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Have you noticed that negative comments and events stick with us much longer, and influence us more, than positive ones?
I’m sure you’ve experienced this quite a few times. Someone pays you a compliment and you brush it off and change the topic. Your boss appreciates your hard work and takes the time to thank you. You smile and tell him you’re just doing your job.
A negative comment on the other hand sticks with you much longer.
When you prepare a complicated new dish and your husband thanks you, but then tells you he didn’t care for it, that’s likely not only to stay on your mind but it might also cause you to stick to the tried and true and never again attempt something new.
Why is that?
It’s because our brains have a bias to negativity. It’s measurable and there have been brain scan studies done that show that our brain reacts more strongly to negative stimuli than to positive.
And it’s basically impossible to feel happy when we focus on the bad things in our lives. Positive self messages and positive ideas feed happiness.
The big question then is how do we fight against our brain’s bias to negativity?
What can we do to make sure negative remarks and criticism don’t get us down?
The first step is that to acknowledge that we are prone to negative thinking and that our reactions are not necessarily correct.
This allows us to take each negative reaction with a pause button. Is this the right reaction to this event or comment, or am I seeing it the wrong way?.
It can be incredibly helpful to acknowledge that our mind and heart may be overreacting about something negative.
Acknowledging our tendency to be biased towards negativity also makes it somewhat easier to be able to appreciate the positivity in our lives.
Don’t dismiss a compliment out of hand. Instead, savor it, think about it, and make it a point to remember it, and allow it to lift you up when negativity brings you down.
If you are handed an equal serving of positive and negative messages (remember that the husband in my example thanked you for your hard work before saying he didn’t like the dish), keep the positive message firmly in front of you while you deal less emotionally with the negative.
When your boss gives you a review and says 8 great things about you and tells you 2 areas of your work need improving, what do you do?
Yeah, you’re likely to be floored by those two things and walk away thinking that you’re a failure about to be fired.
What if …
What if, instead, you listened and took in her praise for the 8 things you do really well, then listened just as hard to the areas that need improvement?
What if, instead of slinking back to your desk, you sat up and said “You know, I worked very hard to improve (pick any of the 8) this past year and I really appreciate that you can see that. Now, can you give me some tips and guidance on how I can do the same to these two areas? I want a plan to make these areas a priority.”
Your boss will LOVE you! And be flattered to be asked. And to mentor you. An employee that sees criticism as a way to improve is rare enough. An employee that actually addresses problems with a positive attitude is invaluable!
Of course this mental shift doesn’t happen overnight.
Since this bias to negativity is hard wired in our brains, it takes a lot of time and effort to build new, more positive habits.
Remind yourself each morning that your mind is trying to force you to focus on the negative stuff and that it takes a conscious effort to balance it out by being mindful off all the good and happy things in our lives.
Over time, this will allow you to view unwarranted criticism as what it is. The problem of the person dishing it out and not you.
Should you ignore every single comment or suggestion that you don’t like?
Of course not.
Constructive criticism can us grow and get better at what we do.
What we need to guard against are the negative words, events, and feelings that make us want to go hide in a cave.
We want to be able to use the positivity around us (that our negative mind wants to reject) to lift us up and help us make it through the tough times, get stronger, and get better at what we do.
Reflecting on both the good and the bad on a daily basis can be a great exercise to help us gain a little distance and see everything that’s happening to us in a better light.
Keep a daily journal or set aside some time for quiet contemplation. Whatever way feels more natural for you to do every day as you shift your mental bias from negative to positive.
Talking things out with a friend, particularly when you’re struggling with something negative that you’ve having a hard time getting past, is another great way of seeing things from another perspective.
Above all, do what you can to outweigh the negativity with the good stuff.
Keep a list or file with some of the best positive emails and comments you’ve gotten. Peruse through them whenever you need to counteract something negative. If you journal, begin your daily entries with the positives so that they are there in place for you to see again when you need them.
As time goes by you’ll grow that that thicker skin that will protect you from your harshest critics.