Client Blog | We Could Be Miserable Forever, Or…
Insights on how we get stuck in negativity because we’re looking through the wrong lens. Here are some thoughts on how a perspective change can open our eyes to the good stuff.
Time is Ticking.
If I don’t get my report printed in two minutes, I’ll be late. Once late, my uptight director will doubt me. Once in doubt, the guy in control of my career will pass on me when promotions come around.
I’m doomed, my career is doomed, my wife will think I’m a failure, and oh my gosh I’m spiraling again.
How many times a week do we experience these thoughts? At what personal cost? How many people do we condition to avoid us because of these moments?
It’s Not the Printer’s Fault
Contrary to popular moaning, printers work nearly every time. A $499 laptop is 50 times more reliable than the equipment that got Neil Armstrong to the Moon. Even the cheapest smartphone on the market would make Henry Ford believe we discovered alien technology.
And yet, when a text fails to send or ink cartridges are dry, I count to ten and blurt choice words my mom would be ashamed of.
I expect things to work flawlessly, even the little ones. But when they don’t, they become a perceived threat to what I’m trying to get done – or even my livelihood. Life-threatening or not, panic can easily set in.
When Our Brains Work Against Us
The human brain is wired in a very peculiar way as a result of how we have survived as humans. It gives threats disproportionately more attention and mental priority than achievements or even the small successes of modern civilization. For instance, 75 things may be worth celebrating on any given day (everything from brushing your teeth to landing a sale), yet our brains hyper-focus on the two negatives – like there’s no toothpaste in the house and I’m late again!
This skewing in the brain is so subconscious that for most it goes unnoticed. Negativity builds up, a submarine wreaking havoc below the surface. As a result, many of us walk around carrying a predominantly negative focus that drags us down and can also affect others.
This negative lens on life creeps in and causes an imbalance in our brains that taints literally everything, camouflaging what is worthy of joy around us.
What would happen if we could see positives and negatives accurately and restore the balance?
The Wrong Strategy to Fight Back
The “mantra” is a popular but often insufficient strategy when addressing an outlook adjustment. For instance, we might repeat “Be more positive, be more positive” or put a sticky note with the same message on our laptop, but it is not really specific enough to be an actionable solution. Can you just be more positive?
In fact, that phrase is somewhat skewed in the wrong direction. Negative things happen, and it is important to recognize them for what they are in the right context. Avoiding or “poopooing” real trials comes with few benefits and can even let them get worse with neglect.
How about a different approach?
The “Act as if” Method
In his podcast, comedian Adam Carolla often gives his listeners a thought experiment. He states (roughly):
“Look, if I put video cameras in your house and paid you $100 every day you convinced me you were happy and enjoying life, by the end of the first week you’d realize you weren’t acting anymore.”
This subtle change in focus – the “acting as if” – opens our eyes to what we have taken for granted as “normal.” Walking, breathing, coffee, and even saltine crackers become surprise joys. We also start to notice and make note of achievements and begin to view struggles in their appropriate context. This balances our perspective on life’s positives and negatives, and balances our brains as a result.
While it is unlikely anyone will pay you to act happy, Carolla’s thought experiment paints a picture of how choosing positivity can yield much more fruitful rewards.
For instance, people are drawn to positivity. Bosses, spouses, and friends gravitate towards and are more inclusive of positive people. Strangers sense the charisma and confidence positivity creates. You yourself will begin to appreciate blessings and notice you compare yourself to others on a less frequent basis.
Getting Even More Practical
Want some actionable strategies? Here are a few ways to make positivity a lifestyle:
Act as if: choosing to focus on and be grateful for the successful things in your life will create momentum in a positive trajectory. Momentum is a powerful thing that’s hard to stop – and not easily bothered by the small things in life that easily knock negative people down.
Ask your counselor for a little time each session: ask about dedicating session time to practicing positive awareness and gratefulness. Don’t have a counselor? We’d be happy to help you find one – even if it’s not us. [link to your therapist contact info here].
Get a 99-cent notebook: for less than a dollar, you can get a small notebook and tuck it inside your backpack, purse, or desk. Set an alarm on your phone each day to write down three great things in your life or that happened each day. This is so simple it seems silly to most, but the act of writing things down and intentional thought is priceless. Writing things down was good enough for Abe Lincoln, so I bet it’s good enough for us.
Text a close friend each day: take your list of items and fire it off to a friend. See what they think. Ask them what they’re grateful for and what happened today that was good. Watch your community and friendships grow as a result.
Momentum and inertia seem to heighten all things in life, either bad or good. If you went to the gym 3 days last week, there is a good chance you will go three times this week. If you let CNN bum you out every night last week, there is a good chance you will let it do it again this week.
As Swiss philosopher Carl Jung said, "That which we do not bring to consciousness appears in our lives as fate.” Negativity is one of those things for all of us – rarely noticed but so consequential. But if we start noticing and take back control, we are well on our way to the healthy life and opportunities we are looking for.
Are You Considering Counseling?
You may be reading this because you are searching for guidance as you navigate hurdles and issues in your life. We are here to help and hope you will take a moment to [link to your therapist contact info here]. Together, we can explore practical methods to help you grow in your life and relationships. Keep hope and remember that it is never too late for positive changes - or to get experienced support as you do so.
Created and distributed by Joshua Zello LPC and Josh Polgardi at NeatlySaid.com, with publishing permission granted to this practice.