Sticky Negativity

As a middle school teacher, I dreaded calling the parents of disruptive students. After making the calls, I couldn’t stop thinking about these students’ problems and generalizing in my mind that ALL students were difficult. I also thought about everything else about teaching that was a struggle. I felt so deflated and drained of energy.

My mentor teacher gave me a great suggestion: each time I make a call about a problem, choose an admirable student and make a call to his or her parents simply to praise their child. Although this took some extra time to do, it was well worth it because it focused my mind on the fact that a lot more kids were doing wonderful things than those that were causing problems. As I grew in gratitude for these stellar kids, I was reminded of the great work I was doing and felt renewed energy to accomplish what needed to be done. It trained me to look for and notice the positive things that were happening instead of focusing on the negative only.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how negativity gets a grip on us. It sounds obvious, but I think we are usually unaware of what’s going on because this happens so often. When you hold a negative thought or belief, it snowballs into more and more negative thoughts and beliefs, until you’re totally stuck in the mire of negativity. I believe that the law of entropy is the force behind this destructive pattern.

Simply becoming aware that this is happening, however, can cause a shift. You can choose a new thought or belief. And when you consciously choose to hold something positive in your mind, it can lead to more and more positivity, if you keep up the effort. The law of entropy is the default governing force of our world, but it can be overcome through intention, energy, and work.

The following 10-minute TED talk explains this phenomenon well, using experiments and examples. I think you’ll find it interesting:

When you identify with any negative idea, it tends to stick to you. Deepak Chopra has identified the following common negative thoughts and beliefs. Which of them do you commonly identify with?

  • I feel horrible.
  • I don’t deserve this. Why me?
  • Somebody’s going to pay.
  • I didn’t bring this on myself.
  • Who can I unload this on?
  • This is making me crazy.
  • Nobody can help me.
  • How can I distract myself until this feeling goes away?
  • When I’m feeling this bad, everybody better look out.
  • I need [my drug of choice] to get through this.
  • I want to be rescued.
  • Somebody has it in for me.
  • This has to be settled right now.
  • I can’t help how I feel; it’s just how I’m wired.

When you catch yourself in these thoughts, let them act as red flags warning that you need to shift to positive thinking. Try replacing the thought with one of these:

  • I can get through this; it won’t last forever.
  • I’ve felt this way before. I can deal with it.
  • I won’t feel better unloading on someone else.
  • No one ever wins the blame game.
  • Acting out leads to regret and guilt.
  • I’m not alone; I can call someone to help me through this bad patch.
  • I am much more than my feelings.
  • Moods come and go, even the worst moods.
  • I can be patient; let’s see if I calm down in awhile.
  • I know how to center myself.

If you can make any of these statements true, you’re moving in the right direction. How do you make them true? By simply wanting them to be. What you persistently believe to be true becomes your reality.

Also, focus on what you’re grateful for, and negativity will immediately begin to lose its power over you. When you train your mind to habitually look for the good, you will notice it more and more often until positive thinking becomes your default pattern.

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