User Error! – The Power of Negative Thinking

I watched a great Tedx talk today by Jeannie Walters. Gini Dietrich – thankfully – posted the video on her regular Gin and Topics round up. Titled Meaningful Micro-engagements (you can watch it here) it got me thinking on this fine Saturday morning.

In the talk, Jeannie makes a passionate plea to all of us: actually, you really SHOULD sweat the small stuff! The details. She makes us consider the bazillion little moments of connection we all have every single day. With people. With brands. With organizations. With technology.

Each one of those moments – if not well thought out and beautifully produced – can throw a wrench into a person’s day. Or, at the very least, leave them with a bad taste in their mouth.

Her examples were hilarious and spot on: badly worded error messages. On screen text that pops up in all caps (ouch! stop yelling at me!). Online forms that are impossible to figure out but fail to help you figure out why.

Her point was simple: We all deal with technology now every single day of our lives. Many of us deal with it from the minute we wake up to the minute we go back to sleep. The interactions we have with said technology better be smart. Better be clear. And most of all, better be human.

User Error

As I mentioned above, her talk got me thinking. It got me thinking about the other bazillion meaningful micro-engagements each one of us make every day.

With ourselves.

How many times a day do you silently “user error” yourself?

“Girl, you look so fat in that!” “Way to spill your coffee, idiot!” “Oh my god I’m such a loser!” “Man, that person is so smart. How come I’m not that smart?” “Failed again, eh?” “Why can’t you just be more *insert any number of things*??”

Throw in some ever present bad-parent guilt and you’ve pretty much got the day wrapped up.

I probably “user error” myself fifty times a day. AND, it’s something I’ve studied, am very self-aware of, and actively try hard to stop! Imagine how many times a day you do it. (By the way, men, you’re not off the hook here. I have many many male friends who do the same thing.)

Bottom line is this: Screw the self-help books – sweating the small stuff IS important. But do me a favour, ok? If you’re going to sweat the small stuff for your clients and customers, and make their dealings with your brand or your product a little more sunshiny? Try and do the same a few times a day for yourself.

NOTE: I wanted to add some additional info on negative talk. Below are some tips from the Mayo Clinic on how to identify and change what I like to call “personal user-error usage”:

Not sure if your self-talk is positive or negative? Here are some common forms of negative self-talk:

  • Filtering. You magnify the negative aspects of a situation and filter out all of the positive ones. For example, say you had a great day at work. You completed your tasks ahead of time and were complimented for doing a speedy and thorough job. But you forgot one minor step. That evening, you focus only on your oversight and forget about the compliments you received.
  • Personalizing. When something bad occurs, you automatically blame yourself. For example, you hear that an evening out with friends is canceled, and you assume that the change in plans is because no one wanted to be around you.
  • Catastrophizing. You automatically anticipate the worst. The drive-through coffee shop gets your order wrong and you automatically think that the rest of your day will be a disaster.
  • Polarizing. You see things only as either good or bad, black or white. There is no middle ground. You feel that you have to be perfect or that you’re a total failure.

Focusing on positive thinking

You can learn to turn negative thinking into positive thinking. The process is simple, but it does take time and practice — you’re creating a new habit, after all. Here are some ways to think and behave in a more positive and optimistic way:

  • Identify areas to change. If you want to become more optimistic and engage in more positive thinking, first identify areas of your life that you typically think negatively about, whether it’s work, your daily commute or a relationship, for example. You can start small by focusing on one area to approach in a more positive way.
  • Check yourself. Periodically during the day, stop and evaluate what you’re thinking. If you find that your thoughts are mainly negative, try to find a way to put a positive spin on them.
  • Be open to humor. Give yourself permission to smile or laugh, especially during difficult times. Seek humor in everyday happenings. When you can laugh at life, you feel less stressed.
  • Follow a healthy lifestyle. Exercise at least three times a week to positively affect mood and reduce stress. Follow a healthy diet to fuel your mind and body. And learn to manage stress.
  • Surround yourself with positive people. Make sure those in your life are positive, supportive people you can depend on to give helpful advice and feedback. Negative people may increase your stress level and make you doubt your ability to manage stress in healthy ways.
  • Practice positive self-talk. Start by following one simple rule: Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to anyone else. Be gentle and encouraging with yourself. If a negative thought enters your mind, evaluate it rationally and respond with affirmations of what is good about you.


14 thoughts on “User Error! – The Power of Negative Thinking

  1. I am so honored that this is an even bigger discussion taking off from the talk. What an incredible way to pull the thread to the ways each of us are human and struggle with this negative self-talk. I do. This is a wonderful reminder to treat ourselves with the same respect we typically treat others. Thank you, Lindsay! I will be carrying this one in my heart and head for a while.

    • @jeanniecw Jeannie, I seriously loved your talk. It was perfect. And the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I was really struggling this morning with cravings (just quit smoking – for the umpteenth hundredth time), and was starting to feel very negative and like giving up. But I got so drawn into your talk, then BOOM – before I knew it I was reworking my (sadly neglected) blog and writing away! Thanks again – so much – for the inspiration! 😀

    • @ginidietrich I saw on the news yesterday that sedentary lifestyles and lot’s of stress can lessen your lifespan by as much as 6 years. That’s crazy eh? Exercise helps me feel better mentally, there’s no question. I actually don’t exercise expecting a buff body as much as a settled, happier brain. :)

  2. I believe what you said was very logical. But, consider this,
    suppose you composed a catchier post title? I am not saying your information isn’t good, but suppose you added a
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    – The Power of Negative Thinking | Communication in a Digital World is a little plain. You might glance at Yahoo’s
    home page and note how they write post headlines to get viewers to open the links.

    You might add a related video or a pic or two to grab readers excited
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  3. How interesting that you believe in positive thinking when you attacked me as a post one someone ELSE’S blog post. How was that positive exactly? Practice what you preach, and I’d be glad to take you seriously.

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