I’m a big believer in the power of positive thinking. When you believe you can do something, more often than not, you can. Unfortunately, negative thinking is just as powerful. As Henry Ford put it, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t—you’re right.”
So what leads us to positive thinking in some cases, and negative thinking in others? Well, one thing is simple familiarity. Let’s say you’ve made dozens of successful sales of older homes. Chances are, you’ll expect success when you get chance to sell that beautiful Victorian on the corner. But change one little thing about the situation—maybe it’s not a 1901 Victorian, but a new condo just completed—and the negative thoughts start to creep in. “Sure,” the voices say, “you sold all those older homes, but this is different. This is new construction. You have no idea how to sell this thing.”
To come extent, our negative thoughts are a way of shielding ourselves from the pain of disappointment. With unfamiliarity comes uncertainty. And with uncertainty comes the risk of failure. But if we expect to fail, the emotional logic goes, the blow won’t sting quite as much.
The downside, of course, is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We expect to fail as a guard against the pain of failure, but in the process we make failure more likely than it ever was in the first place.
So what to do? Understand that the negative voices are just a habit, really, an unthinking response to the fear that’s natural in unfamiliar situations. And like any other habit, it can be changed. Try choosing some key phrases to repeat to yourself when the voices start their negative talk: “You can do this!” “You have the skills you need to be successful!” “You are know what you are doing, now do it!” It might sound silly, but it works.
Challenges are what help us learn and grow. And, if we can train the voices in our head to be supportive and encouraging – rather than doubting and discouraging – then these unfamiliar situations can turn into incredible successes.