We are continuously assessing situations as positive or as negative on a daily basis. We simply “know”, for example, that being late for a meeting is a “negative” thing, we “know” that getting praise for our work is a “positive” thing, we “know” that touching a hot surface with our bare hands is a “negative” thing and we “know” that happiness is a choice. Alright, not so many people know about the latter and that’s a pity. We “know” this too. Most of these “positiveness” assessments happen really quickly, as they are done in an automatic mode, intuitively. They may be based on stereotypes – pre-made micro-thoughts that we adopted somehow in time. Or they may be based on our previous experiences, which resulted in micro-thoughts that we deemed useful to be remembered and used, over time, for this assessment purpose.
We usually assess a situation based on our instinct, but sometimes we suspend this automatic stream of assessments and we take the time to “think”. We allocate more than a split of a second, to assess or re-assess if our initial perception is correct. When we do so, we are not strategizing yet. But instead of just “knowing”, we can say that “we THINK we know” now 😉 Some people stop here. Others decide to take even more time – to review the outcome of a situation and the emotions that they feel. They ultimately determine in a more strategic way if they had a positive or negative experience..
..and they take decisions – or strategic decisions – based on that. Poor decisions could potentially have deer negative consequences. Wrongly assessing that a surface is not hot seems like a positive thing, that allows you to touch it. But that can cost you pain and maybe even your hand, later. Act on the wrong impulse, and the outcome might not be the one you desired. Luckily most of us have reasonably good intuitions that do not make too many wrong assessments, and luckily we are able to minimize most of the impact when they do so. But in some cases, it may be useful to not leave all this process entirely to the intuition, especially when the outcome matters more than usual.
So how hard can it be to distinguish black from white? How hard is it to correctly assess positiveness then? It turns out it is not always easy.
We may fail this assessment when our thought process is actually just a search for arguable facts that can easily validate our biased initial positiveness assessment. Sometimes it is hard for our mind to move away from itself, to analyze its own thought process and to take painful decisions against its own (instinctual) judgement. Therefore instead of doing this, it simply searches for confirmations that will allow it to move on with the original assessment. That is one way of being wrong while being quite proud of yourself as a “thinker” in the same time.
Another way of being wrong when assessing positiveness derives from the fact that a situation has always both positive and negative aspects. You “missed that train, but had the time to enter that bookstore and browse those books that you like so much”. The negative situation of “missing the train” had the positive aspect of “giving you a bit of time for yourself”. Is “missing the train” a good or a bad situation then? It turns out that happiness IS a choice after all.
And then there are the usual culprits of any mis-judgement – our biases. Overinflated egos, social and educational conditioning, oversensitivity can all contribute to wrong decisions in any thought process, not only in the positiveness assessment of a situation. Not to mention the blind spot bias, that makes us believe that others are more susceptible to biases than we are..
But there is hope. We can make better decisions by accepting that our perception of things could be flawed and by knowing useful things about these flaws. Avoid self-validating a decision by forcing yourself to look at it from the opposite angle. When you “know” that an important situation is positive, ask yourself what would the negative aspect of it look like. And ask yourself what the positive aspect would be for a rather negative situation. Don’t fall into ego traps and be aware of your “favorite” biases. And last but not least, know your goals and values. Since every situation can have at least a positive AND at least a negative aspect, knowing your values helps taking better and faster decisions that are aligned to them.