I often get asked: “Why are you always so positive when you write?” Some ask in a curious way. Some ask in a negative way, as though I am doing something wrong. Some ask in a “how can I be more like that?” way.

I am a positive person
Stereotypes can be negative or they can be positive. Use your positive stereotypes to your advantage. (Tweet That) | Share this Graphic on Pinterest | Share on Facebook

The reason I stay positive with my tribe is simple: I’m fostering a stereotype of myself and you. The research tells me to. I’ll explain below.
Let me be clear about something. My natural inclination, for whatever reason, is towards the negative.
That shocks a lot of people not named my wife, my mom, my best friend, my mentor, or anyone who has never worked for me. Most people see me as a generally positive and upbeat person. But the reality is that, most of the time there is a war raging inside of me. One voice screams at me reminding of everything going wrong in my life and the world. The positive voice whispers softly. I tend to hear the louder voice too easily.

Quieting the negative voice

But what I’ve noticed is that every time I write, that negative voices quiets. Just a little bit. Every time. Little by little, it softens. Little by little, it loses its power.
There is enough negativity in the world from others already. You don’t need it from me. You certainly don’t need it from yourself.
So I stay positive. I perpetuate a stereotype that you believe and I slowly come to believe.
That doesn’t mean that I want you to ignore opportunities for growth (a better term for what others might call “weaknesses”). But don’t dwell on them. Acknowledge them. Work on them in a defined period of time. Then, turn your focus back to your positive strengths.

The science of stereotypes

Thirty-plus years of psychological research backs me up on staying positive.
I am creating a stereotype for myself and everyone in my tribe, including you. To those who suggest it’s all psychobabble mumbo jumbo, I say:
Nana nana boo boo. I’m right, you’re wrong. The research proves it. 
OK, I only think that. I don’t actually say it…at least not out loud. But, apparently, I will write it.

S. Alexander Haslam, Jessica Salvatore, Thomas Kessler and Stephen D. Reicher wrote about the power of stereotypes in their essay, How stereotyping yourself contributes to your success (or failure). You can download the entire essay for free here.
They wrote:

…stereotypes can promote failure but that they can also lift a person’s or group’s performance and be tools that promote social progress.

Positive stereotypes

We often view stereotypes as bad. We rightly discourage group stereotypes based on race, gender, religion, or social standing.
But we also forget that stereotypes can be used in a positive light. Especially individual stereotypes.
I’ve written before how my dad labeled me a “mudder” in golf. That means that, after only a few such rounds, he observed that I performed well in bad conditions. This stereotype only perpetuated itself as I continued to excel in bad conditions. My attitude was. “Bring on the cold. Bring on the wind. Bring on the rain.” I knew I had 95% of the field beat when the weather was at its worst.
I stereotyped myself in a positive way and the results spoke for themselves. Of the five tournaments I played as an amateur in the worst conditions, I finished 1st, 1st, 2nd, 6th, and 1st.

Action item: Choose one positive stereotype today by which to define yourself. Repeat it to yourself as often as necessary.

So I write to you and to myself to change your stereotypes.
I stay positive to change the labels you use to identify yourself.
I write to resist the negative voices of ourselves and others that say we can’t change the world.
Haslam and the others write:

Resistance, of course, is not always successful. Yet it is rarely entirely futile either. Indeed, history teaches us that change is as much a part of social reality as is stability. And when they are in our own hands, stereotypes can be essential to mobilizing the group for success as much as, when in the hands of others, they can be used as forces of restraint and failure.
Thus, the literature on stereotype threat delivers two fundamental lessons. The fi rst is to beware of equating performance and ability, especially when dealing with di fferences between groups, and to understand the power that the expectations of others has over what we do. The second is to realize that we are not doomed to be victims of oppressive stereotypes but can learn to use stereotypes as tools of our own liberation. In short, who we think we are determines both how we perform and what we are able to become.

The choice is yours.
Allow negative stereotypes to rule your life. Or…create new ones.
As for me, I will continue to be positive. And slowly, but surely, change into the person I want to be.
What stereotypes do you need to change about yourself?

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17 thoughts on “Why Stereotypes Aren’t Always Bad | How to Use Positive Stereotypes

  1. Jon Stolpe says:

    One stereotype I get from some people is that I am too serious. This is kind of funny, because I’m also known as a joker by other people who know me. I think the biggest thing I can do to conquer this stereotype is to smile more often.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      So…are you smiling right now? 🙂

      1. Jon Stolpe says:

        Yes. Actually, I am.

      2. Matt McWilliams says:


  2. Jana Botkin says:

    As a kid I was known as a pessimist; as an adult I am seen as an optimist. If I wasn’t optimistic, it would be impossible to continue as a self-employed artist in my location. I attribute any positive changes to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life.
    Now, if I can learn to think of myself as a successful artist, perhaps it will permeate my business. . .
    Thank you for your example, and for freely sharing with us about it. You are very encouraging to me and others.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Love it Jana! Keep it up.

  3. Mark Sieverkropp says:

    I need to change the stereotype that I jump from one thing to another too quickly. I get defined by others and myself of being too ADD, not following through, etc

    1. Steve Pate says:

      Mark, your gifted brother!!!

      1. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        Thank you. Very kind of you to say!!

      2. Matt McWilliams says:

        I agree. More so than you may ever know 🙂

  4. But by definition, this makes you (not to be mean, but clear) a liar and a hypocrite. That is the terms for what you are describing.
    Worse, when people aren’t being real and true, eventually others tend to notice, and you lose authenticity. Why would I trust an always-up person? We know that they are hiding things, not being honest, not trustworthy. Maybe putting on a mask helps short term, but at too great a cost to authenticity and personal integrity.
    Finally, think of all the lost opportunities. When you are real, you can honestly connect with people … and that happens in the negatives. People know then that you understand them, and them you. Trust developes in this process, a trust that being fake with a mask cannot gaiin.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I get what you are saying. Authenticity (buzz word alert) is missing in today’s world, but it’s not about being a liar. It’s about being a better version of myself.
      Sure, I could get on here and rant and whine about my crappy commute this morning, but what good does that do? Does that make me better? Or you?
      I think of it this way…let’s say Joe is fat. Obese even. 6 feet tall and 400 lbs.
      Should he act obese or act thin? Should he talk obesity or talk thinness? Should he do what obese people do or what thin people do?
      Is he being fake or just a better version of himself? The version that lives longer and happier, not the one that dies at 43 depressed and failing to have accomplished his dreams.
      A mask? No. A better version of me? Absolutely.

    2. Steve Pate says:

      So question for you, is Trust your real name or are you being a liar and a hypocrite for not showing your real name?
      But I really like your last paragraph. When not being real, you do lose tons of opportunities on really getting to know some one.

  5. Steve Pate says:

    Well, as of these past two years I have found a way to use stereotyping in a positive manner. On the side, I do snowmobile tours in the heart of the Cascade mountains in Washington State. As you can imagine being only two hours away from Seattle, we get a lot of Amazon and Microsoft employees out to try out snow machines.
    To my point. We have a lot of people from India who want to try. As you can imagine, there is not a whole lot of snow in India, and we also learned as a culture, they don’t drive gas powered machines with handle bars too often. So, when little accidents do happen, it generally happens with the folks from India. (Panic throttle is the main cause, just in case you were wondering)
    I started asking this question, “what do we need to do to give them a safe and memorable experience where they can walk away confident and with victory?”
    So, the first thing I started doing was, learning their very beautiful names, regardless how many times I slaughter it. I do that to show I care about them as a person.
    Second, give them freedom to ask questions and to show its okay if you don’t know something.
    Third and my last for this comment, when I see I have people from India on my ticket, I don’t let fear set in, I take the person for who they are, I understand a bit of their culture, but I work on them as a person, because if I’m fearful of their abilities and judge them on their culture alone, they will be fearful in their driving and an accident could happen.
    Because of practicing these few steps, I haven’t had any major accidents happen and we have had repeat riders/customers come back and bring more of their friends. So positive profiling has work to my and their advantage.

    1. Jana Botkin says:

      That is wonderful, Steve! Exactly the right way to love others as yourself – awesome!

    2. Matt McWilliams says:

      I agree with @cabinart:disqus. Well said Steve.

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