Be Positive Without Being Positive

Richard Bransons Necker Island - photo by RobinB

Richard Branson's Necker Island - photo by RobinB

Yes, you read the title correctly. Today I want to address the difference between being positive and being positive.

Let me explain. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary gives no less than eight major definitions (and 18 sub-definitions) for the adjective “positive” . I want to focus on two of those:

8 b): Pos-i-tive (adj) – marked by optimism


1 c): Pos-i-tive (adj) – fully assured, confident

Do you ever find yourself avoiding being positive (optimistic) about something until you are positive (confident and fully assured) about it?

There are many people who always need to be fully assured about the success of the outcome before they make a move. To them, it would be irresponsible or even foolish to make decisions and take actions based on a sense of raw optimism. After all, what sort of plan is that for success?

I know about these people, because for many years I was one of them. And, I confess, there are still some mornings where I long for a sense of complete confidence and full assurance about how the day will turn out before I throw back the covers and get out of bed.

The problem with this sort of approach is that there is no way that we can control for every possible variable in a given situation. The very idea of being “fully assured” is absurd.

The other problem with this sort of approach is that it cuts us off from the vital “spice of life” called variety. Life very rarely unfolds in straight lines. I’m willing to bet that if you look back on your life, some of your best experiences happened by “accident”, or maybe you now look back and see them as “coincidences”.

The other approach that we can take towards life is to let it unfold as it will and yet maintain a positive outlook – a sense of optimism. Now if there is a part of you that is cringing at the very suggestion – if you see this idea as akin to walking around like Doris Day singing “Que Sera, Sera” – keep reading.

I am proud to be part of a project called The Monthly Wisdom Program, which provides members with at least 10 book reviews per month on a wide variety of personal development topics. I have just finished writing a review of a fantastic book by Richard Branson, head of the Virgin empire, adventurer and billionaire.

Now I don’t think that anyone familiar with Branson’s long and ever growing string of business successes would ever accuse him of not having a very strong sense of confidence and self assurance, right? Well the title of the book that I reviewed is: Screw It, Let’s Do It! That’s right, the man who started his first business at the age of fifteen and is now on the verge of launching space tourism with Virgin Galactic, relies more on his gut than on facts and figures. Just look at the title of the book’s chapters:

  • Just Do It!
  • Have Fun!
  • Be Bold
  • Challenge Yourself
  • Stand On Your Own Feet
  • Live The Moment
  • Value Family and Friends
  • Have Respect
  • Do Some Good

Branson provides some very powerful examples of how his positive outlook on life has served him well in his business and personal initiatives. He also talks about taking action without being certain of the outcome. The story of how he came to purchase his own private island is a fascinating tale of being positive without being positive.

At the age of 27, Branson fell in love with Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands. The asking price was £3,000,000. Branson boldly offered £150,000. Three months later, he got a call to say that he could have the island for £180,000. The only problem was he didn’t have that much money. His reaction?

This would cost a lot. But I was positive (his word!) I could find the money somewhere to do it and I agreed to the terms. Now all I had to do was find the money to buy the island of my dreams. It seemed out of reach, but I vowed to reach my goal.

He wraps up the story by saying: “… have fun and the money will come and in turn so will your goals….It wasn’t always easy. But when you have goals and a positive outlook on life, you have something to aim for.”

(I have made my review of Screw It, Let’s Do It! available on The audio version of my review, as well as at least 120 other book reviews per year, is available to members of The Monthly Wisdom Program)

Another book that highlights the importance of being positive without being positive is by Mark Burnett, one of the pioneers of reality television and creator of shows such as “Survivor” and “The Apprentice”. His book is called Jump In! Even If You Don’t Know How To Swim and it chronicles Burnett’s arrival in America in 1982 as a young British ex-commando with $600 and no return plane ticket. Burnett’s secret to success can be summed up in the following quote:

It’s about taking action. Nothing will ever be perfect, and nothing can be totally planned. The best you can hope for is to be about half certain of your plan and know that you and the team you’ve assembled are willing to work hard enough to overcome the inevitable problems as they arrive…. If you’re passionate, committed, and willing to believe in yourself, anything is possible. It all starts when you take that half certainty, mix it with your intuition and Jump In. Overanalyzing… will be the beginning and the end!

Our current global economic climate has left many people feeling gun shy about having an optimistic outlook on life. After all, many “sure things” have evaporated recently and uncertainty seems to rule the day. At this point, each of us has two options available:
1. Wait until you are positive about the outcome before taking any action. This includes changing careers, investing money, falling in love, starting a family and so on.
2. Realize that nothing in life is ever certain and resolve to be positive without being positive.

I urge you to take the second option. Decide what outcome you want for your life, set your intentions and goals clearly in your mind, develop a decent, yet flexible, strategy then say: Screw it, let’s do it! and jump in!




Victor Sinclair. VP of VSC International, Founder of the Positive Imperative and the Positive Music Imperative movements/concept and community, has a wide background in teaching, broadcasting, the music industry and business and most recently served as a founder and Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Canada (AmCham Canada). He has also dedicated more than 30 years of his life to volunteerism and not for profits including Big Brothers, Memorial Boys and Girls Clubs, Minor Leagues Sports and as a President and board member of several not-for-profit boards. Interests include family, biking, tennis, reading, music and PI/PMI of course.

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