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Illustration of an angry carrot holding a fork on the left side, with the text "Using Your Negativity" in bold letters on the right side. The number "10" and an image of almonds are at the bottom right corner. The background is light blue, emphasizing how to harness negativity for productivity.

Make Your Negativity Work For You

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What’s The Right Balance?

We’ve written before about positivity the pitfalls and perils of toxic positivity:

How To Get Your Brain On A More Positive Track (Without Toxic Positivity)

…as well as the benefits that can be found from selectively opting out of complaining:

A Bone To Pick… Up And Then Put Back Where We Found It

So… What place, if any, does negativity usefully have in our lives?

Carrot and Stick

We tend to think of “carrot and stick” motivation being extrinsic, i.e. there is some authority figure offering is reward and/or punishment, in response to our reactions.

In those cases when it really is extrinsic, the “stick” can still work for most people, by the way! At least in the short term.

Because in the long term, people are more likely to rebel against a “stick” that they consider unjust, and/or enter a state of learned helplessness, per “I’ll never be good enough to satisfy this person” and give up trying to please them.

But what about when you have your own carrot and stick? What about when it comes to, for example, your own management of your own healthy practices?

Here it becomes a little different—and more effective. We’ll get to that, but first, bear with us for a touch more about extrinsic motivation, because here be science:

We will generally be swayed more easily by negative feelings than positive ones.

For example, a study was conducted as part of a blood donation drive, and:

  • Group A was told that their donation could save a life
  • Group B was told that their donation could prevent a death

The negative wording given to group B boosted donations severalfold:

Read the paper: Life or Death Decisions: Framing the Call for Help

We have, by the way, noticed a similar trend—when it comes to subject lines in our newsletters. We continually change things up to see if trends change (and also to avoid becoming boring), but as a rule, the response we get from subscribers is typically greater when a subject line is phrased negatively, e.g. “how to avoid this bad thing” rather than “how to have this good thing”.

How we can all apply this as individuals?

When we want to make a health change (or keep up a healthy practice we already have)…

  • it’s good to note the benefits of that change/practice!
  • it’s even better to note the negative consequences of not doing it

For example, if you want to overcome an addiction, you will do better for your self-reminders to be about the bad consequences of using, more than the good consequences of abstinence.

See also: How To Reduce Or Quit Alcohol

This goes even just for things like diet and exercise! Things like diet and exercise can seem much more low-stakes than substance abuse, but at the end of the day, they can add healthy years onto our lives, or take them off.

Because of this, it’s good to take time to remember, when you don’t feel like exercising or do feel like ordering that triple cheeseburger with fries, the bad outcomes that you are planning to avoid with good diet and exercise.

Imagine yourself going in for that quadruple bypass surgery, asking yourself whether the unhealthy lifestyle was worth it. Double down on the emotions; imagine your loved ones grieving your premature death.

Oof, that was hard-hitting

It was, but it’s effective—if you choose to do it. We’re not the boss of you! Either way, we’ll continue to send the same good health advice and tips and research and whatnot every day, with the same (usually!) cheery tone.

One last thing…

While it’s good to note the negative, in order to avoid the things that lead to it, it’s not so good to dwell on the negative.

So if you get caught in negative thought spirals or the like, it’s still good to get yourself out of those.

If you need a little help with that sometimes, check out these:

Take care!

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