Focus on the negative

In a way, it’s torture. 

Looking back over your early work enforces the awareness that you’ve made progress. Which, obviously, is good. But it’s also humbling, because you think to yourself: “Did I really write that? Did I really think that that was good enough?”

I’m working on my first book. One of the things I’ve had to do is re-read everything I’ve wrote to see if there is anything of value worth including. And in the process I’ve discovered something.

Of every piece, I’ve been asking myself:

“Why should I include it?”

But recently, I’ve changed the question to this:

“Why shouldn’t I include it?”

The first question skews the answer. The human brain has this incredible capacity to justify and create spurious connections. So it’s possible to find a positive in anything.

The second question is harder to answer. It forces you to focus on the drawbacks. The reasons against. It changes the angle from which we see the material in question.

I got to wondering, does this apply in other areas aside from editing and revising a piece of writing.

Perhaps you have a relationship that is ruining your life. Would asking “why shouldn’t I continue it?” yield a more honest answer than, “why should I continue it?” Or if you’re organising your house and deciding what to keep and what to chuck. Does asking “why should I keep this?” leave you with more unnecessary stuff than asking “why shouldn’t I keep this?”

I don’t know. Our ability to imagine and justify works both ways. It can work for the positive and the negative. We can always find fault and we can always find the good.

But personally, I think it’s of more use to focus on the negative.

Imagine you had to choose between the following options:

1) Be aware of the all the negatives and surprised by the positives.

2) Be aware of all the positives and blindsided by the negatives.

I’d take the former every time.