How to Reverse Negativity and Come out on Top

Sometimes there is nothing more irritating than those trite phrases like “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” When you’re having a tough time in life, your first inclination may be to tell those full of such homespun logic to go suck a lemon.

Those people don’t have to deal with an ogre boss or a long commute, you think, so they don’t know that it’s difficult to just be so darn positive all the time.

But what if there was a way to flip the switch in your life? To start seeing negative aspects of your work in a way that helped you be happier and less eaten up by guilt or stress or unhappiness?

Christina Tracy Stein is a psychotherapist and co-author of Kiss That Frog: 12 Great Ways to Turn Negatives into Positives in Your Life and Work.

She says that as children, we respond to the caregivers in our lives. For example, that means if you had someone in your life that was responsive to your needs – such as knowing you needed a bit more comfort when life handed you lemons – then you may feel more comfortable with yourself and your feelings.

“Negativity often comes when you aren’t honored for being an authentic person,” she says. “If people in your life have encouraged you to be who you are, then you’re honored for being an authentic person. But if you can’t be honest and you’re constantly being a fake version of yourself, then that’s when you get frustrated and negative.”

Dealing with nasty moods

Because of the difficult job market, many employees feel stuck in jobs that further sour their mood. Stein says in those cases, it can be helpful to lower your expectations. In other words, don’t expect so much from a boss or colleagues and then you’re not attaching yourself to an outcome that disappoints you and is “like a letdown every day,” she says.

If you’ve got a mean or angry boss, then Stein suggest learning not to take his or her behavior personally. Accept that the boss is in a bad mood and just let that person be in a bad mood.

“Acknowledge it and tell yourself just to stay away from that dark energy,” she says.

It can also be helpful to imagine that someone who is being unpleasant may be going through a difficult personal time – such as experiencing a troubled marriage – and that is the cause of the nasty mood, she says.

“Even if it’s not true, just imagining that can help you move past it and not take it personally,” she says.

One of the other causes of negativity in our lives in the guilt we may feel trying to juggle personal and professional demands. With three children under the age of five, Stein says she’s well aware of that struggle.

“I can tell you that it really is a case of quality versus quantity,” she says. “It really matters that you give the quality time. So, in my case, my husband and I have a date time every week. I schedule a ‘date’ with each of my children, just one-on-one time with each one.”

Breaking free

In her book with Brian Tracy, Stein writes that while two people” may have the same experience…one will rise above it, let it go, and get on with life. The other person will be crushed, angry, resentful, and unhappy for an extended period of time – same event, two different reactions.”

They provide several ways that you can be one of those people who moves beyond difficulty and transforms a negative into a positive. Among their suggestions:

• Accept life’s lessons. Don’t focus on the negative aspects of a failure at work, for example, but think about the lessons you learned from it. How has that experience helped you make better choices and decisions? What are the advantages or benefits you’ve gained from that experience?

• Look for change. If you’ve been struggling with a problem for a long time, such as a bad relationship with someone at work, it could be that when you look more deeply at the issue you’ll discover that’s it’s you who needs to change. You may discover that this struggle is similar to other work experiences and there seems to be a pattern of these kinds of problems. If you don’t drill deep and discover the root of the issue, you “subconsciously set up situations to repeat the experience,” the authors write.

They also caution that your ego may try to deny the lesson you need to learn, but find the courage to face the truth. Once you do, they write, all your stress will vanish and you will feel calm and “at peace.”

• Use positive language. Eliminate the word “problem” and substitute it with “situation” or “challenge.” Challenges are something that people rise to, and can bring out the best in yourself and others. Even better, try using “opportunity” to talk about setbacks.

• Practice zero-based thinking. To stop negative feelings and banish worry, ask yourself, “Is there anything that I am doing in my life that, knowing what I now know, I wouldn’t start up again today if I had it to do over?” the authors write. Instead of hanging onto the idea that once you’ve committed yourself to something you have to see it through to the end no matter what, give yourself the right to put on the breaks if you discover you may not have made the right decision. “As soon as you decide to take action to resolve a difficulty or get out of a bad situation, your stress disappears,” they write.

• Let go of regret. Don’t say “if only.” By accepting what has happened in your life and knowing that you cannot change it, you can be much happier. You are not a victim, but a confident person in charge of your future. Even if you lose your job, for example, you may still have your health, friends or family who care about you or many happy memories. “Let you inner dialogue be positive,” Stein says. “Give yourself a hug by recalling the positives in your life.”

Finally, becoming more positive may take some practice, the authors say. Begin by using positive self-talk, hanging around other positive people, taking good care of yourself physically and always expecting the best. The more you practice being positive, the easier it will become.

“Expect to be successful. Expect to be popular when you meet new people. Expect to achieve great goals and create a wonderful life for yourself,” they write. “When you constantly expect good things to happen, you will seldom be disappointed.”

Anita Bruzzese

Anita Bruzzese is a syndicated columnist for Gannett/USA Today on workplace issues and the author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy.” She has been on the Today show, and quoted in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, Self.com and BusinessWeek.com. Her website, 45things.com, is listed on the Forbes top 100 websites for women.

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  • Joe

    Here’s my negativity for the day…. the author says toward the beginning of the article that “it can be helpful to lower your expectations.”  The author then completely disregards this advice in the last paragraph by saying “Expect to be successful. Expect to be popular when you meet new people. Expect to achieve great goals and create a wonderful life for yourself.”  You can’t have it both ways.  We are who we are and change is extremely difficult for most.

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  • Anita

    Joe,
    In the first part of the story, the author advises not expecting “so much from a boss or colleagues and then you’re not attaching yourself to an outcome that disappoints you.” I think she’s saying that you can’t dictate your expectations on someone else or you can wind up disappointed. But you CAN expect great things from yourself. Hopefully, that clears it up for you.

    [Reply]

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