Positivity vs. Negativity vs. Anti-positivity

This post is inspired by a really insightful conversation I had with my long-time friend and brother-from-another-mother, Jan Dayleg. Jan is a personal trainer, Crossfit Coach, and beastly-ass weightlifter. We got on the topic of different mentalities toward responding to challenges and changes, and where we stand about it.

First, let’s start with my least favorite mentality, but it’s one that exists widely. Negativity. I’m not talking about sadness or anger. I’m talking about the contagious and innocuous guise of daily cynicism.

But the issue with negativity and out-of-control pessimism is that it approaches all problems from the position of passivity and relinquishes a sense responsibility.

Am I saying all cynics are irresponsible? No. Not by a long shot. Don’t get me wrong. I love cynical humor, and I consider myself somewhat of a cynic as well. We’ll get into that in a bit. But what I am getting at is the “default” setting of perception: instinctual problem setting, and how pessimism does not easily allow for success.

Rampant pessimism and negativity often comes from long-term exposure to some negative or undesirable stimulus, but some people are naturally pessimistic, too. In other words: people wallow for whatever types of reasons, but by continuing to wallow, negativity becomes the default setting: the lens from which we perceive the world. No matter how beautiful or awesome life is, negativity would find a way to tarnish it. “Won the lottery? Welp, guess this means I’ll have a sh*t-ton of taxes to pay this year.” There is no success, only spotting the imperfections.

In contrast, there is positivity. But guess what? I hate that sh*t too! Why? Because it’s delusional, over-zealous, and honestly… naive as hell. If I had to rank it… I’d still probably rank it as second worst to negativity. But it has so many issues. It often encourages oblivion to important negative things, such as:

  • physical pain from injury in which you SHOULD stop (“Push through the pain!”)
  • mental pain from actual trauma or grief (“Good vibes only!”)
  • sheer escapism from daily inconveniences like actually completing your work on time (“Chase your passions” “Do only what brings you joy”)

Do I think there is merit in positivity? Yes. Do I think there is a benefit from reframing negative problems in a positive light? Yes. Do I think you should try be positive all the time? Nope.

Pain, negativity, and discomfort are programmed into us for a reason. They serve a biological purpose. If we were to dive into a fire and feel no pain (or pretend to feel no pain) we would burn to death. If we allowed for negative sh*t to happen to us and people to treat us like sh*t, we would never cut our losses and try experience a healthy relationship or friendship. If we escaped from daily problems all the time, we would never get the necessary and un-fun sh*t done.

Sure, expense reports are not my passion. Neither is brushing my teeth. Should I stop doing them just because these things do not bring me joy? Absolutely not. I like having nice teeth, and I also like being reimbursed money. Do THOSE bring me deeply fulfilling joy? Not exactly, but they need to happen because I am a responsible adult and that’s how we avoid mega issues like debt, rotting teeth, or losing our jobs.

The same sh*t applies to fitness. Do I ALWAYS wake up with pep in my step and joie de vivre? Hell the f*ck no. I’m not a morning person. Y’all know this about me by now. I wake up feeling like my eyelids weigh 45 lbs each on the daily. Would I prefer to train in the afternoons? Yeah maybe. But I choose to train in the mornings. I put my mind to it and I make it happen. I regularly prove to myself that I have control over this part of my life, and most mornings, by 9AM I have trained, showered, and started my to-do list.

My point here is: don’t expect to find the magical happy place where everything is gold, your sh*t doesn’t stink, and there are always rainbows. But also, don’t be a sh*thead and find negative crap to stop you from training or working or living. You will never have a perfect day. You will never have a perfect body. You will never have a perfect diet or a perfect work day or a perfect job or a perfect goddamn breath of fresh air. Nothing will ever be perfect. Knowing all of this and moving forward with your responsibilities anyway is what true empowerment and enlightenment looks like.

Instead of advocating for negativity or positivity, I advocate for something different: anti-positivity. Notice I didn’t call it anti-negativity. That’s because I see negativity as an inherent truth everyone needs to acknowledge. You feel pain for a reason. You feel discomfort for a reason. The question really is: what is that reason? Ask yourself why.

“I don’t like transcribing videos or putting it into a database” Why?

“Because it makes me feel like the work I’m doing is not important.” Why?

“Because deep down I think this is a job for an intern and not a job for me.”

What does this tell me? That I have a desire for a sense of status that this specific task does not fulfill. And apparently I’m having a slight power trip.

Does that mean I am actually not important or the work I’m doing is not important? Nope. These videos are important ways for people to learn from our research. Also, other work I do does fulfill that need.

So is my excuse valid? Am I really more important than an intern? No. By reframing this problem I can reexamine this as, “Wow, I am grateful to have a job where I get PAID to do such an easy task.”

Is this a more positive framing? Yes. But it’s not anti-negative. It embraces negativity and internalizes it so that you can change your framing into something more constructive. Perhaps you can call that “positive” but I argue it’s more an issue of framing than it is sugar-coating. There is no sugar-coating to this ideology, only truth, introspection, and understanding.

Let’s take another example:

“I feel miserable because my shoulder hurts and I am sad that I can’t go 100%.” Why?

“Because I’m may be injured, and even though I’m not sure, and my body is showing signs of pain, I really wish I could go 100%” Why?

“Because I feel inferior to others when I don’t lift as heavy as them.”

What does this tell me? It says that I’m injured, and even though my ego is wounded, my ego does not need healing as much as my shoulder does. If I were to be positive, I would say, “No pain no gain!” or “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” But both of those would be stupid to adhere to. If I were to continue going 100% even though it hurts, I would probably injure myself worse, prevent any further progress by massively increasing recovery duration. Instead, my ego should probably take a beating and I should deal with lifting lighter weights while I heal or improve my form.

Light weights are still weights. Sh*tty tasks are still tasks.

The point is, no matter what you call it – don’t let negative feelings or positive vibes be the reason you f*ck up your body or your day. Listen to your pain (physical or mental) and learn from it so you can be better.

Don’t avoid the stove altogether because it burns you sometimes. Don’t burn yourself 500 times either. Be smart. Be anti-positive.

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