The Power of Bad

By Lloyd Graff

When I take my daily shower, I devote my energy to groaning and swearing at the walls. My pent up pain, not really directed at any one thing, is drowned by the noise of the water striking the floor. It is one way to dissolve the negativity that feels so powerful inside me early in the morning.

I towel off quickly and flop back into bed exhausted from the hot water and the verbal expiation, continuing my groans. After ten or fifteen minutes flat on my back in bed,  I do my fifteen minute prayer and meditation ritual, eat breakfast, and head to work, where I need to listen, solve problems, create money making possibilities, and also prepare to write this blog.

Pain and negativity get in the way of all those behaviors. Hopefully the cleansing shower helps reduce my negativity that is a permanent pebble in my shoe.

I think dealing with negative emotions is a problem every person feels. I was reminded of this by a beautiful essay that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on December 27th. Written by John Tierney and Roy Baumeister, the essay summarized their new book, “The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It.”

The new book by John Tierney and Roy Baumeister

The authors’ thesis is that we are genetically programmed to worry because if the cavegirl didn’t worry almost incessantly, she would starve or be eaten for breakfast. Vigilance and worry are bred into us so we can literally have our daily bread. But it can make for a lousy life.

Parents, even “good parents,” often reinforce the fear in their kids: “You want to succeed in life, you better ace that test.” The news media reinforces negative feelings because it’s rarely news if it isn’t something bad.

The task in business is to keep the “bad guys,” ie. the Bank, the competitors, and the purchasing agents, from chopping our legs off, while keeping our team positive. It ain’t easy, and a few mistakes, sometimes just one, can spell ruin for a 25 year firm.

Tierney and Baumeister argue that one bad thing, even if softened by several good things, can ruin your day. Their rule of thumb is that it takes four good things to compensate for one bad one, so if you are unkind to a spouse or co-worker, think about several nice actions to compensate.

They point out how one bad apple in the office or on the shop floor can pollute a business, especially with the power of social media and gossip.

They stress the value of sharing good news, but I also think that sharing the hurt can also be powerful because most people understand pain and can alleviate it just by listening with compassion.

One other fascinating point they brought out is that older people seem to be happier and more grateful than younger ones. I find this a bit counterintuitive, but they argue that we tend to remember the happier stuff when we are older. Maybe, but the aches and pains sure do hurt at times.

Personally, I am deeply aware of my negativity bias. I don’t know if I ever felt the Chicago Cubs would win a game, but I am still a lifelong fan. My business life requires a constant façade of confidence and belief and yes, I do convince myself I can be a winner at times. In a business that requires taking daily risks, I need a team that is not needy, is not afraid to confront me, but does not dwell on failure when bets don’t come in.

I am curious how the readers of this blog deal with negativity. Can you douse it? Can you identify it and somehow make it your friend? Or are you one of those rare souls who knows the sun will shine on them every day?

Question: How do you make things less bad?

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7 thoughts on “The Power of Bad

  1. alan bjork

    Lloyd, compared to probably 95% of the rest of world, you have it made.

    look for pictures of people in puerto rico, first a hurricane, now an earthquake.

    then, go back to the hospital that saved your life and go to the kids cancer wing.
    tell me how you feel then.

  2. Lloyd Graff

    I agree, but going to the cancer ward does not cleanse you of negative thoughts. I hope it works for you that way.

  3. Michael

    Lloyd –

    Not to be trite, but when things go south at high speed I give thanks for what I have at the present moment:
    * All of my fingers
    * Food in my belly and in the refrigerator
    * Clothes on my back
    * Roof over my head
    * Eyes that can see and a brain that can think clearly
    * Friends and family that care about my well being
    * I don’t live in a toxic waste area or a war zone.
    To put whatever crisis being managed in perspective, I remind myself that Bad is better than Disaster, which is better than sheer Hell.
    Cancer is always Bad. Cancer with poor medical care is often a Disaster. Cancer with no medical care is usually sheer Hell.
    With sincere thanks for your posts and best wishes to your friends and family,

  4. Seth Emerson

    My brother gifted me with the often appropriate response. It can be said outright when someone mentions their “issue”, or just thought internally. “First World Problem”. Here’s to a good year ahead, Lloyd, with only “first world problems” .

  5. Lloyd Graff

    Actually, Noah uses the term frequently. My daughter lives and works in the Bay area and has many wealthy congregants who are obsessed with Global warming, Donald Trump and the threat to the banana supply. They think the world is a mess, yet the standard of living in America has risen dramatically, cancer deaths are declining, and the new Apple 11 has amazing battery life. And they can afford Silicon Valley.
    What are we complaining about?

  6. r in nyc

    I put an instant gas fired hot water heater in my home because I need a good 1/2 hour long shower in the morning to get going also. I got some good rock-n-roll on the shower radio to also help wake up.

    Setting up a machine for a new part and watching it run always brings joy and satisfaction.

    A few hours at the shooting range is always a wonderful stress reliever.

    I love volunteering.
    The rewards of satisfaction helping the community mentoring “STEM” at local schools and working with the Moose and KofC improving the neighborhood always provides a feeling of satisfaction.

    And is a great way to make friends.

    Friends, positive ones, are great!!!
    It has been said that lots of people haven’t any GOOD friends and half the country have great trouble making new friends.
    I am blessed to have many positive friends.

    It is said:
    The optimist says the glass is half full
    the pessimist says the glass is half empty
    The engineer says it is always full – 1/2 air & 1/2 whisky
    the tool maker knows the glass is just the wrong size.

    The optimist and the pessimist are each right about half the time, but the optimist has a better life.

    At night some fine aged barrel strength bourbon with a good friend takes the edge off a rough day.

    25 million American adults are taking antidepressants.
    This has doubled over the last several years.
    We are just creating zombies
    And the side effects can be suicidal thoughts.
    What happened to people? we were the toughest most resilient places on earth.
    Now we have a generation of delicate snowflakes

    Suck it up buttercup!!!

    Social media is just corrosive!

    The Saul Alinsky, “ends justify the means” “resist” socialists are just making themselves and people around them wretchedly unhappy.

    AlGore, flying around in private jets, heating and cooling a bunch of private mansions, creating the hugest carbon footprint lecturing us 20 years ago that the earth would be burned up by now and covered in water. (oxymoron?)
    We have to change our lives and livelihood, but not him. Gotta love limousine liberals 🙂
    Greta told us last year we are ALL going to die in 12 years, wait its now 2020, we only have 11 years left before we all die.
    And we wonder why so many are miserable and depressed.

    I am loving the Making of America Great again!
    I am not complaining.
    And I am not sick of Winning…


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