Why Do We Focus On The Negative?

I recently attended a fantastic all day seminar with Penny Ferguson. She drew the attention of all present to our proclivity for focussing on the negative, rather than the positive aspects of our skills and characters. 

I consider myself a highly positive and optimistic person, but she was absolutely right and I’ve been struggling for a little while to catch myself falling into this behaviour (so I could change it).

Today it happened. 

I was looking through some material from a two year Leadership Development program I graduated from some time ago – and from the back of the file, six cards dropped out onto my lap. Each card had three descriptors on it. At the time we were all given the names of six participants and asked to write down characteristics we believed they displayed (and to be direct, open and honest about it)

These were mine (random order as they lie on my desk right now)

Creative, Inquisitive, High Passion, Committed to CA, Risk Taker, Open To New Ideas, Individual, Arrogant, Friendly, Fun, Frank, Relaxed, Good Sense Of Humour, Good Dresser, Upbeat Disposition, Funny, Intelligent, Energetic.

Guess which of these I fixated on immediately? I tried to look for the upside by searching on Google to see if there were any positive traits associated with arrogance (told you I was optimistic), and when there weren’t any I started to think about what I did that made someone write this down. I got so caught up in it that the memory of getting the card two years ago came back, together with how bad I felt at the time.

I never stopped to look at the other things on the list, which is a shame – because I honestly like those things, and feel good that others felt these were my defining traits – and I’m going to work on those strengths in future – not fixate on negative. As Penny said at the time – “Think how much more we could achieve it we focussed on our strengths.”
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