The power of positive thinking

Sorry about the title, which is meant ironically and hence may be misleading. First, apologies for something not related to quant finance at all but I've been getting jaded with posts like "I've got a 2.9 GPA in sociology; what are my chances of getting into a top quant program?" I recall Alain replying to one such post by saying in effect that the poster had a snowball's chance in hell (or something to that effect). Which was realistic -- rather than the blindly optimistic outlook so prevalent in the US of A.

Barbaba Ehrenreich is coming out with a book next month, titled "Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America." A foretaste of the book can be found here. It's the kind of book that should have been written years (if not decades) ago. Charlatans have been leading a credulous American population astray for generations. Walk into any Barnes and Noble and you'll see books by the likes of Napoleon Hill and Norman Vincent Peale (as well as a gaggle of others).

Obsessive positive thinking, I am now convinced, is a mental disease. Pushing positivity has been part of an ideological drive to stop Americans from looking at collective responses and solutions. Broke and jobless? Not a societal problem; it's your personal problem and you've got to be "positive" about dealing with it. Whereas the French and Greeks, say, may collectively riot, occupy factories, and kidnap bosses.

People need to be realistic. Sometimes they need to be told they don't have a snowball's chance in hell -- so that they can do something else more constructive with their lives than chasing futile dreams and illusions.
 
Obsessive positive thinking, I am now convinced, is a mental disease.

I agree (in the right contexts), but so is excessive negative thinking without action.

I recently checked out Ehrenreich's book. Although she spends most of it trying to dispel illusions (like attempts to explain the Law of Attraction with hard sciences), in the end there actually is a call to action. More specifically, it is a call to activism (social, political), of using collective power to effect change--like your example with the factory workers, though maybe less violent. I don’t necessarily agree, but it is a point worth considering. On a related note, I wouldn’t think most people on this forum would have the inclination towards activism.

I've been getting jaded with posts like "I've got a 2.9 GPA in sociology; what are my chances of getting into a top quant program?" I recall Alain replying to one such post by saying in effect that the poster had a snowball's chance in hell (or something to that effect). Which was realistic -- rather than the blindly optimistic outlook so prevalent in the US of A.
...
People need to be realistic. Sometimes they need to be told they don't have a snowball's chance in hell -- so that they can do something else more constructive with their lives than chasing futile dreams and illusions.

Good point, but I don’t think it’s ethical or correct to tell someone “you will never do X, Y, Z in your life" unless it’s something both extreme and specific, like proving the Riemann Hypothesis (if you're not a child prodigy) or running a 3-minute mile (if you're not Kenyan.) I do think that it is right to encourage people (or, in some cases, flat out tell them) to be more flexible with their ambitions, and I think Andy and others have done a good job of that here.
 
I agree (in the right contexts), but so is excessive negative thinking without action.

I recently checked out Ehrenreich's book. Although she spends most of it trying to dispel illusions (like attempts to explain the Law of Attraction with hard sciences), in the end there actually is a call to action. More specifically, it is a call to activism (social, political), of using collective power to effect change--like your example with the factory workers, though maybe less violent. I don’t necessarily agree, but it is a point worth considering. On a related note, I wouldn’t think most people on this forum would have the inclination towards activism.

Good point, but I don’t think it’s ethical or correct to tell someone “you will never do X, Y, Z in your life" unless it’s something both extreme and specific, like proving the Riemann Hypothesis (if you're not a child prodigy) or running a 3-minute mile (if you're not Kenyan.) I do think that it is right to encourage people (or, in some cases, flat out tell them) to be more flexible with their ambitions, and I think Andy and others have done a good job of that here.

I agree, positive thinking is definitely good. And it's certainly better than negative thinking. But, positive thinking by itself won't cut it; it's awareness that matters more. Too many people are just not aware of their flaws and limitations. If they were maybe they could actually start bettering themselves...

One thing I don't get though is... why do you need to be a child prodigy to prove the Riemann Hypothesis or be Kenyan to run a 3-minute mile? Was this sarcasm?
 
Hey I have a 3.32 engineering GPA from Lehigh and a 3.81 MS in statistics from Rutgers and 770 on my GRE Q! Durr wud are my chances for an MFE derp derp ?:X

Lulz.

Okay, on a more serious note...

The difference between history and today is that in the past, violent protests actually were able to work. Today, if you'd try anything violent, you'd get put down by the might of the U.S. military/police forces.

In terms of non-violent protests, well, that happened in the financial crisis. Goldman Sachs in the meantime is more profitable than ever before. Much good those protests did. Yeah, so Lloyd and some GSers got harangued by some congresscritters...big deal. They're laughing all the way back to their bank. Plus, at the end of the day...it's the corporations that are in charge here. The congressmen are bought. They try anything fishy that affects the interests of a massive business? Oh, remember those millions of dollars of campaign contributions? They're going to your opponents now!

In the US, fault doesn't matter. If you're broke and jobless, it isn't the company that laid you off or the hiring managers that won't hire you that are going to fall back on their mortgage/not be able to send their kids to summer camp/yadda yadda. In short, fault is irrelevant. What is relevant is that it's your problem, and it's up to you to solve it.

Is this the best of all worlds? In all likelihood, no. But it is the status quo, and nobody preaching hope and change is going to make a dent in it. The way to improve your lot is to simply buckle down, bite the bullet, and work within the bounds of the system rather than whine about how it's unfair. If you want to whine and enjoy ten weeks of vacation every year, move to Europe.
 
I agree, positive thinking is definitely good. And it's certainly better than negative thinking.

Why is it either/or? In chess, "positive thinking" (i.e., overrating the possibilities of your position) means you go down in flames. This happens quite a bit with American players, who assess only their possibilities and ignore the positional, defensive, and counter-attacking resources of the opponent. "Negative thinking" in chess means you don't grasp the opportunities that are there. Both are evils to steer clear of. The objective is a detailed, impartial realism at the board. Every strong player attains this in large measure. In his book, "The Improving Chess Thinker," Dan Heisman calls this "reality chess," in contrast to "hope chess." It seems that both positive and negative thinking impose fantasies and emotions on the fabric of reality.
 
I agree, positive thinking is definitely good. And it's certainly better than negative thinking.

That's not exactly what I said. The book argues that unconditional acceptance of shallow positive thinking has led to problems of varying scope and magnitude (personal, economic) and can be dangerously misleading. My claim, which was really more of a side note and neither contradicts nor agrees with the book's thesis, was that persistent negativity is only good if one takes effective action; otherwise it is crippling and infectious.

But, positive thinking by itself won't cut it; it's awareness that matters more. Too many people are just not aware of their flaws and limitations. If they were maybe they could actually start bettering themselves...

I appreciate the direction you're trying to take this, but your statement is sufficiently vague that no one would disagree. Can you give a concrete example (yourself, someone you have known) to illustrate? Preferably related to quant finance, so this digression remains as germane as possible :eek:

One thing I don't get though is... why do you need to be a child prodigy to prove the Riemann Hypothesis or be Kenyan to run a 3-minute mile? Was this sarcasm?

Showing early brilliance is a necessary but not sufficient condition for solving history's greatest problems in mathematics. (For example, Andrew Wiles first resolved to conquer FLT at age 10.) Really, though, I'm preemptively covering my ass in case some one wants to make the counter argument that some ambitions are impossible. :rolleyes: As for the Kenyans...

(kenyans)
 
On a side note, I found Robert Ringer's Winning through Intimidation to be an effective antidote to groundless positive thinking. The book's long been out of print but there are doubtless used copies floating around. The author used to stand in front of a mirror every morning and try to pump himself full of positive thinking; the rest of the day he would get the **** kicked out of him. After a while he began to think something was wrong with this obsessive and fanatical positive attitude that was yielding absolutely nothing and started to formulate his own theory of life. A synopsis (of sorts) can be found here. I like his "theory of sustenance of a positive attitude through the assumption of a negative outcome."

I also like the way he classifies all people in the business world into three types:

Type 1: Makes no pretence he's out to grab all your chips.
Type 2: Talks a lot about integrity, honesty and that's he's not interested in grabbing your chips. Then he tries to grab your chips.
Type 3: Even sincerely believes he's not going to try to grab your chips. Then -- for reasons beyond his control -- tries to grab your chips.
 
I personally think it's closely related to narcissism. I thoroughly recommend reading "The Narcissism Epidemic" by authors I can't remember - very insightful.
 
Hey I have a 3.32 engineering GPA from Lehigh and a 3.81 MS in statistics from Rutgers and 770 on my GRE Q! Durr wud are my chances for an MFE derp derp ?:X

Well...awkward language aside, I think you would be a good candidate for the "keep your ambitions flexible" advice. For example, if you were to declare "My goal is to be working at Renaissance Technologies within the next 10 years," I think people would be right in telling you to be realistic; given the kinds of people Rentec recruits and they way they do so, that goal is too extreme and too specific. On the other hand, if you remain flexible about the kinds of careers in quantitative modelling you pursue (not even necessarily finance), then your passion can take you somewhere great. Note my deliberate use of a vague term.

While we're shamelessly promoting books in this thread, I highly recommend Robert Greene's last book. It beautifully weaves together realism with a sense of destiny, emphasizing the importance of working with the chaos that life presents to adjust your ambition to something realizable.
 
Why is it either/or? In chess, "positive thinking" (i.e., overrating the possibilities of your position) means you go down in flames. This happens quite a bit with American players, who assess only their possibilities and ignore the positional, defensive, and counter-attacking resources of the opponent. "Negative thinking" in chess means you don't grasp the opportunities that are there. Both are evils to steer clear of. The objective is a detailed, impartial realism at the board. Every strong player attains this in large measure. In his book, "The Improving Chess Thinker," Dan Heisman calls this "reality chess," in contrast to "hope chess." It seems that both positive and negative thinking impose fantasies and emotions on the fabric of reality.

It's not either/or. But I think you started this thread with a personal conception of what "positive thinking" is and you're not allowing for a broader definition. You seem to be defining positive thinking as a wholehearted but possibly blind belief in one's abilities. For instance, "overrating the possibilities of your position" in chess isn't positive thinking; it's reckless thinking. Positive thinking is more like, believing in your ability to make the necessary adjustments as circumstances change. Viewing positive thinking this way, how can one even say that thinking positively is not always better than thinking negatively?? How can confidence not be better than constantly telling yourself you're gonna fail? There's really no need to even get philosophical about this...
 
Maybe positive thinking is the wrong idea. I think being realistic is essential, but determined and not giving up are attributes of success. Also, for every person out of work and broke because of structural changes, there is at least another person out of work and broke because they give up and refuse to think of ideas.

No one likes being around someone who is perpetually negative, the same with someone who oozes cheerfulness all the time. I do think being the kind of person who sucks it up and gets the job done, instead of complaining and looking for excuses, is a person people would want on their team.
 
Ehhh...from personal experience, having been around two extremely positive people in my life and one extremely negative one...the positive ones are always a pleasure to see.

The negative one you never want to see, or hear from.

Sometimes the positiveness can get a bit over the top, but they never deliberately ruin your day.
 
Top