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4 Tips for Dealing With Negativity

You can influence the effect that negativity has on your life by being in the driver's seat in terms of how you respond to it. What you focus on grows. Cultivate the things you want to have in your life this festive season.
12/15/2015 10:26am ET | Updated December 15, 2016
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This time of year is filled with joy, love and peace. But with the light often comes the darkness. Too often negativity can also arise. Negativity can start with one look, comment or act. Then it spreads like a virus. Whilst many people aspire to live a positive life, it is difficult to avoid crossing paths with negativity. Here are four tips to keep you sane if negativity strikes this festive season.

Tip 1: Fresh Eyes

Here they come again. What are they going to whinge about this time? The scenario is often played out in your head before it even happens. Familiarity breeds complacency (which can become contempt). Instead why not try bringing fresh eyes to the people, places, tasks and situations to which your brain has become particularly accustomed. Do this by bringing to mind the thought "see it/him/her with fresh eyes" then use your sense of sight to pay attention with a clear, curious and open mind to what is actually there, rather than viewing it/them through the same old pathways in your head.

When you see the person or situation without the baggage of past experience, you might actually be surprised by what's there.

Tip 2: Spread Viruses You Want to See Grow

The discovery of mirror neurons supports the concept that thoughts and emotions are contagious. Every person's brain has neurons that mimic or mirror what another person does. These mirror neurons detect someone else's emotional state and actually reproduce those emotions, creating an instant sense of shared experience. If you're being infected by negatives, it is even more crucial that you take a moment to make very clear and intentional choices about where you give your attention. Because positive emotions are also contagious. Even a smile from a stranger can change your mood, but it is attention that allows this force to flow from one to another. This does not mean you have to discard all negative people from your life, but you must make a conscious choice to not let their perspective grab your attention. In fact you can even be a force for good by thinking more about the viruses you spread to others.

Be a role model for the emotions, mindsets and actions you are seeking in others. When you encounter a negative situation, focus on attitudes you want in the situation and cultivate that within yourself. When you find yourself wishing any situation is other than it is, give what you think is lacking. In order to identify areas that you could cultivate, ask yourself, "What is missing right now?" and then focus on being that yourself.

Tip 3: Pause Often

Emotional responses in your brain are rapid, often driving you to action before you've even had the chance to "think" about what you're doing. When dealing with negativity it can sometimes seem like the rational part of the brain lags the emotional part. This leads to all sorts of destructive behaviors, such as overreacting to someone's comments, or even worse, to what you assume they meant. You cannot change other people's actions but you can certainly change how you respond and you can gain control over whether it trips you up.

By training your brain to pause regularly, you strengthen your ability to regulate your emotional reactions, allowing time for your rational brain to catch up. A pause enables you to bring the power of your whole brain to a situation. Rather than being a victim of your emotional reactions or your busy mind, you get the chance to make more conscious decisions about how you will respond.

The Pause is a simple exercise that involves introducing a very short "mental intermission" when you are overtaken by emotion or overwhelmed by negativity. So here's how it works:

1. Acknowledge the rising emotion and say to yourself "time to pause"
2. Direct your attention to one of your senses for the length of one breath in and out (about six seconds)

Tip 4: Boosting Positive Emotions

Happiness and positive emotions are no longer an airy fairy concept. There is a science of happiness. It tells us that 40 percent of your happiness is within your control and not dictated by life circumstances. It tells us that the ratio of positive to negative experiences required to perform well is 3:1. It tells us that when you focus on your strengths rather than dwelling on your weaknesses you are 12.5 percent more productive. It seems that wherever you look, positive emotions drive performance, success, and fulfillment.

Being positive opens your mind widely to the world. You become more curious and interested, more caring and responsive, and more easily connected. But a focus on negatives reveals very different behaviors. Not only is the observable activity in the brain very different, but the chemicals that flood the body have a very different effect. Negativity triggers feelings of stress, fear or even anger.

Being positive is a choice that becomes easier and easier. It's about recognizing that what you give your attention to in any moment can shut you down or open you up. There's no doubt which feels better, and there's no doubt which connects you with those things in life that matter the most. Thoughts, people, places, books, movies, rituals, habits, food, exercise, behaviors, emotions, intentions, and activities infect your attention and define your life. Make the right choices!

You can influence the effect that negativity has on your life by being in the driver's seat in terms of how you respond to it. What you focus on grows. Cultivate the things you want to have in your life this festive season.

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