Psychology writer Oliver Burkeman looks at when hopefulness can be counterproductive to action, and how negativity can be deployed as a tool to achieve positive results.
Jim Trodden has recently retired, after decades as a safety supervisor on North Sea oil rigs. In this harshest of workplace environments, merely hoping for good outcomes, or remaining positive, was inherently to invite disaster. Instead, Jim describes his dominant offshore mindset as one of 'chronic unease'. Constantly and vividly envisaging the worst possible outcome of every scenario was a key tool in helping to prevent disaster and - potentially - saving thousands of lives. It's just one example of deploying "Negative Visualisation" - a technique extolled in Sun Tzu's Art of War and by philosophers in Seneca's Stoic tradition, and grasped instinctively by generations of military leaders from Alexander the Great to Winston Churchill. In part 2 of Oliver Burkeman's series The Power of Negative Thinking, the psychology writer finds it can also be applied in modern contexts, and in all our lives.