When you stop looking at the world through a cynical lens, you will be surprised at how easy and productive your life can truly be.
“You are not good enough.” “This sounds like a risky proposition.” “What if the business fails?” — we have heard such statements from those around us, and maybe at times, told the same to ourselves while over the years. It’s only natural to be plagued by doubt — self-imposed or external — as we are pitted against the odds, build a new life, a new business, enter a new profession, or even enter a new stage of life such as matrimony or parenthood. We may face similar insecurities when we choose to move away from our mental and emotional comfort zones as well.
These feelings of doubt laced with negativity come to us naturally, since evolution has wired us to be cautious of making mistakes and to weigh the cons in each situation, we find ourselves in. But the real challenge is to rise above this constant undermining of ourselves or our talents — what scientists term as ‘the negativity bias’ — that holds us back from reaching our full potential.
As contemplative psychotherapist Joe Lizzo said in a recent episode of my Living with Sunny Podcast, “We’re born in survival mode and lean more towards fear than care. We’re looking for care from others, but we’re afraid. Negativity bias is a built-in default tendency. If a culture doesn’t stimulate and value the development of compassion, children do not learn to use their love and compassion as clean energy for living. Instead, they rely on the dirty energy of stress.”
Here’s how you can step away from this trap of gloom to make the most of your life and the opportunities it offers:
Negative Emotions: Acknowledge and Disengage
Social scientist Roy F Baumeister studied the human brain’s negativity bias and found that we are tuned to find more impact in bad emotions or bad feedback than good ones. Baumeister’s study also found: “The self is more motivated to avoid bad self-definitions than to pursue good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.”
If that is the case, understanding what motivates us could be the first step toward moving away from negativity. When you know you are looking at a situation through a cynical lens, acknowledging the fact can help you find neutral ground. For example, when you get angry at someone, taking a moment and choosing to ignore their faults and instead focusing on their goodness can help you share constructive criticism in words that are less harsh or, better still, reconsider the volatile situation.
When we find faults in ourselves (and others) or look at the missed opportunities in our lives, we tend to remember all these events with clarity. The day you fell sick before an exam, the day you lost a football match, the day you had a fight with your best friend … But while you may not remember them vividly, the compliments you received as a child, the bonhomie you shared with your school or college mates, the help you get from your colleagues daily, the smile from a neighbor as you step out the door — it’s important to acknowledge these small positives in your life. They often go unnoticed. To make sure you remember and cherish these positive moments, it’s important to be grateful. As Dr Kien Vuu explains in the latest episode of my podcast, gratitude enhances our wellbeing — it helps preserve our telomeres and lowers inflammatory markers, thereby positively impacting our health and longevity.
It is easy to see how steep the fall is, rather than appreciate how high you had climbed, and what your next goal should be. Being grateful can help you notice, appreciate, and nurture the relationships that have supported you in your journey. It will also help you be humble and gentle towards others.
Create a Positive Bubble
Bad news is a part of life — we hear of it in our circles, read about it in the papers or in our social media feeds — and it can leave us feeling helpless. Once you understand why you have been looking at the world through not-so-rosy glasses, you may find that there is indeed scope to grow, both individually and as a society. Start small by taking charge of your own mental and emotional wellbeing, push yourself to stay positive, and spread cheer in your own family — these can be the first steps to helping yourself and others look at the positive side of life.
Build a bank of positive thoughts, pleasant memories, and encouraging words that you can share with your friends and family. The children around you will imbibe this positive attitude the next time they need help overcoming hurdles. Be the example you seek.
Let Go, Mindfully
Don’t let the past hold you back. Some of your old mistakes and missed opportunities may be a good reminder for you to be careful in the future, but don’t let their memory deride you or bring down your morale. Things may go wrong even in the future, and we must accept that being unable to control something is not a sign of weakness, but simply one of humanity.
Wholistic Wellbeing can help you in this journey of acknowledging your vulnerabilities to be your best self, and mindfulness and awareness can help you let go of your past grievances and show you how to be present in this positive moment.