A New Way To Think About Negativity

A New Way To Think About NegativityNegativity. At times we all fall prey to lingering on the less than positive. We may wallow in self-pity and turn tiny things into a huge dramas. In this post I share a few stoic related ideas to enable you to live the happy, fulfilling life you deserve.

I start by examining people who forever seem to be criticising you.

Negativity and Toxic People

Toxic people like to tell you why you’ll fail and make you feel worthless. Nothing is to their liking, they complain the whole time. Once that negativity comes out it’s a downward spiral. Having to deal with them each day is a struggle. So it’s worth examining how a stoic mindset can help.

If you feel down because of a person’s actions, or their behaviour towards you then this could lead to frustration or anger. Responding in this way may well amplify the toxicity of the other person. Your unhelpful feelings increase and compound the already bad situation.

So instead of projecting negativity outwards, try reflecting inwards. Be aware of your feelings, don’t try to deny or avoid them. Where are they gathering in your body? Allow yourself a moment of calm and wish yourself peace. Of course, this is only a starting point and not the end of the journey. It’s also worth questioning the other person’s focus. For example Epictetus said:

Where do they put their interest -outside themselves, or in their moral purpose? If outside, call them not friends, any more than you would call them faithful, steadfast, courageous, or free… . (Discourses II.22)

Do external impressions, impressions which are outside of their control occupy a toxic person’s life? If so then you’ll gain little from their friendship. This is because they are living a life without pursuing virtue. If you can, and this may sound harsh, but just stop seeing them as much. See other friends who are more supportive and positive, who don’t project negativity. Try not to allow the toxic person to be the centre point of your day. Put your mind in more beneficial and tranquil place with people who are positive.

Be aware that avoiding toxic people and choosing good friends isn’t the same thing. You can’t always avoid toxic people. So when you are with these people I view it as a way to practice stoic philosophy in a practical and meaningful way. It’s only by being in a difficult situation that you understand how far you have progressed:

It is difficulties that show what men are. Consequently, when a difficulty befalls remember that god, like a physical trainer, has matched you with a rugged young man. What for? Someone says, so that you may become an Olympic victor; but that cannot be done without sweat. (Discourses I.24)

As I mentioned earlier, choosing friends who are aligned with the way you want to live is important. Take the first step and reach out to develop and foster relationships. One by one, nurture the relationships that have a positive influence (minimal negativity) in your life. In turn try to be a positive influence in theirs.

Above all remember that it’s is your choice if you allow a person to affect your behaviour. In other words it’s not the person who is bad but your impression and judgement that has made it so. It’s worth trying to divorce your mind from the actions of those you encounter. After all bad things happen all the time. Its how we internalize and react to them that determines their effect on us. We assign the meaning of events, not the events themselves.

Next, I’ll explore why the more judgemental a person is the sadder they are.

Don’t Judge

First be aware that you’re judging, and see it as a red flag. It’s not the end of the world to judge. But it’s a good sign that other things are going on that are unhelpful for you and others.

Of course, noticing that this is happening takes practice. The trick is to watch out for the symptoms that tell you you’re judging. These tend to be anger, stress, frustration or perhaps complaining to others. Try to recognize what’s going on, pause and reflect. And avoid being mad with yourself. Instead ask a series of questions to get to the root cause:

  1. What is the person, behaviour or event that you are passing judgement on?
  2. What are your expectations versus reality?
  3. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Does it help you to understand what the other person is going through?
  4. Discover more: ask questions to help you understand. Make sure you also ask the question, how can I help?

Maybe the person needs you to listen? To be a non-judgemental friend. A person who will provide advice and support? So, abandon the judgement and replace the feeling with acceptance and empathy. It’s only by doing this that you can help. Plus it’ll have the associated benefit of making you feel much happier in the process too.

Finally, I explore how your beliefs impact on how you approach life.

Challenge Beliefs

Everything negative - pressure, challenges - is all an opportunity for me to rise - Kobe Bryant

Everything negative – pressure, challenges – is all an opportunity for me to rise – Kobe Bryant

Negative thoughts may link to your beliefs. These could trigger anxiety and a sense of helplessness. You could think, for example, that events are beyond your control. While it is true that we have limited control over most things, it doesn’t means that there is no way that you’ll be able to handle a future situation. You take a negative thought at face value and believe it to be the truth. It’s important to “examine the evidence” so you can challenge these beliefs. Look at the bigger picture, at all the things in your life that don’t support these ideas.

From this you can learn not to react.

The Stoics were great believers that in life it’s not so much not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters. Your reactions are a result of your thoughts and feelings. They are a result of the meaning you give to a particular event or situation. And those meanings can be negative, or they can be positive. But by learning to look at things in a more realistic light you can react more appropriately.

Dealing with negativity begins with catching your words and thoughts. It begins with trying to stay in the present moment, in the here and now. Be present in word and in thought. Is the uninvited critical thought making you feel bad about yourself? Are thoughts self sabotaging, leading to apathy and their own self fulfilling beliefs? These believable and biased thoughts, although they seem to be true are likely to wrong. Just because you didn’t do well at one thing, doesn’t mean that you never do well at anything.

Detach yourself from negative ideas. If something bad happened once, it may never happen again. Words like “always” and “never” may not be helpful. Don’t concentrate on the negatives while ignoring the positives. As this will mean that you may ignore information that contradicts your (negative) view of the situation.

Most concerns exist only in your own mind. Don’t mistake feelings for facts. Negative things you perceive about yourself are not always true just because they feel true. Anticipating a negative outcome and assuming a prediction is an established fact can be self-perpetuating. Predicting what you would do on the basis of past behaviour may prevent the possibility of beneficial change.

To Conclude ….

Hopefully this post provides you with some ideas to help you defeat the distorted thoughts and beliefs fueling negativity. Your thoughts are powerful, but you can change them. It is worth the effort.

Photo credit: RebeccaSaylor via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

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