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N is for negativity

NEGATIVE has eight letters so does POSITIVE

What is negativity?

Negativity is manifested in a pessimistic or critical attitude, it expects the worse and/or focuses on what is lacking or what is ‘wrong’. A negative person will draw attention to the negative, talk about negative things and generally feel like a drain on one’s energy.

“There is too much negativity in the world. Do your best to make sure you aren't contributing to it.” Germany Kent

It is all too easy to be caught up in to habitual negativity and get drawn in to conversations that bring both yourself and others down

“See if you can catch yourself complaining, in either speech or thought, about a situation you find yourself in, what other people do or say, your surroundings, your life situation, even the weather. To complain is always non-acceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.” Eckhart Tolle

It is essential to reflect on the words we use both to ourselves and to others

“Negative words are powerful boomerangs so be careful what you say about people and yourself” Mary J. Blige

Words have energy and power. Their power arises from our emotional responses to them whether we read, speak or hear them. Words are important to communicate generally, but the way that words are spoken (and the accompanying body language or facial expressions) also provide a whole different level of communication.

“Nobody can motivate himself (or others!) in a positive direction by continually using negative words.” John C. Maxwell

Words not only have an effect on others and the relationships we have with them but our words to ourselves (self-talk) can also affect us too.

“No one can create negativity or stress within you. Only you can do that by virtue of how you process your world.” Wayne Dyer

We already accept that the brain is powerful but if we think about the following sentence for a few moments it opens up so much potential and possibilities:

“Any man could, if he were so inclined, be the sculptor of his own brain”.

Santiago Ramon Y Cajal

Consider the implications of that sentence. The way that we talk to ourselves is so important; negative self-talk can have a long-lasting detrimental effect whereas positive affirmations will have a more beneficial effect.

You wire your brain by your persistent thoughts and the way you think becomes your default responses and so shape your character. Negative thoughts create 'channels' in your brain. If you persistently think negatively, you wire your brain to be good at producing negative thoughts and seeing things to think negatively about. Negative thinking creates stress, which then compounds and produces more negative thinking.

The more we speak negative phrases, the more power it has over us because the brain uses repetition to learn, looking for patterns and consistency as a way to make sense of the world around us. This is why most of us (of a certain age) are likely to remember our multiplication tables, or a song that we sang day-in-day-out in our youth, because repetition is the most powerful tool to imprint something into our minds and keep it there.

When we have the habit of using negative words repeatedly or talking to ourselves negatively it can have a negative physical effect on our health and affect our mental and emotional health too. For this very reason, it is worth reflecting on how many times you habitually call yourself stupid, useless, fat, ugly or anything else when you make a simple mistake or are having a feeling of awkwardness. Do not let your habitual propaganda (self talk) have a negative effect on your confidence and your responses to life and others.

“As you go through life, your brain undergoes extraordinary development. Your brain is the most adaptable, modifiable organ in your body, and it can change both positively and negatively by how you use it each day.” Sondra Bond Chapman

We are also affected by the people we spend our time with. Our choice of company is important for our mental health.

“Life is partly what we make it, and partly it is made by the friends we choose.”

Tennessee Williams

It is important to develop friendships that enhance our lives. We should look to find people that motivate, inspire, help us and share the same values and reduce the time spent with those that drain our energy.

“No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.”

Alice Walker

Why do we pay attention to the negative more than the positive?

“There is a magnificent, beautiful, wonderful painting in front of you! It is intricate, detailed, a painstaking labour of devotion and love! The colours are like no other, they swim and leap, they trickle and embellish! And yet you choose to fixate your eyes on the small fly which has landed on it! Why do you do such a thing?” C. JoyBell C.

Studies have shown that our brains have a natural negative bias that results in negative events having a more significant impact on our psychological being than positive events.

Psychologist Rick Hanson likens the brain to Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive or neutral ones. When there are negative experiences and positive experiences of a similar magnitude, we will feel and recall the negative event more intensely. Evidence indicates this negative reinforcement, as opposed to comparable positive reinforcement, leads to faster learning that will last longer in both human adults and in animals.

Our brains perceive negative stimuli to be more complex and carry greater informational value than positive ones, thus requiring greater attention and cognitive processing and so we form more complex cognitive representations of negative than of positive stimuli.

The negativity bias also appears when we make judgments and decisions. People consistently weight the negative aspects of an event or stimulus more heavily than the positive aspects. This is also true when we form impressions of others: when given descriptions of a person's good and bad traits, studies show that we process and use the negative more than the positive information in arriving at a final impression of the person. In relationships, it can take about five positive interactions to overcome the effects of a single negative one. This is perhaps why when newspapers use attention grabbing headlines for negative news that even if they print retractions (often not of similar prominence) we will often ‘forget’ the new positive information and only remember the negative headline further down the road when recalling the event.

It is always difficult, when you find your self in a situation that you don't wish to be in, not to descend into a negative spiral of thinking or despair and this is further compounded because of negativity bias. It isn't always easy to refocus our thoughts more positively and celebrate each and every step of progress and small positive gain particularly because even when a person has unlearned a negative experience and is working to change habitual habits, events still leave a path etched in the brain that can easily be reactivated if similar circumstances are detected. This is why sometimes we think that we have ‘got over something’ or ‘moved on’ but can so easily ‘revert to type’ and respond in old, unhelpful ways when triggered. This is part of our character as perfectly imperfect human beings and it is important to remember to accept this and forgive ourselves

“You forgive yourself by realising that nobody can act beyond their level of consciousness” Eckhart Tolle

It is futile to beat ourselves when we realise that we have returned to a certain way of responding or lack the skills to forgive others, to do something we previously could or move on from situations but once we have that awareness and self-knowledge, it is the first step towards making changes, evolving and moving towards our full positive potential.

“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free”. Katherine Ponder

Why is it important to reduce negativity in our lives?

Researchers at King's College London found that repetitive negative thinking may increase your risk for Alzheimer's disease. The study found that a habit of prolonged negative thinking diminishes your brain's ability to think, reason, and form memories. Essentially draining your brain's resources.

‘Negative energy’ tires us and will have a detrimental effect on our health so if we want to live with optimal energy one of the ways in which we can help ourselves is to process our feelings and learn to forgive.

Focusing on negative thoughts may lead to decreased motivation as well as greater feelings of helplessness, which in turn can lead to depression

Negativity is the opposite of empathy and compassion

How do we change our negative bias?

“When we are aware of our weaknesses or negative tendencies, we open the opportunity to work on them” Allan Lokos

We can change our negative tendencies with intentionality.

“Intentions compressed into words enfold magical power.” Deepak Chopra

Intentional living helps set the direction for our life based on our values rather than just living aimlessly according to our moods or emotions.

Values are important because they can guide you and motivate you through situations where your feelings might lead you off course. Acting in accordance with your own deepest values is inherently satisfying and fulfilling – even though it often forces you to face your fears.”

Russ Harris (The Happiness Trap)

It is not enough to have good intentions we need to have knowledge and discernment before we act. Through our intentions we create our habits.

“Being miserable is a habit; being happy is a habit; and the choice is yours.” Tom Hopkins

Our habits start as a choice which is repeated so that it becomes an almost unconscious pattern. Neuroplasticity, the ability of our brain to create new pathways, is used to further our journey positively towards our optimal selves through our conscious choices, action and through repetition over time.

“Where attention goes, neural firing flows, and neural connection grows.” Daniel J. Siegel

Determination gives us hope. When we practise deliberate determination rather than allow ourselves to be swayed by the vicissitudes of life we can overcome obstacles, consciously build good habits which carry the hope that things will change for the better and as a result we become more focused on the positive.

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time” Thomas A Edison

If you focus on the potential benefits ahead and believe that your hard work will pay off, then your determination can be a motivating force to help you reach your end goal (as long as your goal is plausible and in your actual and potential skill set) .

“Be stronger than your strongest excuse

Be greater than your most negative excuse”

Alan Maiccon

Anyone can be determined; optimists (who can already envisage their goal) and pessimists (who like to try and prove their negative thoughts that the situation is hopeless or can’t be achieved wrong) but will keep trying anyway and work to the best of their abilities.

“Both optimists and pessimists contribute to society. The optimist invents the airplane the pessimist invents the parachute.” George Bernard Shaw

Determination helps you beat the odds. It gives you the drive to push ahead and do better. Instead of giving up, determination encourages you to stay focused and driven. Determination is about sustained, consistent effort toward a goal even when we struggle.

“Humans are creatures of habit. If you quit when things get tough, it gets that much easier to quit the next time. On the other hand, if you force yourself to push through it, the grit begins to grow in you.” Travis Bradberry

Living with intention helps us be determined, our determination rewards us with hope. Hope that is built on with concrete action reduces feelings of negativity and helps us towards an upward spiral instead.

“Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.” Laini Taylor

What techniques and tools can one use to dispel negative thoughts or accept a difficult scenario?

Looking at things from a different perspective is a useful tool. You may be having a difficult time but there is always good to be found if you look hard enough and don’t succumb to negativity.

Use techniques like defusion to relate to your thoughts in more helpful ways

We remain centred by focusing on our breath despite any passing thoughts. By bringing our attention to our breath, we can calm our minds and bring about an equilibrium.

“Curiosity is what keeps me open to a sense of hope. It staves off negativity”.

Carrie Brownstein

Replacement/attention density -When negative thoughts come, pay attention, then consciously choose to replace the negative thought with a positive thought. Hold the positive thought in your brain for a minute or more, this helps your brain form new, more positive, neural connections

“There is a seed of anger in every one of us. There is also a seed of fear, a seed of despair...And the agent of transformation and healing is called mindfulness” Thich Nhat Hanh

When you incorporate mindfulness with your values and take action, you develop psychological flexibility i.e. the ability to adapt to different situations.

Developing compassion allows us to have greater emotional balance, healthier relati, more effective actions, and greater peace of mind.

“The best way of removing negativity is to laugh and be joyous.” David Icke

Try to go for a whole week without complaining – not even once. If you relapse, start your week again. Watch the people around you change in response; your behaviour – positive or negative – can influence how others behave.

Mirror neurons fire when we act in a certain way and also when we observe the same action being performed by someone else.

“It would be easy to become a victim of our circumstances and continue feeling sad, scared or angry; or instead, we could choose to deal with injustice humanely and break the chains of negative thoughts and energies, and not let ourselves sink into it.” Erin Gruwell

We experience negativity on a daily basis. This negativity has an impact on all aspects of our lives – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. It is important to set boundaries and consciously choose where we focus our attention, spend time on uplifting things in uplifting environments with uplifting people whilst remembering that redressing negativity begins with ourselves. When we can learn to counter our natural negative bias with deliberate actions and choices then we will experience life more positively.

“Having the strength to tune out negativity and remain focused on what I want gives me the will and confidence to achieve my goals.” Gisele Bundchen

We have all gone through difficult times, encountered difficult people or caught ourselves thinking or speaking negatively. Affirmations, boundaries, intentional choices based on our values, deliberate action, helpful habits, living in the present and having an attitude of gratitude can all contribute to a more healthy perspective on life and lead to a healthier, happier existence for ourselves and better relationships with others.

Each one of us has different strengths and weaknesses and we will all make mistakes along life’s journey but when we have wisdom and hope we can reframe our resistance towards ‘negative’ things, achieve a better balance by acknowledging our emotions, defusing our unhelpful thoughts and flourishing.

“Don’t let negative thoughts of the past or the future ruin your today”. Avina Celeste

Further Reading

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