Staying positive day in and day out and all day long is the biggest challenge I face. I am learning that is the same for many others. There are plenty of people who don’t think about positivity nor does it registrar on their radar of goals. It is high on my list. As a leader of my household, projects at work and especially as a coach and trainer being positive is essential.
It is so easy for one negative thought to creep in and alter your mood and possibly impacting the outcome of events during the day. Just think for a moment how often someone’s mood has impacted your customer service experience, a conversation with a friend or coworker?
Finding that positive takes energy. No where near as much energy as harboring the negativity, the anger and the rage that can come with a negative moment. Have you ever stopped yourself in a negative moment and listened to your heart beat, felt your pulse, heard your own voice, noticed that your temperature has risen? Ever think about how much energy that can expend?
Negativity distracts us from our goals and takes away from our accomplishments and successes. Negativity can have such a poor impact that it can make a winner and successful person feel badly about sharing their accomplishments for fear of making the other person feel even worse. It can make an ordinary day suddenly be a sour and resentful one. It can change the very nature of our relationships and impact the core of our own happiness.
The reason our happiness depends so much on the quality of our relationships is because humans are supremely social creatures, as revealed in this humorous video. Evidence of our social nature is all around us. We care so much about what others think of us that, as some of my findings show, we would rather experience an unpleasant event (e.g., watch a bad movie) with those who share our negative opinions about the event than experience a pleasant event (e.g., watch our favorite team win) in the company of those who disagree with us. Our social nature is also the reason why being in love is one of the most cherished experiences and why isolation—the extreme form of which is solitary confinement—is rated, by those who were unfortunate to endure it, one of life’s most grueling experiences.
How do you deal with negativity? A more practical approach to dealing with it is to start by understanding the reasons for the negativity. In brief, almost all negativity has its roots in one of three deep-seated fears: the fear of being disrespected by others, the fear of not being loved by others, and the fear that “bad things” are going to happen. These fears feed off each other to fuel the belief that “the world is a dangerous place and people are generally mean.
It is easy to see how, from the perspective of someone operating from such fears, it makes sense to question the wisdom of pursuing dreams (failure seems all but guaranteed), and to be averse to taking risks even if it is obvious that doing so is necessary to learn and grow. It is also easy to see why people with these fears would find it difficult to trust other people.
The fears that negative people harbor manifest themselves in a variety of ways, including:
• A thin skin, or the proclivity to take umbrage at others’ comments; e.g., “you look good today” is interpreted as, “you mean, I didn’t look good yesterday?”
• Judgmentalism, or the tendency to impute negative motivations to others’ innocent actions; thus, guests who don’t compliment a meal are judged as “uncouth brutes who don’t deserve future invitations.”
• Diffidence: A sense of helplessness about one’s ability to deal with life’s challenges, leading to anxiety in facing those challenges, and to shame or guilt when the challenges are not met.
• Demanding nature: Although negative people are diffident about their own abilities, they nevertheless put pressure on close-others to succeed and “make me proud” and “not let me down”.
• Pessimism, or the tendency to believe that the future is bleak; thus, for example, negative people can more readily think of ways in which an important sales call will go badly than well.
• Risk aversion, especially in social settings. This leads to reluctance to divulge any information that could be “used against me,” leading, ultimately, to boring conversations and superficial relationships.
• The need to control others’—especially close-others’—behaviors. For example, negative people have strong preferences on what and how their children should eat, what type of car their spouse should drive, etc.
Notice a common feature across all of these manifestations of negativity: the tendency to blame external factors—other people, the environment, or “luck”—rather than oneself, for one’s negative attitudes. Thus, negative people tend to think, “If only people realized my true worth, if only people were nicer and the world wasn’t fraught with danger, and if only my friends, relatives, and colleagues behaved like I want them to, then I’d be happy!”
At first blush, it might seem paradoxical that negative people can simultaneously feel diffident about themselves and feel entitled to others’ respect and love. Similarly, it may seem paradoxical that negative people feel pessimistic about their own future and yet goad others to succeed. But of course, there’s no paradox here. It’s precisely because negative people don’t feel respected and loved enough, and don’t feel sufficiently in control of their own life that they demand others’ respect and love, and seek to control others.
Looked at from this perspective, their negativity is a thinly disguised cry for help. Of course, negative people do themselves no favors by being needy and controlling—they’d be far more successful in getting the respect, love and control they crave if they realized how self-defeating their neediness and desire for control is—but that doesn’t take away the fact that negative people need help.
Next time you encounter it think of this option for dealing with negativity. In a nutshell, have compassion for the negative person, taking responsibility for your own happiness despite the other person’s negativity, and maturity in how you interact with the negative person.