What’s Next?

True visionaries are forward-looking people. They have the faith to imagine possibilities. This is why they are uniquely capable of answering the question “What’s next?”

Where there is no vision, the people perish…

– Proverbs 29:18 KJV

Rare is the leader capable of providing a vision. These leaders are individuals who possess the combination of imagination and faith necessary to turn dreams into reality. This explains why so many organizations decay and die, because as the ancient text of Scripture teaches us, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

There are many who believe they are visionaries. First, there are those who mistake vision for the ability to unify and motivate with the promise of more money, status, or power. Still others confuse vision with the capacity to unify and motivate people to be critical, angry, and against something. 

True visionaries are forward-looking people. They have the faith to imagine possibilities. This is why they are uniquely capable of answering the question “What’s next?”

The Power of Bad

Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

– Romans 12:21 NLT

Developing a visionary answer to the question of “What’s next?” for ourselves, our loved ones, or the organizations to which we belong or lead requires the ability to conquer “the power of bad.” We must be able to face evil without becoming negative so we can do good.

The Power of Bad is a book written by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney. It  explains the importance of understanding our brains and their inclination to focus on the bad rather than the good.

Take the bad with the good, we stoically tell ourselves. But that’s not how the brain works. Our minds and lives are skewed by a fundamental imbalance that is just now becoming clear to scientists: Bad is stronger than good.

The Power of Bad, John Tierney & Roy F. Baumeister 

Vision is positive. We settle for motivating people with the transient reward of power or rallying them against something because vision is so much more difficult. 

Vision is about the possibilities, not the problems. Vision emphasizes what we are for rather than what we are against. Vision is what makes a person remain with an organization rather than chasing more money, status, or power.  

Vision is difficult. It demands more than a cool cliché as a theme like “What’s Next?” The visionary must confront his or her own negativity in order to defeat what Baumeister and Tierney call “the negativity effect.”

What's next

This power of bad goes by several names in the academic literature: the negativity bias, negativity dominance, or simply the negativity effect. By any name, it means the universal tendency for negative events and emotions to affect us more strongly than positive ones. We’re devastated by a word of criticism but unmoved by a shower of praise.

The Power of Bad, John Tierney & Roy F. Baumeister 

There are four questions we must ask ourselves about “the power of bad” and the negativity bias in our own lives if we are going to conquer the evil influences which undermine our capacity for vision and good:

  1. How difficult or easy is it for you to develop a vision for yourself, your loved ones, or the organization(s) to which you belong?
  2. How do you motivate yourself or others with money, status, or power instead of vision?
  3. What organizations or relationships are you a part of (if any) which emphasize what they are against instead of what they are for? Describe the negative effect this has on you and those involved. 
  4. How would developing a vision be better than the more transient or negative motivations in questions two and three?

Conquering Negative Emotions

Cognitive behavioral therapy was developed in the 1960s by Aaron Beck, a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania. At the time, Freudian ideas dominated psychiatry. Clinicians assumed that depression and the distorted thinking it produces were just the surface manifestation of deeper problems, usually stretching back to unresolved childhood conflict. To treat depression, you had to fix the underlying problem, and that could take many years of therapy. But Beck saw a close connection between the thoughts a person had and the feelings that came with them. 

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, Greg Lukianoff & Jonathan Haidt

I have discovered that on too many occasions I am listening to my negative emotions. Perhaps you can relate. While this does not necessarily indicate a need for therapy, the insights provided by social psychologists and the thinking behind books like The Coddling of the American Mind can be enlightening and instructive.

Haidt’s and Lukianoff’s insights about the work of Aaron Beck can help us understand why negativity grips us and makes positive, visionary thinking difficult.  

He noticed that his patients tended to get themselves caught in a feedback loop in which irrational negative beliefs caused powerful negative feelings, which in turn seemed to drive patients’ reasoning, motivating them to find evidence to support their negative beliefs. Beck noticed a common pattern of beliefs, which he called the “cognitive triad” of depression: “I’m no good,” “My world is bleak,” and “My future is hopeless.”

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, Greg Lukianoff & Jonathan Haidt

Who hasn’t experienced the “cognitive triad” inflaming our minds with the negative thoughts of “I’m no good,” “My world is bleak,” and “My future is hopeless”?  This is “the power of bad” at work in our lives, eroding our capacity for positivity or the ability to develop a vision and sustain hope.

Breaking the grip of our negative emotions is a crucial next step to becoming visionary thinkers.

Beck’s great discovery was that it is possible to break the disempowering feedback cycle between negative beliefs and negative emotions. If you can get people to examine these beliefs and consider counterevidence, it gives them at least some moments of relief from negative emotions, and if you release them from negative emotions, they become more open to questioning their negative beliefs. It takes some skill to do this—depressed people are very good at finding evidence for the beliefs in the triad.

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, Greg Lukianoff & Jonathan Haidt

The idea of “disempowering” our negative beliefs and negative emotions is the key to overcoming the bad and evil influences on our minds, hearts, and lives. This inside work is necessary work if we want to become visionary people and leaders. Let’s take a moment to reflect on how we can overcome our negative emotions.

  1. Identify 3-5 negative emotions that dominate your life.
  2. Examine the negative thoughts behind these emotions, then question them and look for evidence that they are incorrect.
  3. List the problems behind the negative thoughts and emotions, then write down the possibilities if you were to tackle and conquer them. Now take those possibilities and create a vision for your life based on the faith that you can be successful at turning them from dream to reality.

Be like Jackson

A few days ago, Jackson, a friend of my son’s, surprised me by sharing he was likely to finish college earlier than he had expected. Jackson is one of those college students with whom I have shared my meager wisdom to be patient with delays and setbacks, to understand that just because your peers get ahead of you in one area or another, it doesn’t mean you are making wrong choices.

Jackson had always impressed me with his tenacity, the willingness to face and fight negative thoughts and emotions. The news he shared with me was the result of his parents’ work to support his dreams, which gave him the faith to resist negativity, but I didn’t know the whole story of how impressive his journey had been.

Apparently, when Jackson was in 6th grade, his counselor told him he might not graduate college and should make alternate plans for life without a college degree. While I am certain some will provide explanations for why an 11-year-old needs to understand their limits at such an early age, it is my position that someone that age needs to know their possibilities more than their impossibilities. They need a vision. They need to know what’s next. 

What can we learn from Jackson? He faced “the power of bad” in the form of an individual who lacked the ability to provide vision. But because of his parents and an abiding faith in the possibilities of life, here he is graduating from college earlier than he expected. While I imagine the visionless counselor is still entangling 11-year-old kids with his or her negative bias, Jackson stands as an example of someone who found his “next” despite the negative.

Conclusion

Vision is essential in overcoming the inevitable bad, evil, and negative in this world. Without vision we will die a little every day, so why not begin the work of overcoming our negative emotions so we can be like Jackson, turning our impossibilities into possibilities? 

The Lead Different Podcast

Our most recent podcast, “Why Inclusivity and Understanding Are Necessary When Talking about Vaccines,” exemplifies this power of vision at work in our communities. I talk with Dr. Dave Traver and Dr. Dieter Bruno about how to make sure underserved communities can discover their “next.”
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