The Trouble with Negativity

Show of hands – how many of you have that friend, that family member, that co-worker who’s just plain old negative? No matter what’s going on, they’ll find some way to complain and criticize something. I’m guessing that most of you have your hands in the air. (You can put your hand down.) Now, take a step back and wonder if maybe you’re that person in someone else’s life.

As much as people don’t think they’re negative, most of us don’t have an overly developed sense of self-awareness. I have long prided myself on being an optimistic, positive kind of guy. But when I stop and look at my words, my thoughts and my actions, I recognize that I’m not exactly the shining paragon of virtue that I paint myself out to be. I am quick to criticize others, whether internally or not, about being negative. I immediately pick up on someone who’s in a bad mood or who’s being negative about a situation. But turn that mirror towards me, and I’m often oblivious. Sure, I’m getting better at recognizing it in myself, but it’s still a struggle.

Why are we like this? Why do we let one negative experience, which is often nothing more than a comment or minor action, ruin an otherwise positive day? Rather than remember the great day you had hanging out with your friend, you simply focus on the horrible cab ride home. It’s a known fact that negative events and experiences imprint themselves in our brains more quickly than their positive counterparts, and they also linger longer according to some researchers.

That’s why it’s vitally important to put as much focus and emphasis daily on the positive things that have happened to you. Try creating a gratitude list. Every day, jot down 5 things for which you’re grateful from the day. It can be a big event like nailing that big interview you went on, to small details like the sound of the birds chirping in the backyard. No matter what’s going on in your life, you’ve got something to be grateful for.

Another way forward is to use thoughts to counteract the negativity. If you’ve recognized that you’re having negative thoughts, stop and tell yourself that you are not your emotions. Observe them but realize they are not you. Notice what kind of physical sensations they bring on. Are you feeling tense, hot, etc.? If you can focus on the physical aspect, it helps you to observe the feelings more objectively. And just as importantly, remember that these emotions are temporary! All feelings, emotions, actions – everything is temporary. You can either choose to accept them as they are, and let them pass, or continue feeding the negativity and letting it fester and breed. The choice is yours.

Now let’s be honest – it’s highly likely that none of us will ever be positive 100% of the time 24/7. Unless you’re the Dalai Lama, but I don’t think he’s on my subscriber list. We’re not walking around all day singing Hakuna Matata (but maybe we should be…). So it’s critically important to learn how to recognize the negativity and to balance it out with the alternate views.

Treat negativity like luggage. Pack lightly so that you don’t get caught paying surcharges for heavy baggage. And most importantly, let’s follow the words of good ol’ JR:

Do not pack any negativity into your carry-on.

Jim Ross

What are your tips for dealing with negativity in others or in yourself? Do you see yourself as mostly negative or mostly positive? When is the last time you stopped to check your luggage?

5 thoughts on “The Trouble with Negativity

    1. Thanks for the comment. I do agree that being optimistic is a better use of your energy, but sometimes, it takes a while for people to remember to be optimistic. And when they do recognize that they are being negative, often people will be hard on themselves. “I should have known better…”

      To err is human, to forgive divine. Time to start forgiving yourself first and foremost. 🙂


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