“I need a fun and digestible blog topic.”
I’ve cornered my brother and his girlfriend in the kitchen, hoping that they have a magic answer for me. I quickly run them through the five different blogs I’ve written and deleted. My hostage focus group gives me some decent ideas, which I mercilessly swat away like King Kong on top of the Empire State Building. The fact that I’ve turned to them to give me a topic shows how frustrated I am, even though I’m not exactly accepting their suggestions graciously. My brother rinses out his cup, turns to look at me, and says, “how about you write about how hard it is to think of a positive blog topic?”
As humans, it is much easier for us to focus on the negative rather than the positive. We think about what we didn’t get done today rather than what we completed, what the store was out of rather than the groceries we did acquire, what’s going wrong rather than what’s going right. It’s not that all humans have a bad attitude, it’s a well-documented, cross-cultural phenomenon: the negativity bias (Rozin & Royzman, 2001). While I could go into the various ways this bias has been tested, possible explanations, discuss the effects that the negativity bias has, I’m going to keep this short and jump directly to what you can do about it. The easy answer is something along the lines of “be more positive!”, but in concrete ways.
Adjust Your Self-Talk: Self-talk can be explained as the inner monologue running through your head. When you make a mistake, what do you think immediately? Let’s say you’re heading to a job interview. If your brain plays You’re the Best Around from the Karate Kid soundtrack on repeat, this tip is not for you. If your inner dialogue is closer to “I’m going to waste their time, I’m never going to get this job, I’m worthless”, or anywhere in between, you could benefit from tweaking this dialogue. Rather from leaping right from negative to positive, try neutral. Notice the negative tone or language of the thought and alter it: “I’m anxious about this interview, but I’m going to try.” Some other examples are:
- “I’m never going to be good at this” -> “I’m still learning this”
- “I can’t do anything right” -> “I could have handled that differently”
- “I hate working on this” -> “Even though this isn’t my favorite thing, I’ve made some progress.”
The point of this isn’t to neglect your feelings and replace them with positive ones, it is to acknowledge where you are mentally and try to state the thought in a less hurtful way.
If these examples don’t seem helpful, try thinking of yourself as a child. When a child makes a mistake, you don’t belittle them or call them names (hopefully). Children get our compassion and understanding right away, as most often we try to comfort them and encourage them when something goes wrong. Extend that framework to yourself: “I’m nervous about this interview, but I’m going to do my best”.
Gratitude Journal: If self-talk isn’t a struggle for you, try a gratitude journal. Before going to bed each day, think of a few things that you’re thankful for. This can be anything from “I won the lottery today!” to “I made it to work on time”, whatever in your day that went right or even just okay. Write down as many things as you can think of in ten minutes and see how the list looks. Do this every day and try to intentionally look for silver linings to appreciate as they come up in your day.
Plan Positivity: Give yourself small things to look forward to throughout the day. This looks different for everyone, but some examples could be:
- Taking a walk
- Calling a friend / family member
- Your favorite snack or meal
- Read a book
- Do a hobby you enjoy
- Listening to music
By scheduling small increments of time to do things you enjoy throughout your day, you might find yourself less desperate for a vacation (or retirement) and can focus on the here and now of the small, simple pleasures in life.
Rozin, P., & Royzman, E. B. (2001). Negativity Bias, Negativity Dominance, and Contagion. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5(4), 296–320. https://doi.org/10.1207/S15327957PSPR0504_2
TEDx Talks. (2013, June 22). Getting stuck in the negatives (and how to get unstuck) | Alison Ledgerwood | TEDxUCDavis [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XFLTDQ4JMk