Positive Thinking – 5 Ways to be Plato, not Socrates



Positive thinking. The mantra of life coaches, business mentors and bookmakers all over the world over. Positive thinking is the key to success, they insist. Thinking positive brings positive results, depending on your viewpoint, either an immutable truth or an exercise in self-delusion. The placebo effect is known and recognized, if not entirely understood. And it doesn’t really resolve the dilemma, because although it brings a positive result it relies on induced self-delusion to do so. In the business world, matters aren’t so simple. For one thing, success built on false optimism is rare and short-lived. For another, positive thinking needs a foundation in fact, reason and experience. So even if you want to think positive, it isn’t always easy. This isn’t new. The ancient Greek philosophers, Socrates and Plato, resolved the underlying truth of a belief by being dialectical – a conversation between different points of view, to establish the truth by reasoned argument. Socrates’ approach was largely negative, to refute beliefs by arguing their weaknesses. Plato, his pupil, took a different tack. He liked to arrive at a positive end by negating the negative arguments with the force of positive counter-argument.

Success is a Matter of Choice, Not Chance

This is a conflict met by entrepreneurs, as a matter of course. Everyone who ever had an idea and put it into action has met Socrates. “That idea won’t work”, he says. Sometimes he even explains why it won’t work. The entrepreneur’s response is to be Plato. The essence of his being an entrepreneur is that he has applied positive thinking from the outset. He has seen the positive in his idea and has recognized its merit. He chooses to accept his own judgement, and his dialectic seeks a positive end. So the question he asks is not “Can I do this?” but “How can I do this?” In finding his answer he doesn’t delude or lie to himself; he simply approaches each obstacle as a puzzle which, as puzzles do, has a solution. That is positive thinking in practice and the life coaches and business mentors have a point. Lack of experience precludes me from judgement on the bookmakers. The application of positive thinking is a powerful driver of an entrepreneur success. Self-belief is essential to an entrepreneur mindset; without it, the journey is harder and the obstacles higher. We’re not all blessed with self-belief, in fact most of us are naturally lacking in it. But the positive thinker can lay the necessary foundations of fact, reason and experience by his own hand. There are many ways to do this but here, from my own experience, are simple examples

Plan Everything, From the Word Go

Identify and list your objectives on your journey to success, however you define that. Plan the actions you must take on a daily, weekly, monthly and even annual basis in order to meet those objectives. Every task you undertake will then have a positive purpose and will lead to a positive goal. Keep to your plan. Every task completed will have context and will provide satisfaction and a sense, ever growing, of achievement. This is momentum. When you have momentum it becomes harder to stop than to keep going.

Focus on What You Do Well

If you’ve chosen your business thoughtfully you should enjoy what you’re doing. Focus on the stuff that speaks to your passion, do it to the best of your ability, and your sense of pride and achievement will feed your positive momentum. If you’re uncomfortable with your ability to do other things – designing a website or writing quality copy, say – delegate it. The internet is stuffed with freelancers who will do most things, well at at little cost. Don’t let your areas of weakness slow your momentum. Delegation is not failure, it’s a positive solution that keeps you on your plan.

Review Everything You Do

Regularly apply critical scrutiny to everything you do. This is a positive process. Identifying weakness allows you to eliminate that weakness and thus strengthen your business, going forward. It allows you to strengthen your own knowledge, and understanding, of your business. These are self-belief foundations built on fact, reason and experience. Equally, recognize, take pride and satisfaction in the things you have done well.  “Feel good” is important; it builds confidence and resilience.

Approach Setbacks in the Same Positive Manner

Every day is a school day. We learn as much, and maybe more, from the things that go wrong as the things that go right. Everyone makes mistakes, but we learn from them and learning is a positive process. Some setbacks are nobody’s fault. On 20 March 2014 London newspaper the Independent ran a story headlined “Psychic Cancels Live Show Due To Unforeseen Circumstances”. It can happen to anyone.

Understand that Reward is Directly Proportional with Input

This isn’t simply another way of saying “more effort = more money”. Input is more than just effort, it’s value. Value is a combination of things, including innovation, uniqueness and usefulness. The more value you develop in your business and the more value you provide to your customers the greater will be your reward. And reward is more than just money. It’s money plus pride plus satisfaction plus self-respect.  To anyone who wants these things, it is surely the pinnacle of positive thinking to understand and to appreciate, that the means to them is entirely within our own hands. After Plato came his pupil, Aristotle. His take was the one we should remember:

“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”