Guarding Against Negativism

Posted on January 27, 2015 by Robert Ringer


A friend recently told me that he never worries about negative input from others because he has such a positive outlook on life that he doesn’t believe negative talk has any effect on him. Maybe so, but in my view it’s still a good idea to avoid negative people, particularly those who are critical of your aspirations or goals.

In fact, even if you try to ignore negativism in your midst, spoken words (not to mention facial expressions) are recorded by your subconscious mind. Just as positive images stimulate your body mechanisms to do whatever is necessary to convert those images into physical realities, so it is with negative images. This explains the phenomenon of “self-fulfilling prophecies.”

No matter how positive you are, if you allow too much negativism to enter your subconscious mind — let alone your conscious mind — when difficulties arise, it’s quite natural to begin wondering if your critics weren’t right after all.

Life loves to beat you down, but you have no obligation to help it do so. And because life offers plenty to be negative about, that’s all the more reason to avoid negative people.

You need all the positive thoughts you can muster in order to combat the never-ending stream of unpleasantness that invites itself into your life. In extreme cases, a negative thought can nudge a person from frustration to despair, and despair can rapidly become a terminal problem.

Negativism can sneak up on you before you realize the impact it’s having on your thoughts. Some of the nicest people I know are negative, which in some respects makes them potentially more dangerous than negative people who are nasty. After all, it’s natural to be on guard when you’re around a nasty person, but you tend to let down your guard when you’re in the presence of someone who is generally pleasant.

In fact, negativism often comes from those closest to you, particularly family members, which can make it an especially difficult problem to deal with. The friend or family member offering “advice” may be well meaning, but his observations could still be incorrect.

That’s why you should condition yourself ahead of time to make tough decisions when it comes to not allowing even the nicest people to come into, or stay in, your life if they are negative. If you need inspiration to accomplish this, just ask yourself how many times you’ve achieved successful results when you were in a negative state of mind.

Constructive advice from the right party can be worth a fortune, but ill-intended criticism from the wrong party can do more to tear you down, damage your self-esteem, and prevent you from actively pursuing your dreams than just about anything else I can think of.

As such, it’s important to be selective about the people from whom you accept criticism. Do you respect the person who is offering the criticism? Are his hands clean with regard to the subject matter of his criticism? Does he have his own life in order? If the answer to any of these questions is no, just thank the person for his “concern,” delete his comments from your mind, and walk away.

The agendas of some people seem to be nothing more than to discourage others, preferably by assuring them that they can’t succeed at what they’re trying to accomplish. If there’s one thing you don’t need in your life, it’s someone who emphasizes negatives and tries to chip away at your self-confidence.

A pathological critic is usually just an unhappy person who repeatedly confirms the truth in the old saying “misery loves company.” Such an individual thrives on the opportunity to pull others down to his level, and, if you’re not careful, he can soon have you prostrating yourself and relating your troubles to him.

And at that point, he’s got you. He will happily pontificate to you, appoint himself as your psychologist, and tell you everything that’s wrong with you — with a certitude that implies he is problem-free and totally well adjusted.

His ultimate joy is to succeed in making you psychologically dependent upon him. In this regard, be especially wary of so-called experts, especially self-anointed experts whose chief objective seems to be to make certain that you clearly understand their superiority over you.

Writers learn about negativism from experts early on, because they are criticized regularly by total strangers, particularly book reviewers. Ignoring professional critics isn’t an act of defiance; it’s an act of survival. A writer would have to be suicidal to base his work on the opinions of a handful of critics.

In this regard, two quotes have been enormously helpful to me over the years, preventing me from allowing my philosophy and writing style to be altered by critical comments. The first, which I often read before sitting down to write, is from E. B. White: “The whole duty of a writer is to please and satisfy himself, and the true writer always plays to an audience of one.” The second is from Ayn Rand, who said, “Freedom comes from seeing the ignorance of your critics and discovering the emptiness of their virtue.”

In substance, these two quotes apply to everyone, not just writers. It is both admirable and noble to believe in your work and your code of ethics strongly enough to be able to ignore uninvited criticism. I’m sure you don’t need me to remind you that to the degree you are successful, you will be criticized, because the sad reality is that success breeds jealousy and envy.

To paraphrase the late 19th century essayist Elbert Hubbard, the only way you can escape criticism is to say and do nothing, which, in turn, guarantees that you will accomplish nothing. Constructive advice can be of great value, but ill-intended criticism from the wrong party can become a huge obstacle to action.

Make it a point to be vigilant about not allowing it to happen to you.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

17 responses to “Guarding Against Negativism”

  1. larajf says:

    I loved the scene from the animated film Robots where they're sitting around drinking their oil saying "Never try, never fail." It's not negative to plan for the worst case, I don't think, unless that's all you focus on. I'd rather focus on the positive side of achievement but having that quiet confidence that stumbling blocks won't hold me back.

  2. Stuart Atkins says:

    Great post, Robert. Unwarranted criticism is often the price thought leaders and writers pay for energy, creativity, and unashamed boldness. Thanks for the reminders.

  3. Jon says:

    AMEN! I learned early-on not to tell people what I was going to do since they invariably responded "Don't you know you can't do that?"

    Later, after I'd accomplished a project, the question changed to "What made you think you could do that?"

  4. Diane Young says:

    As you say, success breeds jealousy and envy, but there will always be detractors. Just recognize them for what
    they are and go on your merry way. Don't let anyone dog you down.

  5. Guy Castagne says:

    I love your line: "success breeds jealousy and envy". I'm writing that one down in my little book of quotes.

    Thanks again Robert!

  6. RAM says:

    ROBERT — Writing is my business, my profession, my life. So I was drawn to your essay today about critics and criticism. It can be disheartening when writing for hire and having a client feel compelled to criticize though he or she may be sadly lacking in either qualification or credential. But it’s good for the soul some times to respond as the composer whose symphony was savagely critiqued. He wrote back to the newspaper critic, “"Sir: I am seated in the smallest room in the house. Your review is before me. Shortly it will be behind me." Of course the road runs in both directions. Critic John Mason Brown once wrote, “He played the king as if afraid someone else would play the ace.” RAM

  7. boundedfunction says:

    the white quote is correct, across the board, not just writing. interesting particularly in light of the guest essay on rand's writing/comportment, recently. the virtue of selfishness is…legitimacy.

    but…just as it ain't bragging if you can do it, denial ain't a positive just cuz you can't or won't face it (whatever "it" is). when you tell an emperor he's got no clothes on, he may well tell you you're "negative". a response to that might be, "nice fig leaf. but your privates are still hanging out." lol….

    • RealitySeeker says:

      "denial ain't a positive"

      'True. Being honest with yourself is a necessary positive if you want to find your place in life, e.g., acknowledging you'll never be as perfect a singer as Andrea Bocelli—no matter how bad you want it— might cause you to listen to a negative critic and reconsider your goals.. If you suck, then maybe it's a good thing that Simon Cowell tells you so and bluntly adds, "you have no future, and you're a total loser". The world is full of delusional people who really believe they have a future as a writer, singer, actor or whatever. The best thing for some of these people is a slap in the face. "The power of positive thinking"has limits, unless you're a multi-level-marketing guru selling the suckers false hope when you know damn well that less than one in a hundred will ever make any real profit off of the crap you're peddling.

      I understand salepeople have to find motivation. I get that. But it's laughable how some of these jokers say thing like, " I'm so positive it doesn't matter that anybody says". Who are these people trying to kid? I mean really, talk about living in a dream world…..

  8. Will says:

    I have never been a fan of Spiro Agnew but one of my favorite quotes is (nagging nabobs of negativism)

  9. RealitySeeker says:

    “misery loves company.”

    Yes, it does— especially when it comes to the underachievers. On the other hand, some of the most successful people I knew ( most of whom were old-school inquisitors who are now resting in peace) were extremely jaded, skeptical, suspicious and, yes, highly negative critical thinkers. They were the kind of men and women who would sharpen your heels and pound you into the ground just to see what you were made of. They were irascible and terrifying to any damn fool who made the same mistake twice. They survived the Great Depression, and they had a highly negative way of running their businesses.. For example, when I was a young pup I had a good, high-paying job working for a wealthy perfectionist who amassed his fortune during the Great Depression; and one day I let my mind wonder off the task he assigned to me. And a wondering mind was a good way in which to get fired— real quick. So, as my focus drifted I made the same mistake not twice but three times in the same day. The third time I got a kick right in the ass, literally, and told straight up: " if you don't want to work, Go Home!" That's just the way it was; there was no hand-holding; no understanding; no pep talks; no bullshit, period, and, yet, that highly negative system turned out some of the best perfectionists and competitors on earth; it also quickly weeded out the idiot-savants.

    Eventually, if you passed the tests and withstood the verbal and physical abuse, you then got your own employee(s) to torture and put to the test. I liked/loved those old-school people, and I miss them. I really, really miss them, because they taught me how to " break in a man" and make him produce a quality good and/or service. Of course, you can't do what they did today, not even close, or some dip-shit would go hire a "legal man" and sue you for mental cruelty, harassment, discrimination or some other new-school, litigious bullshit. Consequently, we have a nation full of worthless pieces of crap who wouldn't last a day with an old school man or woman who mastered the fine art of Schadenfreude.

    Real Schadenfreude is actually like a lost art. There's no English translation. To understand Schadenfreude, think of Ayn Rand as she took pleasure in mercilessly browbeating some idiot-savant who would never, ever be on the same league . That's Schadenfreude: deriving pleasure out of the miserable condition of others, and actually adding to that misery. And the best part is that there's actually a payoff. What is that? By putting a lessor man or woman through a trial by fire, that person can actually become refined and worth a damn. Don't believe me? Still buy into all of that "positive bullshit"? Well, just join the U.S. Special Forces and after surviving the many lessons of Schadenfreude lovingly given by your SEAL Instructors, see if you're not made into a badass……. if that's what you want to be. If not, there's always the path of Christ, Buddha, Moses, Muhammad or Dale Carnegie.

    The bottom line is that there's a place for "winning friends and influencing people" and being a "nice guy", if you want to sell something, and there's also a place for Schadenfreude. I prefer the latter.

    Frankly, I respect men who can skillfully " win friends and influence people" but I respect the old-school, negative bastards even more. Most of the new-school, positive thinkers turn out ersatz goods and services; that's just the way it is; the old-school, negative bastards I knew turned out products that lasted a lifetime; that's just the way it was.

  10. Geraldine Espley says:

    A number of years ago, I took on a rather ambitious project and the comment I got from a colleague (he was actually afraid for me) was "you have more guts than brains!" It all worked out just fine, so I'm glad I didn't listen.

  11. Sean Baltz says:

    Great article! Thank you Mr. Ringer.

  12. Serge says:

    If one goes out and does something for himself, I believe he should do it for himself and not have the need to tell others for approval or criticism. It seems babyish to have to tell others. It reminds me of a kid who tells his Mommy, Look Mommy, look what I just did.

  13. Jim Hallett says:

    The point you make about the damage done to the subsconscious being around negative people, ideas or comments is a strong one. One of the reasons I no longer watch news on TV is to make sure my mind is not poisoned with their negativity (most of which are based on lies or deceptions). I do respect criticism from one who has achieved success in what I am aiming at, but most advice one gets on a a subject comes from those who are abject failures in that area themselves, so why listen? I will try and remember the E.B. White quote mentioned, as I was already familiar with Ayn Rand's and love much of her commentary.

  14. RAM says:

    I don't know who "REALITY THINKER" is but I agree with his comments one-thousand percent! RAM

  15. RAM says:

    Whoops! I meant "reality seeker. RAM

  16. Robert Bonter says:

    This is an area of life where the "Golden Mean," I think, is the territory to strive for. No one wants to be a naive, little "Pollyanna," with the gullibility which comes with that. But there is no future in being 100 per cent skeptical and cynical, either. Problem is, when you have lived a while in this world, you have no choice but to draw upon your life experience, to best evaluate newly-arising circumstances and newly encountered people. This is why we can often be wrong in our judgmental haste to attach to people we are dealing with today, the qualities of some people we knew from the past.

    This is a tricky challenge. All I know is that extremes are dangerous places to reside, so that occupying the middle ground is probably your safest bet.