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How the power of positive thinking can let you down

Wednesday, 14 November 2012 | By Linnet Hunter

We are so often told to look on the sunny side of life and to cultivate a positive attitude for success.

 

But what if fortune comes up and knocks your plan for a sixer? If you have never contemplated the darkness, being too positive can leave you with nowhere to go. There is even a project management term created for this phenomenon – optimism bias.

 

That’s where you confidently expect that person A will complete task B by time C and that the whole thing will be wrapped up at the predicted ABC.

 

Things don’t work out that way, the whole thing collapses like a deck of cards, the time costs balloon to a mammoth money pit and you get a big fat loss. And mixed metaphors.

 

As a solo operator you need a positive frame of mind to keep yourself motivated and on track – no question.

 

But you need a whole lot more than a smile and a file of upbeat quotes to survive and thrive.

 

Oliver Burkeman draws a lesson from the collection with the nickname, Museum of Failed Products, and reflects that it's our relentless effort to feel happy, or to achieve certain goals, that is precisely what makes us miserable and sabotages our plans.

 

Knowing this can be an uplifting release rather than a negative. So here are three key thoughts to keep uppermost in times of unexpected change. And isn’t that all the time?

 

1. Plan but be manoeuvrable. Events beyond your control can quickly change the situation and you need flexibility to alter your plans and readjust to the environment. Eisenhower is famous for saying that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.

 

2. Initiate but be resilient. Preparing for the possibility that things won’t work doesn’t mean withdrawing and taking no risks at all.

 

As a solo businessperson you need an acceptance of ambiguity and uncertainty, to go along with making things happen.

 

Expect the best but be prepared for something else. You can’t really expect the unexpected, but you do need to look forward with a risk assessment in place. Any of us can get sick or have a supplier or colleague let us down.

 

What’s the back-up, the contingency plan, the emergency exit or the support net that can be there if needed?

 

All this is not to say that you must flutter about like a blade of wheat in a high wind, bowing and falling with every weather event; but rather that you stand as a mighty tree with its roots firmly in the earth, grounded so that even if the great wind of indecisiveness blows, the rains and snows of misfortune fall, the heat and sun of austerity dry the topsoil, you will endure for the next season with most of your branches intact.

 

Okay, after that uplifting speech, I ‘m just going to ground myself and see if there’s a jar of Linnet’s Lotions in that museum.