I received a lot of email comments in response to my last blog post, “Cultivating Compassion in the Trump Era.” To be honest, I wasn’t sure how it would be received. However, almost all who commented said the idea of practicing Loving-Kindness was timely (even if they found the suggestion difficult), and a helpful, proactive way to manage feelings of fear and uncertainty. That got me thinking. What are some other ways we can try to combat negativity?
Combating negativity isn’t easy, our brains are hardwired for it. We have an inherent negativity bias that predisposes us towards noticing the bad more than the good. This bias helped us survive in the stone ages because being alert for danger, and dodging it was paramount. As a result, researchers say negative emotions have an impact close to three times stronger than positive emotions. In other words, “the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive experiences,” says Dr. Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness.
However, we don’t have to settle for a negative predisposition. In fact, being more positive comes with a host of health benefits, including living longer, and experiencing less stress. Here are six ways to turn a negative into a positive.
Take a few moments during your day to check in with how you’re feeling, especially when you’re under pressure. Are you having negative thoughts? Feeling down? If so, what might be the cause? Is there something you can do right away to solve the problem? You can’t change what you’re not aware of. Noticing how you’re feeling is a step towards Mindfulness, greater self-awareness, and problem solving.
Is there another, more positive way to view a challenging person, or situation? For example, if you don’t like what you’re doing on your job, could it be that you’re developing valuable skills that may help you get to the next level? Maybe you’re becoming more skillful at dealing with difficult people, or doing tasks that are outside of your comfort zone. Or maybe, the challenges you’re experiencing may lead to reevaluating what you really want.
3. Check The Story
We all see the world through our own personal lens, based on our past experiences. And often, we create a “story” about a person or situation that isn’t accurate. Question your interpretations, especially if they’re negative. Ask yourself, what’s another way to look at that? What might your spouse, or a friend say about what happened? What might be a completely opposite point of view? Just realizing there are other ways to look at something lessens the power of the story, and puts the power back in your hands.
4. Think Of Your Health
Negative attitudes and feelings such as hopelessness, helplessness, or repressed anger can create chronic stress, and a slew of health conditions which take a toll on our body and brain. Conversely, “positive emotions broaden [our] scope of attention, cognition and action, and build physical, intellectual and social resources,” says Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a leading happiness researcher at the University of North Carolina. The next time you find negativity bringing you down, take a pause, and try this next step:
5. Add A Positive Thought
Let’s face it, breaking any bad habit, such as negative thinking is hard. But what physicians say works better is adding a good habit. Dr. Alex Lickerman, author of The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self suggests, instead of suppressing negative thoughts try replacing them with positive thoughts. For example, if you think, “this is too hard,” you might say to yourself, “I can find a way to handle this.” Dr. Lickerman says with repetition over time, thinking more positive thoughts may become as automatic as thinking negative thoughts was.
6. Count Your Blessings
A landmark study found that participants who practiced gratitude daily had higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy. The gratitude group also experienced less depression and stress, and had stronger immune systems. Dr. Robert Emmons, lead researcher of the study says, “to say we feel grateful is not to say that everything in our lives is necessarily great. It just means we are aware of our blessings.” Consider taking time to keep a daily gratitude journal the old fashioned way, or via an app. Express thanks to others for the good they do. And remember the good you do, or praise you’ve received, when negative self-talk tries to bring you down.
We don’t have to be victims of negative thinking. We can choose to focus more on the good, for the benefit of our health and happiness.
Want help creating a more positive, happier or fulfilling life? Schedule a free, 15-minute consultation with me here. I’m happy to help.