We’ve been programmed to always be positive, to be forward-looking, and to resist negative thoughts if we want to be happy and successful.
Some people, however, believe doing the opposite can help them achieve the same – or even better – results.
For example, Canadian entrepreneur and investor Andrew Wilkinson, in an article for Medium, said that all he and his business partner wanted to do was to enjoy their time at work. So they took their cue from Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet’s business partner, who said: “Tell me where I’m going to die, so I’ll never go there.” This is inversion – it’s often easier, he argued, to think about what you don’t want than what you do.
Wilkinson then envisioned a worst-day scenario – “full of long meetings, a packed calendar, dealing with people he did not like or trust, owing people things/not being in control/ obligations, having to be at the office, travel, tired.”
He then worked backwards and figured out what he could do to avoid each item in the scenario. Thus, he never scheduled an in-person meeting when it can be accomplished via email or phone, or not at all. He opted for video conferences or paid for people to come and visit them, and never scheduled morning meetings.
He allowed no more than two hours of scheduled time per day. He had no business or obligation with people he didn’t like, even just a slight bad vibe. He never gave up voting control of the business and took no favors from people who could need something from them.
He worked from a café across a beautiful park where he could come and go as he pleased. In fact, he slept in when needed.
“Try it sometime,” he said. “It’s insanely simple and strangely powerful.”
Author, podcaster and investor Tim Ferriss thinks much along the same line. He believes in the power of a not-to-do list, because, quite simply, what you don’t do determines what you can do.
Some of the items in his not-to-do list: Don’t let people ramble, don’t agree to meetings with no clear agenda, and don’t let work fill a void that should be filled elsewhere, BBC ‘s Alison Birrane says.
A PR firm founder from Melbourne, Australia, says she uses the traffic light system – she determines whether she should stop, start or continue doing things. “Stopping unproductive activities is crucial for goal attainment,” she says.
Repa Patel, an Australia-based executive coach and director of leadership development firm Leading Mindfully, says thinking negatively helps us reflect on and cut out activities that don’t align with our broader goals.
Anti-goals give us a step-by-step process for thinking about things a little differently, says Wharton professor Maurice Schweitzer. For example, Wilkinson’s steps are a set of crisp, clear guidelines broken down into actionable steps. They are, therefore, attainable.
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