The Power of Negative Thinking

Zig Ziglar, one of the most well-known motivational speakers of all time, passed away last year at the age of 86.

I’m not sure how I stumbled upon Ziglar’s work, but back in the late 1980s I recall listening to him on audio cassette in my car. Mostly, I would listen on long drives, and most of those drives were on weekends, with my wife, Marcie, in the car. If I was driving, which was most of the time, I would ask Marcie to make a note for me when I heard something that I particularly liked.

When Ziglar died, the obituary that I read was headlined, “Zig Ziglar, a speaker who pushed power of positive thinking.” Ironically, the time that I spent in my car back on those days was a time that I practiced what I now call “The Power of Negative Thinking.”

“The Power of Positive Thinking” is a widely known term. It likely became part of the vernacular in the 1950s after the publication of the book by that name. (Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking is one of the best-selling books of all time—and one that I recommend.)

“The Power of Negative Thinking” is a less widely known concept. In fact, I haven’t heard anyone talk about it at all. Yet, it’s an incredibly important concept to understand for your happiness, and the happiness of everyone in your life.

Let’s go back to my early driving days in the 1980s.

I grew up in the New York City area, and while people in many areas claim to live in the most stressful places to drive, many would agree that New York is pretty high on the list. I won’t say it’s the worst though. After all, it was in Los Angeles that the term “road rage” was coined after a rash of shootings occurred on the LA freeways in the late 80s.

Around that time, Marcie urged me to change my own driving behavior. I wasn’t a particularly aggressive driver, but I was susceptible to some of the “road rage” behaviors—rude gestures, verbal insults, deliberately driving in an unsafe or threatening manner. Wikipedia points out, and Marcie often similarly said, “Road rage can lead to altercations, assaults, and collisions which result in injuries and even deaths.”

What does this have to do with “The Power of Negative Thinking”?

Let’s say that you see someone driving in an unsafe, aggressive manner on the freeway. Whether or not they cut you off or do something else dangerous to you, what might your reaction be? If it’s anger, that’s normal. Anger is an emotion that we all experience.

The key question is, what do you do next? If you exhibit road rage, my recommendation is the same one that Marcie gave to me. Cut it out. Stop doing that. No good can come of it.

If you do not engage in road rage, as the dangerous driver speeds away, do you let your angry thoughts speed away with him? Or do you keep thinking about him?

If you keep thinking about him, how long do you do that? Five minutes? A half hour? An hour? Do you go to work and tell your co-workers about the “jerk” who cut you off on the freeway? Do you go home and tell your family?

Or, do you let it go?

If you keep thinking about the incident long after it happened, you’re experiencing the power of negative thinking.

Think about it. It’s your thoughts about the driver that fuel how you feel. If you are at all like I was, take my word for it. It’s much better to just let it go.

I’ve used driving as my example because it’s a good example, and common to most of us—all drivers have had difficult experiences on the road.

Life is better when you let go of negative thoughts in every area of your life. Pick one area of your life where you have negative thoughts—whether it’s driving or anything else—and focus on “letting it go.”

If it’s driving, when you go to work, tell people about the poor driver who cut you off and how great you feel because you let it go. You didn’t gesture at them. You didn’t yell at them. You didn’t chase them down. And you didn’t keep thinking about them after they sped away. You just let it go, and it felt good to do so.

Do it for yourself, do it for your family, do it to help make the world a better place.

What are some of your experiences with negative thinking? Where are some areas where you can focus on letting it go? Join the conversation with your comments…

David J. Singer is the author of Six Simple Rules for a Better Life and blogs at You can like him on Facebook at

23 Responses to The Power of Negative Thinking

  1. Nowadays, I’m very good about realizing what’s going on in my head and I realize I have these negative thoughts. I’d say about 80% of the time I’m very good at letting it go. The only negative thoughts I struggle with letting go of are when I get in a conflict with family. For some reason, after arguments with them, I can’t seem to let it go for a while and I let it sit there in my head. I keep telling myself “Dude, come on, let go. You’re good at this.”

    That’s definitely something I can work on.

  2. Natalie says:

    You hooked me in and made me think. As I’m sure most people who read your post start off thinking that you are advocating negative thoughts. But you’re not.

    You point out the power negative thoughts can have over you. You are so right. Both negative and positive thoughts have power.

    My old low self esteem came from negative thoughts. I could dwell for weeks on a mistake I made. My new high self esteem comes from dwelling on my successes and letting go of mistakes.

  3. Morgan Decker says:

    I am a pretty positive person and not a lot bothers me, but when something bad happens I tend to hyper-focus on it because it is unusual for me to have something negative or something that is upsetting in my life. When I find myself doing this, I always try to hyper-focus on something positive and productive to change my mood, diverting your attention is the only way to dodge negative thinking because it can be inevitable.

  4. I can definitely connect with this one. At my old job, I used to get so upset with the way things would go throughout the day that it would influence my behavior once I got out of work. It would even lead me to get highly annoyed at little things at work that weren’t worth getting upset over. After a while, I’d find that I was annoyed before I even set foot in the office.

  5. Its the whole pendulum of pushing and pulling at life that needs to stop. We always feel we need to be somewhere else, or our mind expect more from situations. That separation from the moment creates tension and negative thinking that sucks the life out of us!

  6. Sam Matla says:

    If there’s one valuable thing I learnt in school, it was to respond instead of
    react. I think that’s what you’re pretty much referring to in a road rage
    situation. It’s almost inevitable that we become angry – but after that, do we
    react? Or respond.

    Letting it go, that’s the key. It damages our ego for sure, we all want to bitch about
    the guy who cut us off driving to work, but what does that achieve?

    Great post, David!

  7. Thanks so much Sam. I wish I learned that in school! I first heard about responding vs. reacting in a Stephen Covey book. Great stuff. Thanks for posting it.

    Best regards,


  8. Being present most definitely makes everything better. Thanks! David

  9. Diane Dutchin says:

    David, your post resonated with me, this particular statement jumped out at me “Life is better when you let go of negative thoughts in every area of your life.” Negative thoughts robs you of so much good living and we won’t know the impact it has until we take the steps noted to let them go. Diane

  10. Morgan: You are more fortunate than most. Stewing about negative things is automatic for many people. Your strategy is one of the great ones to help — proactively thinking about positive things — whatever it is you are thinking about or making a list of achievements, things you are grateful about, or as I like to do, things that made me smile that day (or if I have to expand the time period, that week, etc.)
    Thanks for the note.

    All the best,


  11. Kieron:
    They say the first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one. Similarly, I like to say, the first step to making a change is becoming aware that there is something you want to change, as you have. Thanks for the excellent example.
    Best regards,


  12. Vincent:
    Same thing I said to Kieron above. They say the first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one — I like to say, the first step to making a change is becoming aware that there is something you want to change, as you have. Thanks
    for your poignant comment — I bet this is VERY common. Family stuff is the toughest for many people. One more thing to be sure to do — while you work on the family thing, be sure to keep remembering that the 80% is a great accomplishment!
    Best regards,

  13. That’s beautiful Natalie. Thank you so much for sharing that. Just wonderful.
    Keep us the great work! All the best, David

  14. Diane:

    A friend told me the other day that he changed his
    eating habits over the last few months and he reported all the ways he
    is feeling better. I eat well, and yet wondered what other eating
    changes I could make that would leave me feeling better — to use your
    words, in a way whose impact I won’t know until I take the steps. Well

    Thank you for the note.

    All the best,

  15. Rynessa Cutting says:

    My roommate is extremely negative like that- i swear that every other day I can hear her on the phone complaining about something or arguing with someone. It actually makes me feel a bit down just from hearing it.

  16. Thank you for sharing your experience, David!

    I firmly believe that our ability to deal with (negative) thoughts depends on our ability to deal with (negative) emotions.

    As we learn to cope with our emotions (including the most difficult ones such as grief, loneliness and anger) we become more centered in our authentic self. From there, letting go of negative thoughts is fairly easy.

    And the other way round: for as long as we’re not able to embrace our emotional and mental reality with love, we won’t be able to just let go of negative thoughts. We can learn to suppress them but that’s not the same as experiencing peace and happiness…

    Much of my life journey has been about exploring the above – and I’ve seen it confirmed in the stories, experiences and inner work of my clients & students again and again.

  17. That’s tough Rynessa. Many of us have had similar experiences, having someone else’s negativity bring you down. You might consider putting your headphones on and listening to good music, or stepping outside for some fresh air, to avoid having to hear her. If you are planning on rooming with her in the future, at some point
    you may want to talk with her about it — but as I don’t know the specifics, I
    hesitate to prescribe action…

    Best regards!

    Thanks for the note.


  18. Nice Halina. I’ve learned some of that from life coaches. It’s great stuff. Thank you for the note. Really good.

    All the best,


  19. Pingback: The Power of Negative Thinking | Six Simple Rules for a Better Life

  20. Wow David, as a fan of Ziglar this article really peaked my interest. I was glad to see driving with your wife listening to Ziglar is something other people to as well:) My wife can quote most of his material at this point ha ha.

    It’s so true that our lives become negative and stressful because we let negative events determine our attitude and take over our thoughts.

  21. rluvy . says:

    thank you David for letting me realise on what I should do.. Yes I always have negative thinking about my life.. I always feel like I am not lucky enough, no matter what I do I will always get negative feed back.. Even when I tried to do a business when it doesnt work out it straight away struck my mind that it will never work out for me and often feel like giving up.. but once I read your article it made me realize that I should think positive and try harder..

  22. Thanks so much for your note. :)

  23. Thanks for the note. It’s a proven strategy that making list of positive things helps. Many people make gratitude lists. Lists of things they are grateful about. Google it. You will find lots on it. Try it. And yes, definitely hang in there!
    Best regards,


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