Telling someone to focus on the negative may sound strange and counter to what we are used to hearing, particularly from a positive mindset self help industry that generates revenues of $10 Billion a year. However, the statement does have some merit. The main distinction to make is the difference between focusing on the negative and “dwelling” on the negative.
Our minds produce negative thoughts for good reason and are often necessary for our well-being and mental health. Negative thoughts are meant to alert us to the things that need attention. Focusing on these negative thoughts centers our attention on things that we need to adjust or change.
The survival value of negative thoughts and emotions help explain why suppressing them is so fruitless and in fact can produce adverse effects. The act of suppressing thoughts and feelings can be bad for our physical health and cause stress. According to psychotherapist Tori Rodriguez, suppressing thoughts means we cannot accurately evaluate life’s experiences. If we don’t allow ourselves the lows, then the satisfaction from the highs becomes lessened and “attempting to suppress thoughts can backfire and even diminish our sense of contentment”.
So does this mean stop focusing so much on the positive? Not at all. We need to focus on the positives when it is the most useful thing to do, as we need to place our focus on the negative when necessary. Negative thinking isn’t superior to positive thinking, but neither is positive thinking the panacea for all your ills. Sometimes what’s required is a dose of reality. And it’s the negative thinkers, the ones who are perceived as meddlesome and troublesome and annoying, that often provide the cure.
Negative thoughts are often a means of protection, reflection and learning. Julie Norem wrote in “The Power of Negative Thinking” that negative thinking has the ability to transform anxiety into action.” By imagining the worst-case scenario, defensive pessimists motivate themselves to prepare more and try harder.”
It is therefore very useful for us to focus on negative information you would never be able to learn from your mistakes. Concentrating on the process and not the outcome is one way to focus on the negative while avoiding dwelling on it. Remember that failure is necessary. Embrace the idea of failure as a learning barometer, focus on the negatives, make adjustments and you can move on.