The Positive Power of Negative Thinking
Negative events/people/thoughts can have a significant place in a positive, productive life. Now I don’t mean in the “everything happens for a reason“, or “it’ll turn out good in the end“, or even “mysterious ways” type of thinking … No! That’s just more newage nonsense. I mean that negative things can be very valuable in and of themselves.
I know we’d all like the world to be a smurfy, double-rainbow sky, fluffy-kitten-puppy unicorn-filled wonder land, but sometimes that nasty ol’ Mr. Reality butts his head in to say “Hey! How y’all doin’?” How we view these negative things, and what we do in response can have positive results.
Let me do some ‘splainin’, Lucy…
When You’re Critical of Others…
It’s natural to get upset when others do stupid, insensitive, or outright mean things. In fact, many of us get upset with others if they just don’t see things the same way we do. At these times our own critical nature bubbles up from the primordial ooze of our mind. It may be expressed as anger, humor, gestures, or just a good ole’ eye roll.
If you can take a step back and consider why you’ve reacted in a negative way, it may yield some useful insights. It could help you to avoid mistakes made by others (I’ll never jump my bike off a second-story roof!). Or it could tell you something about yourself, like you’re biased or impatient (definitely me in freeway gridlock). Or it could just be worth a good laugh, providing a relief valve for your day.
When Others are Critical of You…
As an actor, hearing criticism is part of my job. Heck, it’s part of most jobs and most personal and business relationships. There are days when it seems to come from everywhere!
Good criticism can help us to grow as human beings, in our careers and our personal lives. …and bad criticism can just as easily damage our future potential, and wound us emotionally.
Being able to separate the good from the bad will allow us to handle them in different ways. Don’t get stuck focusing on the fact that you’ve been criticized. Take a hard look at the criticism itself. Be honest with yourself as to whether it has merit. Good criticism, no matter how hard it is to hear, should be taken to heart. It can enable us to develop new, better skills – or tell us when it’s time to throw in the towel. Bad criticism must be allowed to flow past us. Like poison, the only way to avoid being damaged is not to take it into ourselves.
When You’re Critical of Yourself…
Ahhhh… that nagging little voice in the back of our heads. Sometimes it can be a real annoyance. “Why didn’t you do that instead?”, it says, or “How could you be so stupid?” Most of us are a bit critical of our selves or our actions. It’s part of us that points out areas for improvement. And sometimes it’s as wrong as a pair of pants for a fish.
The key is to try to be realistic about our own abilities and failings. It can give the necessary perspective to understand our self-criticism better. When the criticism is on target, it’s a chance to improve the next time. If the criticism is way off, then we need to figure out where the negative thought comes from. Is it a feeling of inadequacy? Guilt? Or perhaps we’re just a bit off our game, or we need to give ourselves a break.
When the Sh*t Hits the Fan…
Bad things happen to everyone. Sometimes you can learn from them, sometimes you just need to find a way to move forward with your life.
The difficult events in our lives are often the hardest times to have a clear perspective… but that can be what we need the most.
Try to remember the good things in the rest of the world, and in the rest of your life. It may help you to muster the strength to make it through the tough times. Take a deep breath and reflect. Is this a situation with a lesson? Or perhaps it is one where you just need some friends or family to lean on. Trust in yourself and in those closest to you to lead you out of the dark.
When Saying “NO!” is the Right Answer…
Pessimism is bad, optimism is good… Unfortunately, that’s an overly simplistic view of how the universe works. I prefer to be a realist, with optimistic leanings. So, what exactly does that mean? Try to see the world as it is, without bias. It’s not always possible, but take off the rose-colored glasses for a while (or the dark shades). The “sweet spot” for me is to mostly view things realistically, and where there’s a bit of wiggle-room, give others the benefit of the doubt. It springs from a belief that deep down, most folks want to be good (though with some you’ve got to dig a ways 😉
“No” can be a very empowering answer. Refusing to do something may free you up to pursue other, possibly better opportunities. For jobs, it’s easy to get lured into continuing to do the easy or consistent work, but is it the best use of your time? And more importantly, does it make you happier in the long-term? It’s much the same in relationships. Ending a relationship (be it business or personal) may be difficult, yet it may be what needs to happen in order for you to move forward.
So, when should you quit? Well, they say the best part about hitting your head against the wall is stopping. Recognizing when you’re not cut out for a job and leaving under your own power can be a very freeing feeling. Yes, I know it’s scary (believe you me), however change is often scary and a little bit painful. Like beautiful roses, some judicious pruning will help keep the plant healthy and growing strong. No one can be everything to everybody. Find the branches in your life that help you to grow, and prune away the ones that are a waste of your time, or hold you back.
Negative things are a part of our day-to-day existence. When they occur, a good strategy is to find a way to take a wider view and see our place in the bigger picture. How this is achieved will be different for everyone. It may be through meditation, prayer, guided imagery, yoga, talking to a trusted friend or even by focusing on a more manual task to free our minds.
Whatever way works best for you, allow yourself the time and space for reflection. When you discover new truths, put forth the effort to improve. It doesn’t happen overnight, but the results can quite literally be life-altering.