Video: The Positives of Negative Thinking

Here's an interesting 6-minute video (below)of a TED talk by Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic about embracing the power of negative thinking. Dr. Chamorro-Prumuzic has researched the relationship between competence - how good people are at various tasks, and confidence - how good people think they are at those tasks. His research has found that roughly 10% of people are awesome and know it (realistic confidence), 10% of people are not up to par and know it (realistic self-doubt), and 10% of people are awesome but always think they can do better (perfectionism). The remaining roughly 70% of people tend to be overly confident.

Being confident in ourselves can certainly be a positive quality, especially when it's true. It certainly feels good. But overconfidence can also have negative impacts. It can lead to dangerous behaviors like texting while driving ("I'm a good driver, I won't get in an accident") or addictive behavior ("I'll just work out extra hard next month so it's okay if I eat all this junk food"). Overconfidence can also lead to narcissistic behavior, like the modern obsession with our social media profiles or our interest in people who are famous for being famous. So while overconfidence sure can feel good, there are some downfalls to consider.

In contrast, under-confidence isn't all bad; there are some silver linings. Under-confidence is characterized by negative thinking, something those of us who experience anxiety are all too familiar with. Often times we fear that we won't be able to handle something or that people won't like us or something bad will happen in our bodies or in our environment. And while with anxiety this type of negative thinking can go a little too far, it also serves as a form of threat detection. Maybe it's okay for us to worry whether we can handle texting and driving because we will be safer drivers. Maybe it's okay for us to worry whether we can handle a job if it causes us to go back to school to advance our careers. Low confidence, or humility by another name, can alert us to the gaps between our competence and our confidence, if we pay attention. So whether you experience anxiety or not, there are some positives to negative thinking and some negatives to positive thinking.