I thought I would change things up a bit this week, and meditate out loud about a question that has been following me around recently:
What is the best way to deal with negativity?
Sometimes we are so caught up in the flow of daily life, that outside influences don’t seem to pierce the shell of activity around us. But heaven forbid we stop long enough to catch our breath! Just like I used to seem doomed to come down with a bad cold the second I planned to actually take the weekend off to relax, now – when I slow down for a day or two – some negative issue gets under my skin. In need as I am of a brief physical and mental pause, it’s as though the level of inner tension and discomfort are taken up a notch or two instead of down by some issue either in my personal life or on the world stage.
It’s almost as though I am standing beside myself, too, watching myself as I amp up…
- My inner monologue becomes increasingly resigned and bitter
- I begin to question the “why” of current projects or – in extreme cases – my entire, primarily optimistic world view
- My good personal habits begin to slide from reasonable and healthy back into the realm of “who cares?”
So what, I get off a pithy letter of complaint, write a searing blog post, or verbally go toe-to-toe with someone. What toll is my emotional reaction to this issue taking on me, and what is the price I pay to regain my equilibrium?
“I just don’t deal with the negativity. I can’t get involved in that side of it. I don’t understand it, and you can’t let it take away your life and what you are trying to do.” (Rick Pitino, basketball coach)
Because I am now able to observe myself, I feel more motivated to better understand why I automatically react the way I do. I’m also committed to finding ways to make my reaction to the negativity around me more effective and less self-destructive. Here are a few of the truths I’ve encountered so far:
- Make positivity your default setting. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life, is that you usually find what you’re looking for. If you believe the world is basically a dark and dangerous place, and your fellow humans are all out to get you, your days will be chock-full of examples to confirm that hypothesis. It’s not that there aren’t other – decidedly positive – examples to at least balance out your pessimism, but you’ll overlook all of those as your eyes search out yet another headline about acts of senseless violence, corruption, misogyny & co. While it makes no sense to ignore the sad and bad news our world has to offer, by being open to the positive, we are not only protecting our personal well-being. We are also positioning ourselves to be an inspiration in the lives of those around us.
- Remain solution-oriented. There’s nothing wrong with letting off steam from time to time, but if a lengthy rant is your only reaction to the negativity and injustice you encounter, what’s the point? All your Facebook rant is likely to accomplish is a jump in your blood pressure. Ask yourself instead how you can make a concrete contribution to a sustainable solution! Is there an organization you can support? Can you contribute your time, money or useful goods? Will adding your signature to a petition make a difference? These are only a few examples of how to turn your anger and frustration into actions that can really making a difference. And don’t forget that sometimes the small things (e.g. a hug or smile, a heart-felt “how are you?” coupled with an open ear) can go a really long way in your personal life!
- Realize you can’t do it all. Achieving any degree of change – whether in our personal lives or society as a whole – is a process that takes time. Lasting solutions are seldom achieved instantaneously. There will be phases during that process when you will neither have the time, strength nor peace-of-mind to make a meaningful contribution to the solution. Instead of beating yourself up for not being able to drop everything you’re doing right now to join that march, spend half the night talking to a friend during a break-up or launch a coup at work, realize that your contribution can only be as good as the quality of the energy you bring to the table. Tomorrow’s another day…