The Power of Negative Thinking: An Unconventional Approach to Achieving Positive Results by Bob Knight

bob knight book
Date Finished: April 2018
Did I Like It? 10/10

The books Amazon Page

The title is obviously a play on words from the popular title ‘The Power Of Positive Thinking’. I was skeptical going into the book (turns out that is one of Bob’s commandments) but quickly came around to his way of thinking and have already started applying some of the concepts into life. What got the book to me was the excellent examples and although the book repeats from time to time, the information was presented in a different way each time helping it stick.

Click here to the index of sports autobiographies.

What I Highlighted:

“If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”


I’m very comfortable being a contrarian and stating my argument for The Power of Negative Thinking.

What seems too good to be true usually is—there is a genuine need to be cautious, to look both ways before crossing any streets in life.

Paying attention to the downside is a difficult but essential quality for achieving long-term success in any occupation or family situation.

Coaching is leadership, and leadership is leadership, whether in a gym, an office, a classroom, or a family.

I’m saying that being alert to the possible negatives in any situation is the very best way to bring about positive results.

For example, I’m talking about being aware that it can rain.

Planning beats repairing.

Stop and think: That’s what I’m saying is always the best approach before rushing forward with carried-away zeal.

When time permits, it’s much better to be sure you’re thinking clearly.

1 Keep Pollyanna on the Bench

From infancy up we’re inundated with platitudes that may provide short-term diversion but don’t work in the long run.

Time can, if it is used to recognize what caused the wounds, do something to eliminate the cause of the distress. Better yet, we can try to prevent it.

I speak as a coach whose career-long belief was that most basketball games are not won, they are lost.

Think of a game strategy the way a great sculptor looks at a slab of marble. He or she wants to scrape away the unnecessary bulk until the proper contours of the figures emerge.

Negative material is eliminated to create a harmonious work of art.

Victory favors the team making the fewest mistakes.

Before you can inspire your players to “win,” you have to show them how not to lose.

The act of winning, the art of winning, and knowing how to win were critical attributes for a future officer.

And, winning is the goal, the defining mark of success, in almost any job—even the clergy, I’m guessing.

The most sickening feelings for a loser are “woulda-coulda-shoulda.”

If you play with passion, you are also more likely to play with precision, because the more your players have invested in effort and energy in trying to win a game, the more effort and energy come out in a game.

Somebody will win, somebody will lose, but don’t ever tell me the difference every time is that the winner wanted to win more than the loser did.

Wanting alone doesn’t get anything done. Doing does.

Discipline is recognizing what has to be done, doing it as well as you can do it, and doing it that way all the time.

Having the will to win is not enough. Everyone has that. What matters is having the will to prepare to win.

I haven’t seen one intelligent book yet about losing.

But I always felt that when you did lose, it was imperative that you learn from the loss. Why did we lose?

But the vast majority of time, it’s going to go back to mistakes. That’s where constant focus has to be.

Preparing not to lose is designed to aid and abet winning.

A coach should never forget to compliment his players on a well-played victory, but shouldn’t hesitate to tell them when they’ve played poorly—in a loss or a win.

Enjoy those “big” wins when the season is over.

The greatest victory is eliminated by lack of follow-up.

Success is a grind. It’s perseverance; it is operating at a high level of performance on a constant basis.

His critics said he over-managed. I think he over-won.

When you start gloating over your victories (or your profits), you’re about to get your head handed to you.

“Early failure is usually better than early success, because the lesson in humility lasts a long time and makes you more effective over the long term.”

2 What Is There about the Word No?

The words “no” and “don’t” are important parts of the power of negative thinking.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying “I can’t.”

“I can’t” is the best possible conclusion to reach about yourself when foolish optimism and determination are, at best, counterproductive.

Know your limits. If you can’t do it, don’t, and say so, as Pete Dawkins did.

One of the obligations as a coach is to make your players know their own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of their teammates.

That’s how teams win: by playing to their strengths and away from weaknesses.

The one-word question to keep in mind when these mindless, optimistic paeans to patience are thrown around is: Why? If there’s a good, reasonable answer to that one-word question, then you’re making progress. Never hesitate to ask it—especially of yourself.

If you apply these words before you leap into a decision, then you will have much less “buyers’ remorse” no matter whether you’re buying swamp land in

Arizona or putting together a marketing plan in brand management. Here is the list of shuns: Prevention Hesitation Correction Suspicion Attention Recognition Reservation( s) Anticipation Revelation Organization Dedication Education Caution Rejection Preparation Gumption

In sports, we improve almost every offensive move we make by setting it up with a false move first, a fake, or a reverse.

Using the shot fake and fake pass are reasons why we win, and not utilizing them is often the reason why we lose.

There’s no need to put your best offer forward in a negotiation; let the other side reveal its intention. By faking a shot in basketball, you’re forcing your opponents to show their hand first.

They’ve got to be taught what for them is a good shot within their comfort and ability zone.

These are all simple, logical rules of play that start with a negative—never risking that precious possession of the basketball.

Likewise, individuals in authority tend to build their decision-making around their personal prejudices or their past experiences, which can be very dangerous.

Elimination of ideas that have outlived their utility is essential to almost any process of growth and achievement.

Thus, be smart and admit it when an investment decision has turned sour.

The successful person has to be able to change his mind when something isn’t working and try to bail out or possibly find a more creative solution.

The art of coaching is moving away from the game plan when things aren’t working in the course of the game.

Behind that instinct were the days and weeks of practice in building up a “muscle memory” of what to do next—and what not to do.

Know when to hold them, know when to fold them.

If A happens, then go to B. If B doesn’t work, we have to be ready with a C, and a D, and an E. We have to have an if… then… plan to everything we are doing.

Competition is never static.

Luck can win sometimes, but preparation is a more consistent formula for success. Good teams can get lucky and win, bad teams can’t.

There is a hell of a difference between winning and losing. Winning is a product of good leadership. Leadership is getting people out of their comfort zone.

Negative thinking—realizing that an average game from your team and average preparation from you isn’t likely to beat an average game by the very good team you’re about to play—can give you by far your best chance to win that game.

I also wanted them to know that even if well prepared, we had to execute as well as we could to beat this other team.

“Boys, the only way we can lose to this team is…”, winning starts with the “negative”… if we don’t.…win.” The if… then… model is built on information.

One of the most important statements a coach can make to himself is: I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.

Asking questions is the essence of learning.

Knowing what you don’t know is one of the most important lessons in life.

I found that a kid who is a great scorer more often than not has the innate skills to be a good defensive player.

That’s another basic tenet of leadership: Always criticize sloppy play and praise good performance.

We had to work at doing things that enabled us to win, and eliminate the sloppiness or risky plays that could beat us in a close game.

If you, as the head coach, can teach your team to think under pressure, to react well to changes, then you don’t have to have as much talent as the other teams.

Don’t try to make a brilliant change when things are going well.

The time to make substantive in-game changes is halftime.

The ability to adjust, to make changes from what you originally set out to do, is critically important.

Determination determines a lot less than preparation does.

Insecurity can have intangible benefits. Being able to self-analyze and be self-critical is very important. You can accomplish surprising things if you ask questions and consult others about areas where you need to improve. Realizing your shortcomings takes an awareness.

3 A Limit to Negativism

All the willpower in the world won’t lift an average high jumper over the bar at seven feet. As a leader, you have to help people recognize and understand that—yourself first of all.

And the leader, in this case me, should always be quick to praise them when they do things the right way.

It is not a disgrace to be really good at one thing and not so good at another.

Success actually can be one of the biggest problems a coach or any leader has to deal with.

Success increases our self-assurance. Faith in ourselves is a good thing, of course, but too much of it can make us believe we don’t need to change anything.

In the article, Gino and Pisano listed “overconfidence bias” as the second of three impediments that success can put in front of any enterprise.

The first is the inclination to make what psychologists call “fundamental attribution errors.” When we succeed, we’re likely to conclude that our talents and our current model or strategy are the reasons. We give short shrift to the part that… random events may have played.

The third impediment is the “failure-to-ask-why syndrome”—the tendency not to investigate the causes of good performance systematically.

Too rarely do coaches think about why they won, but it’s an equally important, equally instructive question.

Worry has lost a lot fewer games than over-confidence has.

4 History’s Negatives, Starting with the Bible

Ten Commandments of my own: (Jub: I think this is listed correctly)
1. Don’t accept status quo. Look for better when others are satisfied.
2. Always question—the best of all questions: “Why?”
3. Always worry. If you can’t think of a thing to be worried about, worry about being overconfident.
4. Look for improvements to make in yourself or bad habits to break. Don’t drink to excess or smoke at all, given the proven cancer risks. Don’t act without evidence or buy something without checking thoroughly; before job interviews, eliminate all possible reasons not to be hired.
5. Be skeptical—untrusting. In every theory, look for proof. Verify, as President Reagan said. Make your players or employees work to get better—encourage them, challenge them, maybe even inspire them to do it, but make it clear that the “same old, same old” is not acceptable. When they’re saying “The boss is never satisfied,” count it as a compliment.
6.Never think talent alone will determine the outcome, whether it’s your side versus the other side in a game or a competitive deal. Plan and train so that your side makes fewer mistakes.
7. Never talk too much. Get yourself a degree from the Shut-Up School and remember it when talking about your competitors, whether they’re a sports team or a sales team.
8.Self-promotion and gloating never have a place; let your products or your performance do the talking. I hate it when a coach or a player boasts about his own team before a big game. That’s an incentive to the other side.
9. Never stop looking for new ideas.
10. Be self-

A very simple philosophy: Find ways to let the other side beat itself.

Practice is the best of all instructors, if the person running the practice knows what the hell he or she is doing.

Adjust is a vitally important word.

If you try to please everybody, you’re going to lose your ass.

5 Napoleon, Hitler, and Other Positivists

In competitive situations, until the issue is decided, a sense of security is dangerous.

Bravado leads to far more failure than does caution.

6 Negative Thinking in the First Job

I learned that you can’t come away from a really good performance feeling that your team would automatically play well in the next game.

The key to consistent execution is to be demanding.

The word demand is important in leadership success.

Don’t demand of people what they can’t do. Demand what they can do.

Tolerant people do not make good leaders. A great leader is an intolerant one.

Having the will to win is not enough. What matters is having the will to prepare to win.

Here was negative thinking at work: Our players’ legs are tired. We have to practice and practice hard, but we can’t go as long as we have for two or three months now.

Tired players don’t think or play nearly as well as rested players.

Not many good decisions are made by tired minds, in any walk of life.

Moral: Even the will to prepare to win doesn’t mean your opponent isn’t preparing, too. And if he is and you aren’t, the advantage is his.

Winning with talent isn’t necessarily the way to go about things. There are some things you can do and some things you can’t do. Elimination of mistakes is more important than the will to win.

But when it comes to life decisions, it’s got to be what’s best for you and your ability to do your job, not getting swayed by things that have nothing to do with your profession.

7 Negative Routes to Big, Big Wins

Sometimes positive results come out of negative situations just by sheer willpower.

A coach can go crazy trying to figure out why that “off” game happened.

I didn’t rant and rave. I stuck right to if… unless… can’t… don’t.

Negative thinking was behind whatever optimism I was portraying.

Simply, we had to prevent Jordan from doing what he could do best. We had those two priorities: We can’t let him back-cut, and he can’t get to the board.

Unpracticed surprises tend to boomerang into disaster.

Many a game I’ve felt exactly that way, that keeping the ball in our hands most of the game was the best way to counter a talented, fast team.

Now, game plans are fine, but the best game plan is no good without execution by the players.

I’ve always felt the best way to counter game pressure is normalcy.

One basic move against standard thinking: With the game on the line, get the ball in the hands of your best player.

Don’t be fooled; we wanted him taking the big shot, too—if he was open.

My whole idea of shot selection was limiting the shots we take to shots that player would normally hit at least 50 percent of the time.

Handling negative situations in a way that brings positive outcomes is itself an admirable art.

8 By Your Pupils…

One look, one glance can’t always tell you everything you need to know in sizing up a basketball recruit or potential employee.

As a pro, he developed his shooting to greatness. It took work, and with that he turned a negative into a positive, as did Calbert Cheaney in the area of leadership.

Whatever the score, I always emphasized that the first five minutes of the second half are the most important of the whole game.

Never accept just playing well. Always strive to play even better.

The more time we took, the more anxious losing teams became. Anxious people make a lot of mistakes, and we shot a lot of free throws.

Our objective, not just every game but every year, was to make more free throws than our opponents shot. To do that covers a multitude of good team achievements.

Defense is played with the feet, with positioning.

As a player, you don’t really understand everything that’s important.

That one personal memory was a big reason for my lifelong theory on free throws: the value of shooting more free throws than the opponents did; getting into a one-and-one situation faster than they did; getting to a two-free-throw situation faster; and accumulating fouls on their key players, which would put them on the bench.

They weren’t up there just to shoot; they were expected to simulate game pressure and try to hit each shot.

The absolute best way to get a good team free-throw percentage is to have your best shooters taking the free throws.

Only the players and coaches, who are lucky—and demanding—enough to get that effort from everybody on a team, know how vital practice-time is.

I considered it my most important job as a coach to let every player know when he had made a contribution to winning.

9 A Time to Aim High

I wanted them to learn how to best use their great talent.

It takes the mind as much as those great physical skills, maybe even more so.

Every kid on a basketball team grows up shooting. Not every kid is a shooter.

Bobby wasn’t a great shooter, but he recognized that and still had some big scoring nights.

Scott was as good a player as I ever had because he had the fewest negatives of any player I ever coached.

This is a case where they had superior talent so that if they played their normal game and we did the same, we’d probably have lost.

I was always seen as a coaching dictator: If there was a decision to be made, I made it.

Don’t get caught up with those things that are just immaterial, that don’t make any difference in winning or losing.

With everything that didn’t make any difference toward winning, I let them vote on, so they felt they had a voice.

“You have to understand one thing: I’ve always operated under the theory that if Abraham Lincoln couldn’t please all the people all the time, I couldn’t, either.”

Sherlock Holmes was fond of saying, “Many people look but few see.” A great word is observation. See what’s there. Be observant.

Stories are one of the best ways to communicate and sometimes even motivate, because they paint a picture that sticks in a listener’s mind.

10 “You’re Representing Your Country”

Their reputations had nothing to do with how we were going to play.

I wanted them to never be satisfied until they got the medal.

I wanted them to know what was at stake.

This game is going to stay with you forever. Immediately, if you’ve got a heart and a soul, you’ve got to think: I think—not just with the Olympic team but in every game one of my teams played—the most important thing to me was to win.

I did not want to put myself in a position where we had lost because of something that I didn’t do or didn’t see.