The Power of Subtraction

Recently I posted a piece from a women’s magazine on The Power of Negative Thinking, i.e., how to avoid immense pressure from positivity and just go with the flow.

Today I read this piece on the power of “negative” thinking.  While the first article discusses keeping away from positive demands on one’s emotions, the latter recommends “subtracting” from your psychological default to understand the importance each piece plays.  Appreciating your sight, for example, requires imaging what it would be like being blind.

I find all this fresh attention to negativity fascinating.  We have become a Type A culture, where it’s not enough to make yourself and your spouse happy.  I can’t help thinking of the Angelina Jolie model: to *truly* make a difference, the neurotic attitude doesn’t stop at making yourself and your spouse happy, if you can afford to spread happiness to the third world through adoption, and donations, and birthing in remote African hospitals.

It’s refreshing to think that psychologists are starting to look to stopping as the next step forward.  Doing something isn’t always the right thing.  It makes more sense to pay attention to your psychological cues—if putting positive pressure on yourself to feel happy doesn’t do it, then stop.

There’s something similarly negative about playing the “what if” game: What if I’d gone to a different college; what if I were blind.  Rather than demanding some positive step forward, the “subtraction” method takes a contemplative step backwards.  It considers reality, but how it may (or may not) have been had something fallen differently into place.

I like this negative model.  It considers change without placing pressure on some protagonist to effect it.  I like the idea of removing neuroticism from the equation and allowing oneself to stop, consider, and incorporate that contemplation into decisions moving forward.


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