and determine where we can market more effectively. We’re in bad shape if we tip too far in either direction. Too negative and we give up. Too positive and we turn a blind eye to what we need to see.

  32. Iva Choice says:

    In keeping with your New Year resolution, there is a saying I love:

    Get use to the uncomfortable and experience gratefulness!

    I, too, am an optimist. However, rarely do things actually work out perfectly. So, I adopted the above saying and have turned pitfalls into part of the adventure.

    I wish you the best!

  33. There is much psychological research on explanatory styles of personality that suggest excessive optimism is maladaptive.

    In cases where the chances for failure are high, “defensive pessimism,” where one anticipates a less than ideal outcome, can improve one’s chances for success by lowering stress and anxiety (Norem & Cantor, 1986;Norem & Smith, 2006).

    Thank you, Rachelle, for giving me an opportunity to put my psychology degree to use.

    I, too, am an optimist. After reading your post, however, I will adapt my goal from “get signed with an agent” to “write the best query letter I can manage.” The first is out of my control, but the second is not. If I relax and reduce my anxiety, my defensive pessimistic goal should produce my optimistic goal with time.

  34. R.T. Edwins says:

    I think that this could very well be the worst thing you could do. The world is filled with this sort of approach and 97 out of every 100 people never accomplish any of their goals or dreams because of it. I am a FIRM believer that positive thinking is more than just looking at something bad and saying it is good. Positive thinking becomes a lifestyle that actually drastically effects not only a person’s happiness, but how much they can achieve. A positive approach to any situation is a matter of changing your thoughts from “this could go wrong” and “that will be really hard” to “Anything that goes wrong will provide an opportunity to reevaluate our approach” and “If we begin with the easiest part first and continue along that path, eventually we will accomplish a great deal.”

    I cannot express enough the danger of failure and giving up that a person puts themselves into when they adopt a negative thinking approach as you’ve advocated here. I want to iterate again that positive thinking is not just blissful ignorance when applied properly. Positive thinking, when implemented correctly, becomes the difference between giving up after one failure and revolutionizing the way we do things. If you search through history, the greatest pioneers in any field were always positively driven to succeed, because they refused to accept a negative expectation. They continued on while all others quit after a few failures, why? because they had positive expectations that if they tried enough times, they could succeed (and they did).

    Human ingenuity at its very core is based in positive thinking and expectation. If you are so focused on all the ways it could go wrong or how it won’t work, you will never give it a chance and you will never achieve it. “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” -Henry Ford

  35. Sondra Kraak says:

    I wouldn’t consider myself a pessimist, but I already tend to think negatively, according to your suggestions. Thanks for the reminder, though, to be grounded in reality. Writing is tough. And the road to publishing is long and narrow, so I’ve been told! As I begin this journey with my first novel, I’m so glad to have friends, family, and wise voices around me. Thanks for being one of those wise voices!

  36. krmission says:

    Very interesting that you put my way of life into words. I’ve always tried to think that way!