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


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

7 Responses to The Power of Negative Thinking

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