Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Positive Power of Negative Thinking: No "Secret."

With full credit to the old Bad Religion song, I've always found thinking negatively to be very positive--the positive power of positive thinking is also powerful, but it's an empty hope without building a foundation dug in the dirt of reality. Right now there's a surge of interest in this book called "The Secret," which advocates that all you have to do to receive something is ask for it and believe you will get it (something to do with a "law of attraction" which most physics textbooks don't apply to new jobs or plasma TVs). I see a lot of this type of thinking in the world right now, from the invasion of Iraq to American Idol contestants. I find this attitude of, "I want it, give it to me now world!" kinda funny in a little kid writing letters to Santa Claus way. Except that in life we had better not rely too heavily on Santa Claus, at least if we want to stay alive or in business. I sometimes give talks about how to deal with risk; if we simply hope for a good outcome when climbing or flying we're likely dead. No, we have to think "negatively" about what could go wrong and how to avoid that in order to mitigate the risks, or at least understand them.

I often think up crazy schemes and then actually do them, from climbing icebergs with Ben Firth to setting world records for paragliding so I'm all for big dreams, but I also know that those dreams won't become reality without understanding the risks before going all-out. It's like the old Boy Scout motto of, "Hope for the best, prepare for the worst." I believe in the power of a big idea, but I also believe that hard work and critical thinking will lead to success a lot more than just, "I hope it works out..."

There's a good article at Slate today on the whole subject, check it out.

PS--I just found that there's actually a book with the same title, haven't read it but sounds kinda interesting.


Anonymous said...

It's all good, Will!

Will Gadd said...

No, it's not all good. You're good (I'm assuming 'cause you're reading these rantings, grin), I'm good, the world is good, but how we deal with it isn't "all good." I really think there's a problem in North America (and likely the world) with this "positive thinking" self-delusion program. By all means do a BASE jump off the wildest cliff in the world, but please look down first instead of just hoping it's all good over the edge... Better yet, learn how to BASE jump first, get really solid, do a thorough check of your gear and then huck it huge! Success is so much more fun than splatting 'cause the participant relied on wishful thinking rather than training.

I'm just annoyed 'cause I'm deep in an endless video edit and it's really nice out... Thanks for the comment.

Phil Wilson said...

It is not "all good" in Britain. In fact people here tend to lean towards negative thinking by default. British people are more likely assume there to be a jagged rock waiting to impale them off of a cliff edge, so there is no point BASE jumping off it or having a look.

What we need is some sort of American\British hybrid view. Mad for it, but would rather do the sums first. Someone like Tim Emmett on Ritalin. =)

Will Gadd said...

"Tim Emmett on Ritalin" is a great line, and could indeed be, as Tim likes to say, "The path FORWARD!!!" Great guy, I had a good time watching him stomp out a massive landing area in the snow in Scotland without ever actually establishing that there was an exit point anywhere in the vicinity. Brilliant, and no shortage of optimism there, he's a one-man anti-depression institution. Maybe the climbers in Britain are less gloomy? I can't see why they should be though, all that perfect sun and rock in Southern France and England gets, ah, Malham? Grin, I've had great times climbing there.

This is all way too positive, better find something negative to think about.


Anonymous said...

Hey Willy,
Gotta love it, you are always making people think. Do you really think that people who do sports, which are perceived to be dangerous really think, "lets hope for a good outcome". And, when you think "negatively" as you put it, well isn't this more like preventive maintence, but by thinking positive. For instance, when you are climbing and you get scared is it a smart move to start thinking, I'm going to die. That to me is negative thinking yes. And, with that thought process you probably will die. I myself tend to go to the "positive thinking" by saying I am going to live, I'm going to get out of this mess. Thinking positive promotes confindence. Isn't this positive thinking but the subject is negative? You say you are all for Big too! "Like climbing the Big Drip" (Thanks for that) :) But in reality prior to going for these big dreams (Icebergs) you do research and weight the dangers involved. This to me is positive thinking again.
Those are my thought not yours!!!
Beer when you get home.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all inspiration...

Chance is something that a climber always need to have, but should never rely on!
Hermann Buhl

Anonymous said...

Hey, Will, thanks as always for throwing a thoughtful digression into your posts. There's an author I like who writes on this subject:

Quote: "This is, after all, a culture currently fueled by two dangerously childish ideas: that it's possible to get something for nothing, and that when you wish upon a star your dreams come true. People who believe that it's possible to get something for nothing can be persuaded easily that those who have gotten a lot have gotten it unfairly. And the flip side of wishing upon stars is that when your dreams don't come true you can only blame it on the stars."

eindeloze sfeer said...

I blogged about the stupidity of "The Secret" a few months ago. I'm glad to see a blog with a diverse readership taking a stand against it.

Anonymous said...

Will, are you trying to take Mark's "Dr. Doom" title from him? (just kidding). I don't see how being aware of what all that is going around you, in all of it's inherent risks, rewards, dangers & joys, is the same as "negative thinking". I don't see how the "law of attraction', "the power of positive thought", etc., etc. etc., is viewed as something for nothing. If you look into the teachings you will see that it takes a great deal of effort in the areas of meditation, control of the Mind, the Self and Focus (something that I expect you will find in a successful climging life) to seemingly make something out of what appears to be nothing.

And it is written that one of the great teachers said "ask and it shall be given.".

Thanks for the great post.

Jamaica, VT

p.s. Mark once told me that "it doesn't have to be fun to be fun".

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