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Opinion: Stop focusing on negatives in 7 steps

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There’s too much negativity today. On social media, in the news cycle, when we eavesdrop on conversations in a restaurant or communicate at work, negativity is there.

We humans seem to have a built-in negativity bias, one that dredges up what’s going wrong around us rather than what’s going right. Too much negativity can rob us of happiness and peace of mind and keep us from thoroughly enjoying our work and relationships.

A person’s negativity can become chronic, different from the occasional complaints or gripes that surface in most workplaces. A chronic negativist persistently criticizes, complains, stays irritated at management or is even obstructive. They are quick to run down the boss, the company or the pay to co-workers, and they may even vent their irritations to customers.

I’ve spoken on attitude in the workplace hundreds of times, and when I open a talk, I start with a question: “How many chronic negativists does it take to affect the attitude of everyone on the team?” Most people answer, “One!” Undoubtedly, most people have experienced the detrimental effect of a negative boss or co-worker.  

Here are seven ways to stop focusing on the negatives and direct your feelings to improve things.

  1. Identify the people or places. When specific people or places trigger more negative thoughts than others, if possible, minimize your exposure to them. Otherwise, allow the experiences to happen without judgment.
  2. Notice self-critiques. Notice if your mind races to build a case against yourself, blames others or fixates on things outside your control. If it does, ease up on yourself, focus on what you can control and dwell on encouraging thoughts instead.
  3. Don’t major in the minors. One axiom that’s still relevant today is “don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.” Honestly, most things that regularly perturb us are small stuff. When you notice yourself ruminating over a disagreement or someone’s irritating behavior, let it go before it makes you angry or miserable.
  4. Be in the moment. Seeing the positives requires regular effort. On vacation, I noticed an outdoor sign with an excellent point: “Count your blessings – recount if necessary.” Abide in and appreciate the present.
  5. Avoid joining the bandwagon. This phenomenon happens when a person focuses on criticism or complaining because other people do it. Once standing behind a woman in line at a coffee shop, I overheard her joining in on the complaints about the cold, rainy weather. When she turned around and said, “Can you believe the gloomy weather?” In a lighthearted way, I reminded her that eventually, the rain would stop, the sun would come out and the birds would sing again. She smiled cheerily and said, “I guess you’re right!” A few moments later, her friend walked in and started complaining about the weather; she winked privately at me and said, “Yeah, but when the rain stops, the sun’s going to come out, and the birds are going to sing!” (That made me smile). Don’t let others dictate your perspective. Choose your attitude.
  6. Don’t rehash. A negative mindset can get stuck in a loop, repeatedly dwelling on something (or someone) upsetting. Recycling through negative thoughts can worsen things by creating endless patterns of frustration and producing fruitless behavior. Instead of ruminating over a disagreement or a perturbing issue at work, try limiting yourself to five minutes for critical thinking and problem-solving, followed by sufficient time to consider the positive side of that situation.
  7. Make a list. Write down the things or the people you are thankful for every day. Gratitude is a powerful force. Use it to shape your inner voice into something positive.

Regular bouts of negativity from a leader, an employee or a particular department aren’t beneficial. They impact productivity and can harm the culture. Anyone can help improve their workplace by committing to make things better rather than just complaining about what they don’t like.

Consultant, professional speaker and author Mark Holmes is president of Springfield-based Consultant Board Inc. and MarkHolmesGroup.com. He can be reached at mark@markholmesgroup.com.

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