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The Power of Negative Thinking

“I’m going to do a great blog today, because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and dog-gone-it, people like me.”

The secret to success, suggests Stuart Smalley, lies in positive thinking. Tony Robbins, and the millions of others making untold fortunes as proprietors of positive patter, are inclined to agree. But a study recently published in the journal of Psychological Science contends the converse: attempts to point people to the positive can actually have the opposite effect – it highlights how unhappy they are.

The experiment, which measured 68 students on their self-esteem, required respondents to write down their thoughts and feelings for four minutes. Every 15 seconds, one randomly assigned group heard a bell, prompting them to promote themselves by thinking, “I am a loveable person.”

Those short on a sense of self worth, typically the types to troll through books designed to aid affirmation, weren’t propped up by the 16 shots of pop psych; instead the inverse was ignited. Self-evaluations and moods for the pavlovian population were significantly more sour than those allowed to leave ‘lovability’ out of the experiment.

The study’s conclusion: negative notions need little help in working their way into our stream of consciousness, especially for people prone to low self-esteem. Such self-inflicted suggestions arise so simply, that even when a positive alternative is presented it merely underlies how awful we already believe we are.

As marketers we position our products as the missing link for moving from feeling low to loveable, a bridge to the gap between consumers’ perceived and aspired selves. In the quest to help people eat less, relax more, increase happiness, decrease doubt, and the millions of other promises peddled, there lurks an underlying risk: what happens if we add to an individual’s angst? Will it drive them to our product as the answer, or will the discomfort ultimately create a negative connotation with our brand?

As is the fashion of our Friday show, we sign-off with a selection of sweet sounds to help start your weekend off on the right foot. Stay smiling my friends!

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