The art of negative thinking

Robert genn


Dear Rodney,


Recently, I had the opportunity to look over the shoulders of two painters who were giving demonstrations on the same day. The first was almost deliriously positive and bubbly about his work, his wonderful life as an artist and his prior successes. Enthusiastic throughout, he shouted epiphanies and dispensed "empowerment" like rose petals at a wedding.


The second demonstrator spoke less and, when he did, it was mostly about problems he was having with the work--and other more worrisome ones that lay ahead. A couple of times he got himself into trouble--but he scratched his brain and was able to recover. Guess what--the gloomy malcontent did the better painting. We all applauded when he held it up. There were whistles. He didn't even smile.


This understanding has now been backed up in a new book by former Indiana and Texas Tech college basketball coach Bob Knight, aided by Bob Hammel: The Power of Negative Thinking: An Unconventional Approach to Achieving Positive Results.


"Superiority and success doesn't favor good effort or self-esteem," says Knight, "and it definitely doesn't hand out trophies for participation. The mentally precise and physically fit win, while the mediocre and obtuse take solace in hopeful cliches."


Bob and Bob have come to the conclusion that if you're perennially upbeat you're just setting yourself up for defeat. The positive thinker, they think, has a chronic "no danger ahead" disorder. He's so busy believing in himself that he's blindsided by oncoming problems and his own shortcomings.


Success, it seems, favours rigorous self-criticism. Here are some other interesting items I gleaned from the book:


Never gloat. Don't talk too much. Don't seek praise. Failure is endemic. Success is being hard to please. Be intolerant of failure. The easiest person to fool is yourself. Know your weaknesses. Be tough. Never let scanty positives override glaring negatives. Don't be a good loser. Don't satisfy yourself by just knowing you can do it. Do it. And by the way, keep God out of your equations:


"So when I hear a guy after a game-winning home run say or gesture that God was on his side," says Bob Knight, "I think to myself, 'He's saying God screwed the pitcher.' "


Best regards,




PS: Positive wish: "The sun will come out tomorrow." Negative reality: "Yeah, and it will flash brand-new daylight on the same old mess unless something is done to clean it up." (Bob Knight)


Esoterica: All my life I've noted artists who talk a good job and do a poor one. Perhaps it's our ego (particularly, but not always, in men) that keeps us on the muddy path to mediocrity. You know the type. They ask for help but what they really want is praise. These folks are stuck with what Bob Knight calls "the optimism bias." By thinking you are cleverer and more talented than your buddies, many a career has been blotted. My personal bias is that Bobs know better than everyone else. Bob Knight and Bob Hammel have a point. Be negative.