Looking for more joy and less stress in the time of COVID? Perhaps you’d love to sit down at a Thanksgiving meal without worrying about a heated political debate. Guess what? We can set ourselves up for success by anticipating what is coming and how we will handle it.
Do you ever feel like you need to have the last word? Or maybe you hold your tongue and someone else gets the last word, but you walk away filled with spite. Let’s look at six ways to get through the land mines of negativity.
1. Make a Decision to Stop Saying Negative Words
Negativity is habitual. It’s a rut we dig for our brains through years of thoughtless comments. It’s the easy way, but it’s certainly not the way to happiness. We get to choose how we feel, but it has to start with a decision. We have to make the choice to take baby steps with our behavior each day that will eventually add up to more joy in our lives.
First, make a decision to stop saying negative words. It’s like recovering from an addiction; you have to decide at some point that the way you’ve always done things in the past is not the way you want to do them in the future.
Studies show when people want to lose weight, they have more success when they keep track of what they are putting in their mouths. The opposite is true for kindness. Instead of tracking what goes into our mouths, we need to track what’s coming out. Start with a little self-monitoring. Was that comment true? Was it helpful? Was it inspiring? Was it necessary? Was it kind? In short, we want to T.H.I.N.K. when we speak: True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, Kind.
2. Get an Accountability Partner
Sometimes we can’t hear ourselves. We get so used to doing things the way we’ve always done them and saying the things we’ve always said. An accountability partner is someone who can hear what you’re saying more clearly than you can.
If you find yourself picking on yourself or others with your words, get an accountability partner. This should be someone you trust, who is gentle but honest. Ask them to tell you when they hear you speaking negatively. Try this approach: “Sometimes I say things without even realizing what I’m saying. If you hear me being critical with my words, would you please gently point it out to me?”
3. Snap That Rubber Band
I keep a rubber band on my wrist not only for my hair but also for my mind. When a negative thought creeps in uninvited, I snap that rubber band. I pull it far from my wrist and then let go. Yep, it hurts.
Snapping the rubber band is a physical reminder of the emotional pain we cause ourselves and others with our words. Trust me, it doesn’t take too long for your mind and your body to work together.
4. Use a Predetermined Exit Plan
I once knew two women who were friends—until they weren’t. When one of them called me, wanting to complain about the other, I knew I had a responsibility to be clear and kind. “I’m not going to talk about her when she’s not around,” I started, “but I promise I won’t talk about you when you’re not around either.”
Sometimes it’s hard to find the right words when we’re face to face. That’s a good time to create some space. Get up and go to the bathroom. Give yourself a moment alone to think about what role you want to play in the conversation.
Or maybe try saying this: “I’m working on myself right now. I can’t afford to get caught up in negativity because I’m trying to create more happiness in my own life.”
5. Memorize a Mantra to Replace Negative Thoughts
Did you know we are constantly training our brain? We are so smart, and our bodies work so efficiently, that every day our mind is learning how to react to situations tomorrow based on how we react to them today. We do that by intentionally replacing negative thoughts with a predetermined mantra. It can be a quote, scripture or anything else that moves your brain back to a healthier place. Think about what you’re thinking about, and know you have the power to change those thoughts.
6. Create Stories and Ask Questions with the Intent to Build Compassion
Questions that are accusations get us nowhere. Questions that are bridges to understanding get us everywhere. When we are curious and trying to understand someone else’s actions or point of view, we find a softness toward people we may have previously judged as being “wrong.” When it comes to race, religion, politics or whether masks should be mandated, when you disagree, ask thoughtful questions that lead to learning.
Sometimes asking questions is out of the question. This is when we create stories.
That woman who let the door slam in your face as you left the store? Maybe she’s not rude, just preoccupied. Instead of being offended, we can think to ourselves, I bet she’s wondering what she can cut from the grocery list to make it to the end of the month.
This is key: we are never going to ask if our story is correct. It’s not a matter of truly figuring out what is going on in someone’s life. Creating stories is our tool to move our minds from a place of tension to a place of tenderness.
Our brains desperately want to sit on autopilot, thinking the same old thoughts we’ve always thought. But then we end up feeling the same old way we’ve always felt. There is room for more happiness in our lives, but we have to intentionally choose to take steps each day to say no to the negative and draw more kindness into our lives.