For quite some time I’ve been under the impression that being positive about life and having an enthusiastic attitude when facing a problem or any sort of difficulty, was an absolute social imperative. Motivational messages, notes and thoughts of various wise people are springing out literally wherever I turn. Facebook posts, tweets, Instagram images are nothing compared to the messages I see on billboards, bags, T-shirts, coffee mugs, stationery and bottles of water and juices, especially the healthy ones.
Most of these are about happiness and how we’re just one step away from reaching the ultimate bliss, but alas, our negative thoughts are getting in the way. Oh, if only we could get rid of those, then all would be roses and daisies.
The trouble was, even though I agreed with most of the messages I just couldn’t reach that bliss and turn my everyday thoughts into fields of flowers where the carefree birds sing lullabies.
Naturally, I started analyzing why I was so bad at training myself into positive thinking .
Me in other people's eyes
To get a better insight I started asking friends and family how they would describe me, and here’s how it usually went down.
“Hey, if someone asked what type of a person I am, what would you say?”
“Well, you’re cool, smart, friendly but maybe a bit too sarcastic”.
“Sarcastic like funny sarcastic or…?”
“Well, more like “life sucks” sarcastic”.
“Say someone asked you to describe me what’s the first thought that would come to your mind?”
“Negative and rarely looking on the bright side”
“Really? But, I’m not!”
“You always find something to be critical about, you get hung up on the bad stuff more than you do on the good stuff. But, it’s you and I don’t mind”
“But I mind!”
You get the picture.
After a few of these conversations a sign saying “Be ware, a negative person” was sitting above my head. And I felt bad, like really bad. I’d always pictured myself as the funny one with a sharp sense of humor and with an optimistic outlook. I never doubted that things will work out fine, no matter the situation.
Now, I couldn’t stop wondering why people labelled me with this negative tone.
Observation and confirmation
So, I decided to observe my behavior and reactions a bit closer. On day one I caught myself as being the negative one in a couple of situations at work. A new project was coming up and we were brainstorming ideas. The only person in the room who was argumentative, sabotaging and difficult was me. I began each sentence with either “Yes, but..”, or “I don’t think it will work”. Disaster!
Interactions outside the office were just as bad. A friend suggested setting me up with a guy who works in a bank and I refused by providing arguments such as “Bankers are boring, I don’t like men in suits, I’ve got nothing to talk about with someone who works in a bank”, etc.
Facing the ugly truth
I felt like the most negative person in the world. I realized that my sarcasm comes from the fact that I really do find fault in everything, nothing’s ever good enough for me, I first see a problem and then a way to solve it.
From my perspective, this world is full of obstacles and I complain too often about how hard everything is.
It was really hard for me to accept that somewhere along the road I really became a bit too moody and sullen. My thoughts were more grayish than pink most of the time, regardless of the topic. However, I immediately gave up on going back and looking for that exact moment when I turned into this bitter person. Instead, I decided to find ways to change.
Training & practice
What I did first was to stop responding and reacting immediately when asked for an opinion, suggestion or advice, either by my colleagues or my friends and family. And here’s why: I wanted to take that one minute just to reflect on things and try to see the bigger and brighter picture. I also tried looking at things from various angles, through other people’s eyes, not only from my own corner.
Second, I stopped focusing on the negative and substitute it for something more appealing. For example, I started leaving post-it notes with quotes I could relate to all around the house. I wrote down stuff that I could really believe like “All’s well and will be better”, “There’s a silver lining in everything”, “You’re changing to make your life easier and better”. I found that putting these on the bathroom mirror was especially helpful as this is the first thing I see in the morning and the last in the evening.
Next, I started avoiding bad news, on TV, the Internet, I cleaned my news feed on Facebook and scrolled past all the negative stuff. I realized I am the one choosing what I want to see, so I chose to see only the good stuff, the pretty pictures, songs that make me dance.
Where I am now
I am in a good place at the moment. Simply because things take time and because I allowed myself the time to see the changes. And I did, even sooner than I thought.
It made me super happy when people started paying compliments and commending my change of attitude. This is really motivating. Now I know there are days when I’m at my best and really satisfied with the progress I’ve made, and there are days when things are not as shiny, but I know that it will only last as much as I allow it to last. So, I rarely give it more than 24 hours. I realized that this contrast even helps me to appreciate more all the good things that happen.
I am not asking too much of myself and I am OK with the fact that I will never be one of those smiley people who are always so optimistic but I will also not be a grumpy one.
I'm doing the best I can at any given moment, and it works for me.
What works for you?