“Don’t be so negative!”
It’s the cry of positive thinkers everywhere. Some people don’t even want to hear about negative stuff, let alone experience it. If you’d turned up at my office the other day you’d have found me very negative. On the surface I was banging my fist on the desk. Inside, I was squirming. A moment’s distraction during a sale had cost me two thousand dollars. One little miscalculation! It was stupid, and for a while that’s what I kept calling myself: stupid, stupid, stupid.
I’d closed the sale. I had it in writing, but then I saw an opportunity to save on my costs and thought I’d pass the saving on to the client. I was so happy to help that it never occurred to me that the client would be distrustful. Next thing I knew, she’d nixed the reopened contract. The more I tried to explain, the more her eyes narrowed. So much for being honest. What sort of person thinks that putting ethics before profit is a bad sales strategy?
So I lost a little money. That was that. But what about the negativity I was inflicting on myself? That I could work with. I wasn’t responsible for my client’s suspicion, but I was responsible for my inner dialog. Stupid. In that negative judgment of myself I heard the voices of all the bad teachers and role models I’d ever had—people who’d repeated the word until I believed it.
I was raised by old-fashioned, narrow-minded Catholic monks and nuns who took their frustrations out on the pupils in their charge. It’s not that we were blind to what was going on. We made fun of them behind their backs and stood up to them whenever we felt brave enough, but their messages penetrated anyway. What we subconsciously took away with us was that we weren’t good enough. Seeing that connection was an eye-opener. The self-destructive habit was loosened.
After years of submitting to that inner chatter, I’d turned the tables. Stepping back from that chatter at last, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe how willing I’d been to put myself down, nor for how long. I’d literally taken on the role of those bad teachers.
This sort clarity is gold. It doesn’t feel good, but it has the power to heal deep wounds. Once upon a time I’d have said there was a reason for my miscalculation, that I was burning off bad karma, or that the universe knew something I didn’t. I’d have glued a smile onto my face and thought I was being spiritual and clever, but I’d have been none the wiser.
These sorts of ‘spiritual’ rationalizations aren’t just beside the point. They’re a bad strategy, a way to avoid going through your own crap. The trouble with this sort of escapism is that you never come out the other side. You remain stuck in it, repeating the same old stuff and asking yourself, ‘Why does this always happen to me?’ If you really want to get past negativity, you can’t just deny it or rationalize it away. You have to chip away at all that avoidance until you see it clearly for what it is: a series of bad habits of your own choosing.
Opportunities to gaze into that side of ourselves rarely look ideal. In fact, they usually look like more stuff to avoid. Whenever I find myself squirming, I know it’s time to look deeper. This is when it really pays to work with a life coach or mentor. You need moral support to dislodge stubborn habits, but you especially need a skillful, outside eye to point at those things that normally send us into blind denial. The key to dealing with negative energy is to carefully separate the negative experiences over which you have no control from the negative voices in your head. When you do that, then you really do become a positive thinker. It takes a little thought, a bit of courage and a lot of practice. To uproot bad old habits you have to create good new ones, and that’s work.