There is no arguing we are surrounded by a lot of negativities in our lives. Just turn on the nightly national news, scroll through your social media accounts, or pick a new series to watch on Netflix, and you will be bombarded by negative situations or thoughts.

Our Brains are Bound by the Bad

But did you know that the human brain is trained to focus on the negative? It goes back to survival days. If you did not think a rustle in the woods could be game changing for you, you could be dead in the next minute. We are always looking for ways in which something can hurt us and that remains true in modern day civilization.

Anthony Iannarino, author of The Negativity Fast: Proven Techniques to Increase Positivity, Reduce Fear, and Boost Success, says most of our dominant emotions are negative, from anger, contempt, fear, disgust to sadness. Only happiness is positive, and surprise could be positive, but not always. His book outlines how positivity is a choice and how he decided to remove all the negative sources in his life for 30 days. He liked the results so much that he did it again and again and today, he says his negativity fast is going on two decades.

Fixated on Being Fired

Our survival instincts now translate to the corporate world where we can suffer from an overly focused perspective of ourselves. For instance, you hear a rumor about layoffs, and you immediately think you will be fired. I am dealing with this situation with an executive coaching client right now. Every time she has an inkling that there may be layoffs in her company, she goes into a negative spiral and rumination.

But there is no truth to her assessment that she will be fired. She has never been fired from any job in her life, and she has worked at this company for over two decades, getting promoted all the way to senior vice president. The fear is completely unwarranted, but she gets lost in it, and it paralyzes her.

I like to think we all have a little Bobby Knight on our shoulders every day yelling in our ear when we make a mistake, telling us we’re not smart enough, that we are just an imposter. The legendary basketball coach advocated that negative thinking would produce more positive results, in sports and in life. He drilled his teams to prevent things that could factor into a loss. And when his teams did win, he did not allow them to dwell on their success, but rather look ahead to the challenges of the next game.

Think about it. When something good happens in your life, you may spend a moment taking it in, but it is fleeting. The negative things tend to stay with us longer. We spend a huge amount of time telling ourselves things that are not true, we embellish them, and we do that repeatedly. Eventually, it becomes a mantra for us, and we start to overthink or obsess about situations or life events with this view.

Choose Positivity

So, how can we choose positivity? It all goes back to the same principle that I have been coaching people with for 26+ years. Our thoughts are responsible for developing our moods, which in turn affect our behaviors, which influence our results. However, when you can catch yourself in the moment when a negative thought begins, and reframe your perspective instead of becoming triggered, you practice mindfulness. That is the only way to reverse this negative habit. It does no good if you catch yourself two days later or even just twenty minutes later, it must be in the split second you start to focus on negativity, right when your brain goes there.

When you can catch yourself, investigate the accuracy of what you are thinking. Is it true? Not true? Is it just my lens or is there more evidence of this? You want to evaluate this theory as you consider how you are talking to yourself. Most of us talk to ourselves in ways that we would never speak to a friend or our children. We tend to be quite brutal to ourselves and sometimes, even nonsensical.

Dating Dilemma

I can think of another example of a client who made an assessment about himself that was false, but he convinced himself it was true. This man said he was ‘un-datable.’ I looked at this man who is attractive, dressed nicely, and who has an excellent job and thought why would he think he is un-datable? Turns out, six months ago, he went out and approached a woman at a bar who rejected him. He tried again with another woman later in the same evening, but she was in a relationship. That was the basis of his assessment: one night and a couple of conversations with women who were strangers. Most of us would just chalk this up to bad timing, but this man started to believe no woman wanted to date him. I know it sounds ridiculous, but he was very emotional about it.

Once we determined he was not being a jerk when interacting with women, I gave him an unusual homework assignment. He was to go out each Friday and Saturday night for three weeks and approach three women each night. I wanted him to become comfortable with talking with women again, to get to know them and if things were going well, to ask them on a date. After just a couple of weeks, he met someone that he really liked and realized that there was no basis for his initial assessment. We say negative things to ourselves, believe them to be true and get emotional about it when there is absolutely no truth to the basis of that assessment.

Changing your Perspective

Albert Ellis, founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, taught the ABC theory which includes an activating event, your belief about what it means and the consequences of how you react to it. The event is meaningless in the sense that it is a fact, but what assessment you make about the event and how you react to it means everything.

Let us go back to the fear of being fired scenario. Let us say you are fired. Your firing is an event that occurs, and you cannot change it, but what you make of that event is completely up to you. Some people will be shocked, furious, feel betrayed, while others will be jumping up and down with joy. If you tend to suffer from victim mentality, you may justify the firing as just another bad thing that has happened to you in your life that is beyond your control. Someone else may look at the firing from the perspective of not being a good fit for the job, and it is now their responsibility to find another job that is better suited to them. People will have completely different reactions to this same event depending on their lens.

Do a Negativity Purge

You can practice this brain-training process during your negativity fast. The most obvious things you can do to reduce negativity in your life are cut out activities such as watching the news and scrolling social media. If you feel like you absolutely need a news fix, choose neutral sources like NPR and Associated Press. Journaling can help to introduce more positivity in your life, especially if you reflect on things that you are grateful for each day. When you consider how much you are grateful for, you are likely to exhibit more patience with others.

Another place to purge is your friend circle. If your group of friends have a common bond of being sarcastic and spiteful, you need to upgrade your friends. You must get away from a social environmental situation that is constantly negative because it influences you more than you realize. Alternatively, when you connect on the same level of positive perspectives and expectations with other people, you are putting yourself in a social environment that builds trust, camaraderie, and positivity.

Play a game during your negativity fast: try to go one day without making an assessment. It is next to impossible! Our survival is dependent on making assessments so it is not that you want to eliminate negativity from your life altogether – that would be quite difficult. Instead, become more discerning and question the assessments you are making. If they are not true, find another unique way of looking at the situation.

Engaging in negativity fasting enables you to disrupt negative thought patterns, acquire better emotional regulation skills, and foster an increased sense of happiness and resilience. We know negativity can be a hard rut to get out of, but positivity has powerful momentum too!

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