05 Dec How Focusing on the Negative can Help You
This one is tricky because I’ve been in the self-improvement speaking, coaching, training world, for the better part of 20 years as: a participant, a speaker and a coach. There’s a philosophy in the self-improvement world that says: “Don’t focus on the problem. Focus on the solution.” Or; “if you’re feeling negative, focus on the good, not the bad.”
Over the last three or four years, I’ve been reading clinical research, especially some of the professors in the big universities in the United States. There’s powerful research on the effectiveness of emotional writing. What do I mean? A psychologist by the name of William Pennebaker, teaches that when you write down your negative feelings such as: anxiety, stress, tension, depression, or fear. Whatever the “dis-ease” you’re feeling, he says don’t try to stop thinking about it. He says write exactly on paper what those emotions are. In crazy detail, whatever this nastiness is, get it on the paper. His work says, if apply this practice just 10 to 15 minutes a day, three times a week, it actually improves your sleep, your work capacity and your ability to connect socially. It releases the unwanted emotions by actually putting the negative on paper.
But the self-improvement world says, “No. No. No. You shouldn’t do this. You shouldn’t look at the negative at all. You should focus on the positive.”
It’s interesting because these professors are saying that it's never been proven or even accepted, that if you're feeling some kind of negative tension or pressure or overwhelm, to simply avoid thinking about it. The actual gold standard treatment is to actually feel it, to flood your body with it and to go at it.
They’re saying don’t avoid these thoughts. Go right at them. By going right at them, that’s what creates the release. Write those unwanted emotions down. Step into it. Be vulnerable. As you disclose negative information, it actually releases the tension and power over you. The more you disclose them and get them out, they will lose their hold on you.
I’ve had clients where I have said, “Listen. Write down the negative emotion.” They respond bewildered, “What?” And I say, “Seriously. This is what you’ve got to do. Get it out. Get it out.”
Honestly, every morning, I’m doing the same thing. If I get up and I’m thinking, “Man, I’m overwhelmed by a client I have to go see. Or I’m overwhelmed by how am I going to get a breakthrough for a certain situation? Or, how am I doing as a father or as a husband or with my finances or my body?” or, whatever the tension is, immediately get it out on paper. Even if I never read again, the studies show, when you disclose the unwanted thoughts, they disappear. Not instantly, but over a period of time, they will.
My message here is this: Get up every morning. Write it out, even if it’s just three times a week, for just 10 to 15 minutes of deep, emotional writing, disclosing the things that are holding you back. It will help you perform better under pressure. It will give you back the creativity. And it will give you back the tenacity you need to find a way to win.