Turning Negatives Into Positives: Tips From a Navy SEAL

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Way of the SEAL" by Mark Divine. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the benefit of turning negatives into positives? How do you avoid getting trapped in a cycle of negativity?

Negativity can be hard to escape, especially if you’re not in the habit of embracing positive thoughts. With the help of Mark Divine’s book The Way of the SEAL, you can erase the negativity and begin a healthy cycle of optimism.

Discover why turning negatives into positives makes a tremendous impact on your self-esteem.

Transforming Negatives Into Positives

Once you’ve realigned your body and mind, address self-critical talk to enhance your mental fortitude. When you repeatedly respond positively to negative self-talk, you create a virtuous cycle that helps you bounce back more quickly from setbacks so you can achieve your goals. This practice promotes your sense of self-worth and confidence in your abilities, which builds your resilience and mental fortitude. 

(Shortform note: In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor explains in greater detail how training your brain to be positive works as a virtuous cycle: When you repeatedly think positively, you create a pattern that increases your a) happiness, which leads to performance improvements; b) gratitude, which elevates your energy and emotional intelligence and decreases anxiety and depression; and c) optimism, which makes you set more ambitious goals, persevere in the face of obstacles, and manage stress and challenges more effectively.)

Divine learned firsthand that when you don’t keep your emotions in check they can get the better of you. While training in hand-to-hand combat, a fellow SEAL accidentally knocked out his front tooth. Enraged, Divine lashed out then spent hours in a foul mood. He later realized that his anger had decreased his focus, led his muscles to tighten up, and worsened his performance. Once aware of this, he replaced his negative feelings with determination, which made him more confident and effective in future training.

(Shortform note: Divine’s advice to harness your thoughts fits in with Miyamoto Musashi’s argument in The Book of Five Rings. He says that before you can control your enemy, you have to control and master your limiting personal defects and bad habits. Self-control makes you an effective individual and leader and helps you to uphold broader military and social order and inspire your troops. To do this, keep your mind and body balanced so they work in sync: Maintain good posture to prepare your body for combat, stay calm under pressure so you don’t show your enemy fear, and train your perception so you’re aware of your surroundings.)

To avoid perpetuating a cycle of negativity, recognize that your feelings and thoughts aren’t you but, rather, things you experience that come and go. This creates a space between you and your emotions so you can see them as a part of you that sometimes comes to visit then leaves—and not all-defining characteristics that are you or control you. 

(Shortform note: In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle recommends a different way to manage your emotions: Practice disconnecting from them. To do this, regularly pay attention to physical signs in your body that you’re having negative thoughts, identify the feeling at the root of them, then address them. For example, if you’re aware that your fists and jaw are clenched it may be because you’re enraged or stressed. Once you realize this, observe the thoughts at the root of your anger—for example, that you’re furious that the person in the car behind you is on your tail. Once aware of this thought, consider your options to respond, like pulling over to let them pass.)

To transform negative self-talk and emotions into positives, pay attention and respond to negative self-commentary with positive, action-oriented language. For example, if you think: “I failed that test, I’m so stupid!” counter this with: “I’m smart. I’ll keep learning and working hard and ace the next test!”

(Shortform note: To beat negativity, psychologists recommend a science-based strategy: warming your brain up to positive ideas. Your brain prefers familiarity, so when you introduce positive concepts more regularly it happily welcomes them. To do this, focus on one positive word each day, or say affirming words to yourself throughout the day.)

Turning Negatives Into Positives: Tips From a Navy SEAL

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Way of the SEAL summary:

  • A former Navy SEAL's strategies to help business leaders
  • A mind-body technique that combines yoga, martial arts, and SEAL training
  • How to bolster and harness your mental fortitude

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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