Fighting Your Negative Set Point

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Years ago, a family member casually mentioned to me that my hair was super cute, the day before.  I think her exact words were, "What happened to your hair?"

Yep, ouch!

Have you noticed that negative comments and events stick with us much longer, and influence us more than positive ones? I’m sure you’ve experienced this quite a few times. A positive comment by your teacher for example is appreciated, but the effects wear off quickly. A negative comment on the other hand sticks with you much longer. Why is that? It’s because our brains have a bias to negativity. It’s measurable and there have been brain scan studies done that show that our brain reacts more strongly to negative stimuli. The big question then is how do we fight against our brain’s bias to negativity?

What can we do to make sure negative remarks and criticism don’t get us down? The first step is that we realize that there is such a thing. This allows us to take each piece of negativity with a grain of salt. It can be incredibly helpful to acknowledge that our mind and heart may be overreacting about something negative. On the flip side, this knowledge also allows us to make it a point to savor the positivity. Don’t dismiss a compliment out of hand. Instead, savor it, think about it, and make it a point to remember it, and allow it to lift you up when negativity brings you down.

Of course all of this is easier said than done. Since this bias to negativity is hard wired in our brains, it takes a lot of time and effort to build new, more positive habits. Remind yourself each morning that your mind is trying to force you to focus on the negative stuff and that it takes a conscious effort to balance it out by being mindful off all the good and happy things in our lives.

Over time this will allow us to grow a thicker skin when it comes to unwarranted criticism. Should you ignore every single comment or suggestion that you don’t like? Of course not. There is such a thing as constructive criticism that helps us to grow and get better at what we do. When faced with constructive criticism, remind yourself that you are not the opinions that others have of you, but you can use the information to better yourself if you choose to.  This is especially helpful when you're getting a performance review from a boss you don't like or sitting across the table from your mother in law as she picks over the meal you spent all day preparing.

It's very important that you guard against are the intentionally negative words, events, and feelings that make us want to go hide in a cave. We don’t want to encourage inaction in ourselves. Instead, we want to use the positivity around us to lift us up and help us make it through the tough times, get stronger, and get better at what we do.

Reflecting on both the good and the bad on a daily basis can be a great exercise to help us gain a little distance and see everything that’s happening to us in a better light. I use a game I call, High/Low with my kids.  I just have them tell me their best and worst moment of the day to keep things in perspective.  You might want to keep a journal or set aside some time for quiet contemplation. Talking things out with a friend, particularly when you’re struggling with something negative that you’ve having a hard time getting past is another great idea. What you want to avoid is running and re-running the events through your head thinking of all the things you did wrong and what you should have done or said.

Above all, do what you can to outweigh the negativity with the good stuff. Keep a box or file with some of the best positive emails and comments you’ve gotten. Peruse through them whenever you need to counteract something negative. As time goes by you’ll grow that that thicker skin that will protect you from your harshest critics.