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How Negativity Can Actually Be Good for Work

When is the last time someone told you to be more negative? Our society has put a lot of stock in positivity, and it can often lead to a drowning out of any negative vocalizations — think of the line from Office Space, "Looks like someone's got a case of the Mondays!" But the truth is, negative thinking can actually be good for us. It's just a matter of knowing how to control your thoughts and use them for the best.

When is the last time someone told you to be more negative? Our society has put a lot of stock in positivity, and it can often lead to a drowning out of any negative vocalizations — think of the line from Office Space, “Looks like someone’s got a case of the Mondays!” But the truth is, negative thinking can actually be good for us. It’s just a matter of knowing how to control your thoughts and use them for the best.

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(Photo Credit: Ryan McGuire/Gratisography)

It’s no secret that depression is a debilitating illness for a large percentage of Americans, nearly 14.8 million adults, so why would someone suggest slumping into a negative headspace? The truth is that you don’t have to be Eeyore to summon the benefits of negativity. It’s about being honest with yourself, and accessing your full range of emotions in a controlled, level manner.

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Stop Suppressing Your Stress

When you’re stressed at work, the “power of positivity” might tell you that you should just focus on the good things, and thereby alleviate your stress. But what if that’s not actually addressing the problem? Sure, sometimes all we need is a little perspective, but other times we need a good kick in the pants.

If you just keep telling yourself the positive things and never address the problem, you may not get around to solving it. The APA recommends that the first thing you do in dealing with stress is identify it. Unaddressed, the article goes on to say, it can lead to physical ailments, and other long-term forms of stress like depression. 

Sometimes, leaning into the negative aspects of a situation will help you figure out how to rid yourself of the problem entirely. So before the next time that you’re tempted to think of the happy instead of the crappy, ask yourself what’s going to get you closest to a solution.

Put Your Feet to the Fire

The other benefit of negativity is that it can be truly motivating. If you’re someone who’s a chronic procrastinator, unyielding positivity may actually be hurting your ability to take on new projects. You’re always telling yourself how good things are, and you’re never getting down to the problem that you suck at getting things started.

Use negativity in this case to get yourself in gear. Allow the stress of that moment to motivate you to get something done. One study calls the concept “error related negativity” or ERN, and tested whether it people could harness it as a motivational factor. They found that people are averse to losing, and when ERN resulted in a reward, it was a good motivational tool. 

Sometimes the reality that you’ve messed up and something’s at stake is exactly what you need to bring out your best work. It’s why many journalists thrive on deadlines, and why we all understand the concept of “survival mode.”

Ultimately, if you’re not in control of your emotions, you’re not going to feel nearly as effective. If you’re someone who’s at the mountain peak in a good moment, and buried in the valley mud on a bad day, you’re going to be exhausted. Learn how to take things in stride, and channel your negativity into a positive outcome.

Tell Us What You Think

Is negativity a tool that you’ve used with success? Is this writer blowing a bunch of hot air? Tell us what you think in the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter.

Peter Swanson
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