Why when things are going well do we focus on the bad stuff?  (And how to stop doing it!)

Last week was actually amazing, all things considering. I had 10 amazing success stories from my clients that I am working with. I ran a brilliant training. My Hedwig arrived in the post. Lead some powerful workshops and a few new exciting business opportunities are opening up for me. And yet here I am sitting amidst all of this success feeling all negative. Why? Because of a negative incident in a meeting.  In reality, the meeting wasn’t actually that bad. Only 10 % was negative, 10 % didn’t go the way I wanted it to, the rest was amazingly positive. So how can I in all of this success and abundance feel negative?

You must have felt this before. The negative remark of a friend about your clothes followed with the but you look perfect in anything, or the performance review where you boss makes just one suggestion for an improvement, or even the perfect evening in the restaurant interrupted by the loud, annoying couple sitting next to you. In these situations what do we remember? The negative.

It used to make me wonder and worry if I was just incapable of appreciating the good in life when this happened. However, throughout the years I discovered I am not alone. Everyone experiences this at some point, if not often in their life. Feeling negative, despite all of the positive good things around us or in our lives, is a relatively common experience. And the reason why we all have these experiences is simple. It is because we are human. We are designed that way.

If you have a tendency for detecting and dwelling on the negative, it’s no cause for alarm. In fact, you are simply a product of intelligent human design. (Or come from Jutland) Humans were designed to be keenly aware of negative circumstances and consequences as it helped our ancestors survive. It is part of our internal system that identifies danger and tries to protect us. Our biology tells us instinctively it is safer to be negative. Bad memories stick harder than good to protect us from creating the same situation again.  Which also makes it easier to understand why we tend to believe negative personal criticism above positive reinforcement. It is our bodies way of eliminating risks and keeping us alive.

Understandable albeit not always helpful. Over-focusing on negativity is as we all know destructive and often depressing. Ironically this self-preservation method can become really destructive if left to its own devices. And who wants to be negative. I would much rather be sitting here feeling the glow of my successes than wallowing in the other stuff.  So the challenge is how to stop doing it? Well, my opinion here differs from the traditional here. You can read hundreds, if not thousands of articles out there on how to stop being negative and be more positive. The majority of them are effective, but they also suppress the body’s natural, instinctual survival system that causes the negative emotions in the first place. Not healthy in my opinion. A bit like putting a handkerchief on a wound that needs stitches. A quick and not long lasting fix. I personally believe that we need this system our bodies have created to identify and survive danger. The trick I have found to stop being caught in the negativity spiral is to control it and consciously have it work for you. Instead of it controlling you and ultimately working against you.

If you like me have suddenly found yourself caught up focusing on the negative despite all the good going on around you try my method of working with your body’s survival system to find your way back to feeling positive again.

Identify:

Whatever caused the negative feeling is provoking one of you internal dramas. An internal drama is a behavioural response to a situation based on previous experience. It might be that you know exactly which drama is being set off. Or you may be responding unconsciously. In order to learn from your body’s auto survival system, you need to know why this particular situation sets of your internal drama. What is it that you feel unsafe about in this situation? Why does it affect you so strongly? In the example of the restaurant, it could be that the annoying couple sets off a drama related to a situation where peoples intrusive behaviour has affected you negatively in the past. Identifying how you feel “threatened” is half of the battle.

Perspective:

Now you need to step back and find out what is the teaching in this situation. What is your body trying to protect you from? How can you make sure you feel safe? It may be that you need to work with the internal drama.  It could simply be that you need to work out a strategy which allows you to feel comfortable in the situation.

For example in my meeting one of my observations made a person in a higher authority react explosively in anger.  Hours later I was still focusing on that rather than the other positive experiences in the same meeting. Unconsciously this was caused by an internal drama related to a previous job where I was fired and left in a financial mess. In essence, this meeting has in my unconscious threatened my ability to survive. The teaching was to recognised that the anger was not actually directed at me and my observations. Basically to not take on the responsibility of blame for someone else’s emotional. And to really realise that this was not threatening my existence. In Fact, I realised that the explosive emotion was showing the other person’s passion and commitment to solving the problem observed.

Action:

The next step is action. Our biological self- preservation response is actually calling us to action. Do something about this. Now if we immediately respond without processing we will be working from our fight or flight system. In the case of my meeting, I could have emailed the person after the meeting looking for positive reinforcement that they were not angry with me and apologising for making them angry. Putting myself into a position when I accepted blame. Making myself, in fact, more vulnerable. After identifying and gaining perspective I realised that the best course of action was to handle the problem at hand. To take responsibility for the solution, not the anger. I felt instantly safe. In control. Consequently, I felt happier.

Identifying your action and taking that action is one of the best ways to calm down your biological self- preservation system. Of course, when dealing with internal personal drams the actions may take longer than in my example. It may be that you need to process and accept previous traumas. This is itself a teaching of the situation.

Positivity boost

So once you have made yourself feel safe you will need a positivity boost to get you back on track. For me, gratitude practice works well. Writing a list of my blessings and the things I am grateful for immediately turns my thoughts to a positive cycle. Other people dance to music, meditate, train, play computer games, indulge in self-care or simply complete a simple task like washing up to get a feeling of success. Do something that will shift your thoughts into positive again.

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Your biological self- preservation system makes you focus on the negative for a reason. Just like a malware warning on your pc. By acknowledging its presence, identifying the issue. Then by processing, taking action and rebooting the pc of your mind you will function at optimal capacity. The more often you do this the less the negative will take over and deny you the peace, contentment and safety of recognising the positive in your life.

Have a great week <3

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