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An industry of not inconsiderable size has grown around the exhortation in its various guises of the need to be positive. You need positive thinking, a positive outlook, to take positive action, etc, etc.
There is a simple basic premise which seems intuitively attractive. If you start on any course of action with a positive outlook then you are already ahead when compared to the alternative.
However, most of those who advocate this approach seem to fail to emphasise a basic requirement if you are to use this positive outlook successfully. You need to have meaningful and realistic aspirations that underlie what goal you are seeking.
This means that you need to plan before you make decisions and enter on a course of action.
The Downside to Being Positive
The ‘be positive’ industry has been subjected to criticism, much of it well deserved. One of the most important is that there is actually little objective data to back up any of the claims that are made.
It is far from proven that someone with a positive mindset has a better chance of success over someone with what may be a more realistic mindset when undertaking similar actions.
A further difficulty is that an emphasis on being positive may mean that this state of mind becomes an objective in itself. Achieving this mindset may simply divert energy and mental resources from the true objective.
It is also a fact that some people can be open to criticism or feelings of inadequacy if they cannot summon the strength to take a positive outlook when faced with extreme adversity.
However, the main criticism must surely be that developing a positive attitude is no alternative to hard-nosed objective and realistic planning.
The Importance of Planning
By planning you discover what advantages you have in your favour and what objectives are achievable within reasonable assumptions. You identify the obstacles you may encounter, what you will need to do to remove these obstacles, and what contingency plans you require.
Good advance planning also enables you to set out the actions that are required and outline how you propose to undertake these actions.
The upshot of much of what is produced in favour of taking a positive approach and forming a positive mindset is that it is simply pushing an idea that thinking positively can be a substitute for action.
I won’t bother going into any detailed analysis of the notion that thinking about something will somehow ‘attract’ that desirable objective into your life. The ‘power of attraction’ or ‘law of attraction’ idea has garnered enough attention.
By now it is likely fairly obvious to most that the only attraction that is clearly at work is the attraction of royalty fees into the bank accounts of the authors of these bestsellers.
Be Positive after you Plan
The need to plan with regards to career progression is fairly obvious.
Of course it is important to be positive in the sense of going about the work, being decisive in reaching conclusions and taking actions accordingly. If you are not, then you will find yourself doubting your decisions and how you set your goals. When you do this you risk undermining your thinking and acting on the basis of decisions that are driven by emotions such as fear or hope.
Of course, you always hope that a decision to act in a particular manner will lead to the outcome you desire. But this can only come into your mind after the decision is made and must never be a part of the decision process. There is no place for hope, or for faith (belief), in planning your career. Charity is up to yourself.
Make sure your positive mindset and attitudes do not blind you to the need for planning and the need to be realistic in your objectives. Your objectives, which should be simply the result of your performance, will almost inevitably feed back into your planning if they are unrealistic.
For example, if you have an objective of doubling you income over the next 12 months when there is no objective reason to think this will happen, you will soon discard a career plan based on your true situation. And if you are not content with your plan and will start to take dangerous risks.
Normative and Positive Mindsets
There is a further issue but it is a bit less obvious. However, its implications are in direct contradiction of the basic tenets of the more exploitative aspects of the ‘be positive’ industry.
Analysis of any set or circumstances you may wish to change can be divided into seeking answers to two sets of questions. These are described as normative questions and positive questions.
Normative issues are subjective and concern ideas of what ‘should be’. For example, you might claim that you should be paid the same as a colleague who does the same work as you but is longer employed. It is a point of view, and it may well be justifiable.
But that is not the point. This type of question says little about how the outcome you desire might be achieved. Should their rates be cut, or yours increased, for example?
Positive questions deal with things as they are. For example, a statement that a large increase in pay or holiday leave for everyone would make a business non-competitive is a positive statement.
A statement such as this is based on facts and, from these observations, identifies cause and effect relationships. Of course, this does not necessarily mean that it is correct as the ‘facts’ might be wrong.
Normative analysis has no place in planning you career and you must always be on your guard against it. Always approach the issue with positive questions:
What are my prospects for advancing in my career?
Am I lacking in some key skill or am I being unfairly overlooked for some reason?
Would I be better suited to a different position? etc.
When you have answered these and similar question then start to form goals and a plan for achieving them. Avoid working on the basis of a conclusion that something is unfair or unjust and must be changed.
Avoid any goal that is based on what should be and then concluding that it will be thus.
Plan and Be Positive
So, it is important to be positive. But positivity must only exist because of good planning and the plan and its execution must be totally based on a positive analytical approach.
Otherwise, your objectives will remain just wishful thinking, your decisions will be based on emotions, and your actions will be based on subjective ascertains that have replaced objective analysis and acceptance of the facts.
This is rather like the ‘be positive’ industry – except that you are unlikely to make money from thinking this way.
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Andrew Dawson is an experienced business consultant with a particular interest in how people operate when working in big and small organisations. He writes especially about how people think, make decisions and behave in business and finance when faced with uncertainty and he draws on his considerable experience to set out how they can do better. He generally finds there is no need for deep personal or organisational change when faced with challenges. Instead, small incremental and consistent improvements realise potential.