This isn’t really a finance related post today, but it’s something that I’m mulling over...
When I first started getting into personal development / self-help stuff, one of the biggest teachings I ran across was the idea of positive thinking, law of attraction, etc. This is basically the idea that if you think positive thoughts, then everything will be positive in your life. For example, if you really want to get a new job, just think positive thoughts about it, assume you’re going to get it, act as if you’re going to get it, and you’ll get the job. The universe will pick up on your good vibes and will give you the job.
(and yeah, I’m probably over simplifying it, but that’s the general gist of it from my perspective)
I remember way back when I first started hearing about positive thinking as a teaching. My one hesitation was that it feels like you’re jinxing yourself. My whole life up until that moment, I had subscribed to the idea that if you really want something, don’t assume you’re going to get it, because you’ll jinx yourself and then it won’t happen.
So anyway, I saw the benefits of this positive thinking practice, but I’ve always had a slight hesitation with it.
And now, I think I figured out why (in addition to the jinxing thing).
How positive thinking failed me
So last week, I shared that I recently got a new job. The interview process took a few moths so I had a looooong time to think tons of positive thoughts about the new job. I imagined how perfect my office environment would be, I imagined the amazing computer I would have and the cute desk I would decorate, I imagined great new coworkers and rewarding work and basically, just a perfect new job. Everything would be absolutely perfect.
(Mind you, I wasn’t specifically setting out to ‘law of attraction’ this job into perfection. I was honestly just imaging that it would be perfect, lol)
So imagine my surprise / dismay when of COURSE the job doesn’t line up into my idyllic little daydream scenario.
I was upset. I was underwhelmed. I felt like I made a mistake. I felt depressed. I wanted to quit. “This isn’t the job for me,” I thought.
All because it didn’t line up with my daydreamed perfect scenario.
To pull myself out of my funk, I started listening to some stoicism podcasts. My BFF Mr. Money Mustache talks about the benefits of stoicism, so I’ve always been a little interested in the philosophy. I figured that now is as good a time as any to start putting some of the theories into practice.
The theory that ended up making me realize what had gone wrong in my job situation was the stoic philosophy of “negative visualization”. The stoics believe that you should frequently envision the worst case scenario happening in your life. I’m not going to lie to you, I can't remember exactly the reasoning of why they say you should do this- I’m not sure if it’s so you don’t get too happy, or if it’s so you appreciate the things you have more? Either way, they say you should imagine what would happen if things go horribly wrong.
AH HA! How interesting that there are two COMPLETELY OPPOSITE schools of thought on this! One says you should only think positive thoughts. One says you should think negative thoughts.
Neither is right or wrong here, but I do think that in my situation, if I had taken a moment to remember that — wait, this is a mind blowing revelation, are you ready for this? — no job is ever going to be perfect (!!!!) then I might have been a bit less upset, underwhelmed, and depressed when I was faced with the reality of my new job.
I would have said, “oh, interesting! I hoped that I would have a really beautiful desk and office space, but also I imagined the worst case scenario that I would have to work out of a dark and dingy basement infested with cockroaches, and luckily the reality of my situation is somewhere in between!" (but luckily skewed towards the former)
So. That’s today’s food for thought. Neither way is right or wrong, but I think it’s helpful to figure out which thought philosophy (or neither- maybe you have a different way of thinking!) helps you the most in life.
For further thoughts on this topic:
I enjoyed this podcast episode from Stoic Mettle on negative visualization.
I also really liked this podcast episode from The Life Coach School on a similar topic-- “problems are forever”.
What category do you fit into- are you a positive thinker, or a negative visualizer, or somewhere in the middle?
I think I now fall somewhere in the middle- I don’t always want to picture the worst case scenario, but I also don’t want to be naive and assume that everything will be perfect in life.