How a pre-occupation with being positive is damaging to your success


Everywhere you turn there are discussions about how to be successful. The messages out there in the market in abundance include variations of ‘think positive!’, ‘be fearless!’ and advice on how to gear your mind to greatness by conquering your negative thoughts. Young and old talk about how they achieved success in business or their professional lives through ‘ditching’ their negative mindset.

Whilst mindset is indeed critical for success, this pre-occupation with being positive is inadvertently setting people up to fail. Mainly because as human beings it’s physically impossible for us to achieve the level of endless euphoria we aspire to – at exclusion of all other emotions.

By our very nature we cannot help but be attuned to uncertainty or danger. Unsurprisingly, there are more negative emotions in existence than positive ones. Negative emotions, when functioning as intended, play an important role in helping us analyse our existence and experiences in the world.  They are vital to our survival.

It’s important to preface this conversation with the fact that prolonged depression or anxiety left unchecked can be debilitating to a healthy, functioning life. If you’re experiencing this, please don’t feel like you need to suffer alone and speak with your doctor.

How does society’s obsession with being cultured towards a constant positive state impact the success of women?

 The problem with our unattainable obsession with being positive is that it prevents us from experiencing a legitimate range of emotions in a constructive way. In some cases, women will go to great lengths to avoid, or be seen to avoid, any conflict whatsoever. They can end up on a relentless mission to void negative emotion from their lives completely, instead of learning how it positively contributes to their wellbeing and growth.

In other cases, the emotion they experience will be further compounded by guilt, shame and anxiety about the fact they’re feeling it. This is evidenced when they express a negative emotion, a fear, a worry, an anxiety or in fact anger and then apologise for it. They’ll often say things like, ‘I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but I do’, ‘I realise that’s pessimistic’, or ‘I’m sorry for being so negative.’ Often they will also pass judgement about the way they ‘should’ feel as women instead, based on decades of pre-defined social structures and stereotyping.

At a fundamental level, an unhealthy relationship with the spectrum of emotions we feel can lead women to be less satisfied with their success on the whole.

In the modern world, we’re currently undergoing an obsession with ‘re-framing’ negative experiences or emotion, instead of being accepting and comfortable with them as they are. For example, failure as ‘feedback’ and problems as ‘challenges’ or ‘opportunities for growth.’ Whilst these descriptors are, in themselves, representative of the paradox of emotion, the uncomfortable truth is that negative emotion was not designed to feel good.

Failure is not meant to be fun, patience was never meant to be easy, conflict alerts us that there’s a problem to be solved, anxiety tells us there’s something to be wary of. Pain and discomfort can be signals for growth and change – if we didn’t experience them we would never learn, evolve, develop skills or solve problems. Why would we? We’d be comfortable exactly as we are!

On the flip side and in a business context, women who invest in learning about how to utilise their emotions for success demonstrate more resilience. They feel able to build more meaningful relationships, are more likely to try new things and put themselves out there to attract their ideal buyers or chase an opportunity they’d never before dreamed of.

The key to success is not to avoid your feelings, going on in spite of them or to be void of them. It’s about learning your individual emotions, how they impact your patterns of behaviour and how to utilise them for your individual success. Sometimes we are able to do this independently and other times we need professional help and support to achieve it.

A recent example of a client who was experiencing a deeply complex fear of public speaking and public failure. The nature of her business meant this problem had prevented her from being able to achieve the level of success she was capable of – that is, to be the go-to brand. She described the anxiety she felt and then went on to pass judgement about her anxiety. We explored it together and the question was posed, “What do you think your anxiety is trying to tell you?” In this case, her anxiety was telling her there were skills to be developed. Her underlying assumption had been that everyone just instinctively ‘knew’ how to publicly speak without prior preparation or skill.

The minute we’re able dissolve our judgement for our feelings, and instead understand them and accept them, we’re able to move past the fact we feel it and on to what we need to do to solve our problem. With client in question, this included supporting our work together with a quality public speaking course that was tailored to her specific needs.

Yes, this experience is individual and won’t ring true for everyone, but it’s a good example of how utilising a negative emotion and experience to help solve a problem can lead you to the success you seek.

Shevonne Joyce has built and monetised a trusted and quality personal brand that spans 60 countries. She works with women to position them as the go-to brand in their industry. If you're ready to become the go-to brand in 2018, please get in touch.

Shevonne Joyce