Note: This post is a follow-up to my recent post on Negotiation.
The more I read about self-development, whether it be in a personal or business context, I keep coming back to the idea of ‘positivity’, which is such a yawn ( I know). We’ve heard it forever, we’ve seen the Anthony Robbins infomercials, and we still don’t get it. Why does acting or thinking like a Disney character somehow bring success? After all, aren’t we shown time and time again (mostly in movies) that being ‘nice’ is the life of a sucker and a doormat? Whether you’re a man or a woman, you were probably told early on that ‘it’s a jungle out there’, and that the work world is incredibly competitive, and only the strong survive. So in a weird (cynical, perhaps) way, it is counterintuitive to think that positivity would lead to real success. Maybe we’ve been thinking about Positivity all wrong.
I remember in high school, my inimitable English teacher, Mr. Digby, recounting to us a clever line about making assumptions: “They make an ASS out of U and ME”. For the most part, the rhyme, or adage, is right: if you assume that there are no cars on the street, attempt to jaywalk, and end up in the hospital, yeah, you’re an ass. But are there times when assuming can actually help you? I think there are, and I think it’s when your assumptions become self-fulfilling prophecies.
There are some people who seem to be so ‘lucky’: they look great, they get into great schools, they land great jobs, and they always seem to be full of energy, free of anxiety, and on to the next project. “Sure” you think “it’s easy for them to be bubbly. If I only had their luck!” As often happens in science (and fake science, like this blog) it’s tempting to confuse the cause and the effect. What if their life is “easy” precisely because they have such a goofy optimism about every single challenge they face. Put another way, what if instead of assuming the world is a vindictive place, they make different assumptions than you do, and that (not their DNA or their CV) is their biggest strength? If that’s the case, you would tend to see extremes in relative success: optimistic people would tend to be more successful with time, and pessimistic people would tend to be less successful with time. These symmetrical societal forces might tend towards a huge income gap (or happiness gap or opportunity gap). Just a thought.
So what is actually going on here? What we assume about the world around us colors absolutely everything we feel and think. If we can shift our ‘assumptions’, we can shift our communication, and even more importantly, shift our subcommunication.
Subcommunication (loosely related to subtext) is the implication of every verbal or visual communication. It is that subcommunication that we respond to (much more so than actual words, or images). We probably evolved this way, shortly after the Invention of Lying. (Side note: I watched a hilarious documentary recently, showing how brilliant monkeys are. They can actually scream ‘words’ that signal predators are nearby, to scare off their mates. When their mates scatter, they can steal the food, etc. Everyone does it.) Knowing that people aren’t always honest with their verbal communication, the mind ignores most of others say and attunes to non-verbal communication and subcommunication. This is why one ‘pickup line’ can work for one person, but not for another. It’s the body language and subcommunication that makes all the difference.
The ‘trick’ is to re-program your own assumptions by deliberately considering your options before responding to people (say, at the office, or at a social gathering). With enough positivity, you will form a habit of making positive (read: abundant and successful) assumptions about the world around you, and that will, in a roundabout way, become true.
Notice here how you are choosing between several logical explanations (eg. there are many, not one, logical reasons why a man in your office isn’t being chatty with you–some negative, some positive), and hence ‘logic’ as a reason for something being true is a joke: the mind is a rationalization machine. It can rationalize buying a terrible car, saying something stupid at a party, even staying married to someone who is all wrong for you. Rather than rest on logic, focus on choosing your the best responses, by deliberately choosing abundant assumptions about the world around you, and in time, you will be a ‘lucky’ one too.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic, hit me up on Twitter.