I consider myself healthily sceptical on the topic of ‘positivity’, or being perpetually positive about everything. Approaching everything by considering only the best possible outcome – the much lauded positive mental attitude – doesn’t amount to a strategy, and may well be delusional. The answer to the question “glass half full or half empty?” depends on whether you’re trying to fill the glass or empty it as far as I’m concerned.
So does that lump me in with grumpy old men? Thankfully not.
There are perfectly good reasons to be optimistic, for example, opening early and bold is as sound a negotiating tactic as there is; the price tends not to go up as the negotiation progresses and so there’s every reason to open by proposing your best believable position.
And I entirely subscribe to the benefits of holding enabling beliefs as opposed to limiting beliefs which may genuinely be outdated or based on invalid assumptions. There’s a world of difference between “I can’t do that” or “that can’t be done” and “maybe I don’t have the right skills or experience just now, but that’s something that can be done ”. There are useful case studies in business where enabling beliefs have been instrumental in achieving unlikely success, for instance Innocent drinks where the three founders believed that, though they had no knowledge or relevant experience whatsoever, someone somewhere could surely produce natural fruit smoothies without preservatives. Their realistic perspective of all the possibilities and likelihoods proved pivotal.
Theresa Cheung’s assertion in her book ‘Get lucky’ (an impeccably researched book with references to over 70 articles and research papers) strikes a good balance, namely that whilst there’s no evidence of lucky or unlucky people as such, irrespective of their mental attitude (positive or otherwise), there is more than a suggestion that we can put ourselves in the way of good fortune and coincidence, just as easily as we can leave ourselves vulnerable to misfortune. Have you ever made a call “on the off-chance” and found that things have fallen into place as a result of your speculative punt? Doesn’t happen all the time of course, but the sole fact that it ever happens makes it worth a calculated try from time to time. That’s playing the percentages though rather than becoming unconditionally positive whatever the circumstances.
For a sharper but none the less entertaining view on the topic, look at Barbara Ehrenreich’s Smile or Die (subtitled ‘How positive thinking fooled America and the world’) with its rejection of blind faith and platitudes in favour of independent-minded clarity and (in the face of cancer) courage to consider the unwelcome outcomes as well. The accounts of the pervading and distorting culture of extreme positive thinking from the worlds of business, academia and religion are both fascinating and troubling. You may recognise some of the signs, and feel you’re in a better position for it. I did.
So in the place of blanket positivity there is perspective, judgement, and a common-sense approach that entertains all outcomes and still finds room to embrace appetite and enthusiasm. And of course it provides for the fun of chancing your arm – you never know, or as a country singer once had it “you gotta try your luck at least once a day, because you could be going around lucky all day and not even know about it”.