The realization suddenly hit me – how did I ever become so negative? When did I become a pessimist? What path did I walk down to end up with this mindset and worldview – where everything around me is half-empty?
The pool of negative people in the world grows bigger every day, and it’s common for anyone to get caught up in a negative spiral that becomes a habitual worldview. We desire to be glowing with positivity, but often fall back into a perspective of pessimism. We wonder why we are this way. Is this the way we’ve always been? Are we hard-wired for negativity? Is there any way to change?
It’s very unlikely that negativity is a genetic disposition, and much more likely that we acquire this perspective over time. Most scientific studies suggest that optimism and positivity are 80 – 95% learned, meaning that how you feel about your life on a daily basis is entirely your choice. You shouldn’t continue to blame yourself by suggesting that this is the way you were born or how your brain functions, but instead look back to decipher the derivative of where this negativity and pessimism came from. Finding the root cause of your learned perspective on life, if negative, can shed some light on how to reverse it and put you on a path to live a happier, more optimistic life.
Looking Back On Education
There are of course a myriad of actions and inactions, relationships, and pivotal moments in our lives that contribute to our daily perspective. Your parents, peer groups, accomplishments, jobs – these all play a big role in defining who we become. We often forget, however, to consider the place where we spent the majority of our childhood, the arena that taught us how to live and what to think: school.
I’ve heard all of the common criticisms of the education system, from class sizes to standardized tests, but I believe there are some important aspects that haven’t been talked about enough. Corporal punishment has been done away with, but what mental damage is being done? I think we should be examining how schools address failure, punishment and rewards in order to begin to understand how our perspectives are shaped and often guided towards negativity.
Flipping The Focus
Thinking back on your own education, what happened when you did something that was “punishable”: talking back to the teacher, throwing a snowball, or avoiding your homework? Do you remember how the punishment took shape? For most of us, it was detention (followed by a grounding from our parents!). We were detained, left to dwell on, and give extreme thought to what we did wrong, why we did it and to consider how we will never repeat what we did again. Every time we did something wrong while growing up, we were forced to think about it…to the point of fear, worry, and self-deprivation.
Through this process we’re taught that, in order to improve, we must dwell on the negative and only the negative. We cultivate negativity, and the yield becomes a pessimistic outlook.
But let’s also consider what happens when you have a positive outcome – when you accomplish something or achieve a goal worth celebrating. In school, we get to do a fun activity, go for recess, or are given the allowance to do something exciting and active. The way we acknowledge something worthy of celebration is by saying: “Go have fun and forget about it.” Praise, thought and consideration for our accomplishments, large and small, is ignored in favour of a fleeting activity in the service of temporary pleasure.
Great accomplishments deserve the same attention as punishable mistakes. What if, after an accomplishment or achievement, kids were asked to think about and consider what they did right and how they did it? What if we asked them to think about how they did it right, and how they can replicate it in their future? When it comes to failures, we are taught to dwell and take note, and when it comes to success we are taught to forget. If we don’t become mindful of what makes us great, and what we do well, we will only reflect on ourselves as pessimists.
When it comes to our adult life, when something bad happens to us, when we do something wrong, we have an automatic worry reflex, thinking about all the negative repercussions that could happen to us, and how we should never make the same mistake twice. Some of us fall into this negative rut for hours, days or months. Even if the outcome is favourable, the next time something goes wrong, we resort to worrying the same way we were taught to when we were in detention in school. And, just like school, when something positive happens in our life, or when we accomplish something great, we do what we did as kids – we go do something fun: we party, we go to the movies, we relax. We take our mind off of our success and forget about it.
The long-term effect of dwelling only on the negative is devastating. It’s the reason why depression is on the rise, dreams and goals seem impossible, and success is continually attributed to luck.
There’s no secret to becoming a more positive version of you. We must begin by giving equivalent – if not more – attention to the good in life.
1. Be grateful. It’s impossible to be grateful and sad at the same time. Most successful and positive people start their day off with a gratitude journal. Write down 3-5 things you are grateful for every morning. It’s okay to start small or big and its okay to have gratitude for just about anything. (My lists have consisted of everything from my family to the colour blue). Whatever it is, write it down every morning.
RELATED: P is for Patience
2. Start a TV diet. We are in an era of compelling, well-crafted television. Most of these highly addictive shows create a representation of life that is overly dramatic, negative or a long stretch from reality, but the more we consume of these shows, the more real they become for us and the more we see them in our own lives.
Being an entrepreneur, there are always legal risks involved with business. When the show Suits started, I loved it. It was intense and had a lot to do with business, and I could see the parallels between the characters and my own pursuits. But the more I watched it, the more my fear grew that I was going to be sued and potentially lose everything. Yes, it sounds ridiculous that my worry and negativity could be conjured up by a TV show, but it’s true. When I went on a Suits diet, my fear evaporated and the worry subsided. Not only that, I now have more time to focus on growing my real, living business
3. Praise yourself. Don’t be humble! When you do something well, give it credit, even if it is your own silent credit. If you do something you consider small or seemingly inconsequential, like waking up 5 minutes earlier than usual, reading a book to completion, or saying no to chocolate, give yourself a mental pat on the back. A lot of us think, “I only did it once,” or “I am just starting” or “I don’t want it to get to my head.” You should let it get to your head because it helps encourage you in the future. Praising our small daily accomplishments allows us to use that praise as fuel for the next challenge or a bigger goal. And when negativity arrives in your head next time, like an opposing team entering your home stadium, you’ll find that you’ve enlisted a multitude of superfans that can combat that negativity by cheering you on. They’ll be there to ensure you win the moment, the hour, and the day!