Negative Thinking: In Gaming & In Life

By no means am I certified psychologist, but I don't think it takes one to say that negative thinking is blatantly a bad thing. Not simply as a viewpoint but as an overall effect on your mental health and well being. I struggled with how to word this blog for a bit, because negative thinking can certainly be linked with mental illness and naturally I have no intention of invalidating the significant struggle that people face when it comes to mental illness. Some people are much more prone to negative thoughts then others, I certainly understand. However, negativity is a monster, and left unchecked it can not only ruin your current gaming goals and other hobbies but can significantly damage relationships, and your perception of yourself and the people around you.

Back in November Bossman wrote an excellent blog post titled "Positivity in Gaming & In Life" where he touches on the mindset of giving up and CNY's seemingly boundless cloud of negativity. Don't worry, I'm not simply rehashing Bossman's article, rather touching on his important message and objective.  Bossman uses League of Legends as an example to emphasize why it's so important to not give up and fall into a negative cycle of thought in gaming, and how that directly relates to life. Whether it be in the gaming realm or elsewhere, if you're willing to give up so easily you're doing yourself and your team a grand injustice. As Bossman says, "Nothing is easy, there is always struggle and short-term failure...quitting is the easy way out."

It looks like somebody already lost.

Negativity goes hand and hand with pessimism, or a defeatist attitude. I've read a good amount about philosophical pessimism and I understand the purpose for that way of thinking. In fact, I've fallen into small fits of pessimism where I genuinely believed it was a safer mindset, I'm sure many have. "I can't be disappointed if I expect nothing!". I now strongly believe it's just not a pathway to a fulfilling life, even though an entire philosophy would argue otherwise. It's easy for an event to happen and to immediately trigger a negative response, (as I'm writing this a Mobber got ganked in League of Legends and is vocally frustrated) and that's pretty normal. Reacting negatively to a bad thing doesn't make one a "pessimist" but expecting the worst and giving up hope at the first sign of resistance to your goal certainly does. Typically whenever somebody calls a pessimist just that, they tend to say "No, I'm just being realistic!". To me a realist is somebody who makes unbiased judgement and sees the world through no filter, positive or negative, which is certainly not the case when one's thinking is just self damaging and unreasonable. Realism is a philosophy which attempts to depict things as accurately as possible. That being said, I think considering worst case scenarios does have a place; for example, the weather. If you are facing down a hurricane it's technically pessimistic to say, "If I drive right now, I will crash and die." While it may be a grim way to think, it is a preventative measure to keep yourself safe from harm in a situation where being optimistic is extremely unrealistic, which in this case would best be classified as being a realist. A pessimist would probably be the guy shouting "We're all going to die!" at the local shelter, which is distinctly not helping. On the opposite end of the spectrum lies the optimist, which by definition goes hand in hand with positive thinking. Optimists prefer to see the bright side of every situation, sometimes to the point of absurdity. Lemony Snicket's "Series of Unfortunate Events" is one of my favorite book series from my childhood (and recently adapted into a Netflix Original show!) and in the 4th book readers are presented with a character named Phil. Phil is portrayed as an incredibly exaggerated overly optimistic guy, seeing the bright side of every absolutely miserable situation he finds himself in, and the author uses him as a wonderful example of the strength of perspective. 

"For instance, if an optimist had his left arm chewed off by an alligator, he might say, in a pleasant and hopeful voice, "Well this isn't too bad. I don't have my left arm anymore but at least nobody will ever ask me if I am left-handed or right-handed again! I can also get half price manicures!" Where as the rest of us may say something like - "Ahhhh my arm!" 

Phil would be telling everyone at the shelter that everything will be fine. While neither sides of this spectrum are particularly realistic in every situation, optimism is what gives people hope and motivation. Pessimism takes it away. That's the major difference. Phil may be an unrealistic and exaggerated character, but he cheers up the protagonists multiple times just by being hopeful, which allows for a positive thought cycle which helps solve problems. Pessimism is simply destructive. 

So with all this being said, it seems like a complete no-brainer to focus on being positive while doing something competitive like gaming. I've seen massive leads in League get thrown away because the player could not keep their cool and tilted themselves into a whirlpool of negative thoughts. I've also seen instant negativity being spewed within 3 minutes of a match starting over a very small problem. I can't seem to stress enough that when you fall prey to this kind of thinking you are quite literally setting yourself up to fail. It's a self fulfilling prophecy that pessimists only prove to be true by saying "See! I told you I was going to lose!". Just like Bossman said in his blog, short term failure is an absolute truth in most things and you can chose to see some bad losses as a "waste of time" or you can view them as a learning experience and a step to becoming a better competitor. What if Tom Brady gave up after his Rookie year or if Einstein called it quits when he flunked out of school? It's not helping you reach your goal by making up excuses for yourself. Check out this super cheery chart for a quick reference on your mindset -

Negative Thinking
"There's no way that hit me!"
"That guy is definitely hacking."
"I'll never rank up."
"This character is busted."
"Why do I even bother."
"My team sucks!"
"This meta sucks."
"I suck!"

Positive Thinking
"I won't lose next time."
"I'm going to become as good as that guy!"
"I got my ass kicked but I learned some stuff!"
"I think I understand this match-up a little better now."
"I'm going to find my place in this meta."

Like I mentioned above, I'm no psychologist but it's clear to see what is more productive here, right?

At this point I'm sure I've made my point, but understanding that acting like Eeyore isn't helpful is just a small step. I fully understand being pessimistic sometimes is distinctly not a personal choice, it can feel like an affliction. The true difficulty in combating negative thinking lies in reversing the spiral. Judith Beck, a psychologist and the current president of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy in Bala Cynwyd, PA has studied this subject pretty thoroughly. Dr. Beck believes thinking styles are developed genetically or formed as a result of childhood experiences, among other ways. Essentially, one can be pretty locked into thinking negatively or positively without much choice. The actual danger of negative thinking occurs when "negative cycles" are formed, which is basically negative obsession over an issue. These issues can be as large as family issues or as small as getting ganked in League of Legends, but they can be similarly destructive. Negative thoughts reinforce negative emotions which in turn produce negative actions that create negative thoughts that reinforce....well you get the idea. In the world of gaming we like to call this tilting. How does one tame these never ending cycles? Dr. Beck says the first step is the most surprising. Don't try to stop them. Dr. Beck states, "Worry and obsession get much worse when you try to control your thoughts." Instead, Dr. Beck suggests you need to identify that you are snowballing in a negative thought cycle and own it. Tell yourself, "I'm obsessing over money" or "I'm obsessing over my Overwatch rank, therefore I want to win this match.", etc, etc. Understanding a problem is absolutely critical in solving it. Once you identify why this particular cycle exists, it's time to face it.

Facing down your own mind/feelings sounds like something out of an anime, but it is honestly something so many people avoid when it is exactly what they need to do to feel much better. However, unlike most animes, this is pretty simple. Dr. Beck suggests many ways to break a negative cycle once you understand it, one of them being the Socratic Questioning Method. If your very best friend was in the same negative cycle you currently are in (remember this can be as small as tilting in a game of League of Legends), what advice would you give? Now simply relate that advice to yourself. As incredibly simple as this sounds, this method has shown impressive statistics of success when it comes to breaking people out of a pessimistic slump. I think one of Dr. Beck's most applicable suggestions in relation to gaming is how important it is to separate a validity from projection. For example, "I got last place in today's tournament" may be an actual truth, but "I will get last place in every tournament" is simply a pessimistic projection that is not valid, and can just as easily be turned into "I will work hard to not get last place again.". She also suggests simply taking a deep breath in times of strife, stopping the cycle before it happens. I like that one.   

Before you dismiss this as psycho babble mumbo jumbo, if you find yourself getting tilted in a game or even if you have a much bigger problem, I implore you to give this stuff a shot. You certainly don't need to become Phil, but working your way to the middle of the spectrum is an excellent start. I promise you your games will be more fun, you will be a better teammate and even the biggest problems/unwinnable games will seem more solvable/winnable. Just make an effort to see the bright side, and the bright side will be much clearer in the future. I'm currently having a hell of a time playing against Supergirl players in the Injustice 2 Beta and before allowing myself to adopt a pessimistic mindset about the match up, I took a deep breath and mentally averted getting pessimistic. I'm still losing most of the matches, but I'm starting to win more then before, because I got so much match-up practice! 

"The more your brain dwells on the negative, the more accustomed your brain is to dwelling on the negative. Are my thoughts tearing me down or building me up?" - Dr. Hanson, author of "Hardwiring Happiness"
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