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Learn to see the good and bad together

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Learn to see the good and bad together

Scott Miker

One of the things that I have learned when I talk to young people is that they tend to see things in black and white.  They see all of the pros of a situation or all of the cons but they can’t see both to realize that both always exist together.

It may be that they always see the grass as being greener on the other side or they can’t keep a job because once they start working they quickly see the hard work instead of the benefits of having that job.

Pablo Picasso has a quote that speaks to this.  He said, “Every positive value has its price in negative terms… the genius of Einstein leads to Hiroshima.”

But we tend to overlook this fact.  We want to judge something as good or bad and don’t easily see that everything good has elements of bad and everything bad has elements that are good. 

Therefore we react according to a judgment rather than according to reality.  We strive for the ideal but never seem to be able to find it.  It leaves us frustrated and unhappy.  We can’t seem to break through so we settle for complacency. 

When I was younger I often mistook contentment in life with complacency.  I thought that older people must have just given up on their pursuit of something better and accepted things as being disappointing. 

But this doesn’t have to be the case.  We can have contentment without becoming complacent.  We can feel complete and happy without having to work ourselves to death to reach extreme levels of success. 

But if we hold on to the black and white view of the world we are blind to the true pros and cons of a situation.  We have to start seeing things as they are without judgment swaying our view. 

This has been one of the habits that I have worked to change over the years.  I say it is a habit because it tends to be an automatic reaction.  In any situation our mind quickly makes decisions and for many the first thoughts are to decide if something is good or bad. 

But if this is so automatic and an immediate reaction, how can we change it? You have to be aware that having the notion that something is only good or only bad is incorrect.  Start to explore the situations to see when something shows the opposite of your first reaction. 

Also start to look at your goals and the sacrifices that will need to be made in order to reach them.  This helps to go after goals realistically.  Instead of having a rosy picture of reaching a goal, understand the difficulties that will arise and the hard work that will have to be put in to achieve that goal. 

One of the things that I tend to do is to try catching myself in the act of judging something and then ask, “Can there be other aspects that I am missing?”  If I am judging something negatively, I will ask, “what positive could come out of this?”

This starts to shift our thinking.  It happens slowly and takes work to keep doing it long enough for it to start to become habit but if you change the pattern for long enough it will change your automatic response.

The hardest part of changing this habit isn’t the logical aspects.  It is easy once you do it for a while to start to see the multiple aspects of a situation and understand that the judgment you originally made was flawed. 

The hardest part is actually handling emotions.  When someone says something that we did wrong or that we need to correct, we tend to get very defensive.  Our emotions take control and we start to think through ways to defend our position rather than truly hearing what they have to say. 

But this takes time.  It is much easier to start to explore everyday situations and try to find positive and negatives instead of sticking with a one-sided judgment.  Once you have done that for a while and have built up some positive habits around that, then start to tackle the emotional situations. 

The key to the emotional situations isn’t just to think through the issue.  You have to be able to stop and calm your initial emotional response.  If you can’t, logic will not follow. 

But learning to see the good and bad together is a great habit to work on and can have enormous benefit.  This helps you realize that things are not typically as good or bad as we initially judge them to be.  This opens the door for continued improvement because you can assess the reality of what you want to achieve and be aware of the positives and negatives that will accompany that reality.