Negative or Positive Thinking in Healthcare Easy Choice – Or Is It?


Blog by Joe Babaian

Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.  ~Omar Khayyam

The debate over positive thinking versus negative thinking seems to be one with clear lines in the sand. For some, the only way to live is to be relentlessly positive; for others, the drive to see things as they are manifests itself in a running commentary that includes all storm clouds. Is there a benefit to choosing one dogma over the other?

The inspiration for this week’s #hcldr comes from Andrew Richards @andrewintech with his recent Tweet:


Seems simple! How can business get done if working with people who are not empowered to say yes? Quite a discussion took place – going into the risks of too much emphasis on a yes culture versus the stasis of being around too many naysayers. The debate between a yes culture and an overly-cautious or negative no culture is well described as the foundation of positive thinking versus negative thinking.

Anecdotal comments heard –

  • Having a yes culture leads to echo-chamber behavior where everyone seems to always agree with each other sans critical thinking.
  • Being pessimistic is giving in to the status quo – lacking vision for improvement.
  • Positivity leads to blasting past real problems that get only lip service in the rush to stay bright and forward thinking.
  • Saying no demonstrates strength.
  • Being positive attracts positive people, resources, and opportunities.

Do you see it? This isn’t a debate about positivity/yes versus negativity/no. I’ll argue that this is a failure to see the middle ground – something that any of us can fall into when presented with two choices. We have more than two choices. As the poet said above, we are living in the now, this is our life.

It is strong to say yes and it is strong to say no – when these choices are formed by wisdom, experience, and a willingness to take the risk of choosing either! Cultural artifacts are the problem. Anytime we buy into a culture that’s not based on innovation and empowerment, especially in healthcare, we run the risk of finding ourselves in a maladaptive echo-chamber (everyone says yes) or a play-it-safe keeping it real space that holds us back. We find ourselves wondering why no one gets it. Don’t they see how bad things are? OR Don’t they see how great things are?

In a recent article from The World Economic Forum, James Hewitt talked about the negativity bias in humans:

For most of human history, cost-benefit decisions have favoured those with a pessimistic view. We may have missed out on some opportunities but in a threat-filled world, expecting the worst significantly increased the probability that our DNA would remain in the gene pool. A negativity bias in our thinking was adaptive.

Unfortunately, while an effective way to avoid predators, our innate skew toward the negative does not seem to be very effective at motivating us to make good decisions in the modern world.

This is clearly not about wishful thinking, positive thoughts for their own sake, or any type of Pollyannaism. We can reflect on human nature, know that we are all risk-adverse by wiring, and still (should, must) use intellect to overcome that programming. That’s the basis for innovation, breakthroughs, and seeing a clear road ahead.

After spending so much time in our healthcare arena online and in person, I’ve come to appreciate the idea of informed positivity. Informed positivity includes understanding your current environment is not permanent nor does it apply to everyone – informed positivity allows you to keep it real while also being forward-thinking, progressive, and share an outlook that encourages yourself and others.

Let’s talk about this. We want to hear what you think and find the real middle ground where we acknowledge whatever personal and professional challenges we face while finding the path forward. And if our personal experience, both at home and in our careers, is negative, are we able to support others on their journeys while we look for our own personal/professional light? Now, some may say, this is a sign of positivity. You decide!

Please join the #hcldr community of friends, peers, and collaborators as we work to make a difference, one idea and one action at a time. Join us on Tuesday, July 25, 2017 at 8:30pm Eastern (for your local time click here) as we discuss the following topics:

  • T1: How does an informed positivity matter personally and professionally? Examples?

  • T2: What type of culture is conducive to lasting innovation? Examples?

  • T3: How is the archetypal curmudgeon helpful/not helpful in healthcare?

  • T4: In what ways can we move from an echo chamber in healthcare to empowerment for risk taking while respecting those who say “no”?


Resources for Further Study

Hewitt, James. “You Are Naturally Biased to Be Negative. Here’s How to Change.” World Economic Forum, July 12, 2017.

Luthans, Kyle W., Sandra A. Lebsack, and Richard R. Lebsack. “Positivity in Healthcare: Relation of Optimism to Performance.” Journal of Health Organization and Management 22, no. 2 (2008): 178–88. doi:10.1108/14777260810876330.

Oettingen, Gabriele. “Opinion | The Problem With Positive Thinking.” The New York Times, October 24, 2014, sec. Opinion.

“Omar Khayyam.” Wikipedia, July 11, 2017.

Richards, Andrew. “Fun Question for Your next meeting ‘Who Here Can Say Yes?’ if No One Can You’re in the Wrong Meeting. #hcldr.” Tweet. @andrewintech, July 1, 2017.

“The Case For Optimism.”, May 6, 2016.

Thibodeaux, Wanda. “A Spiritual Guru Says Positive Thinking Might Be Doing You More Harm Than Good.”, May 16, 2017.

Zilca, Ran. “Dump Positive Thinking.” Psychology Today, May 7, 2014.

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