We all have that one friend (or friends) who is the Dennis Downer of the group…always complaining about everything. The glass half empty/half full is ALWAYS half empty (as opposed to being refillable!!). And this person tends to bring the entire group down at least a notch or two.
Ask them, and they’ll say they’re not negative, but being realistic. Life is hard and throws you curves all the time. When things are going well, it’s time to start looking out for the other shoe to drop. No matter WHAT happens, there’s always the negative side to it. Even if it’s only that things can’t stay this good and will have to get worse.
Now, everyone has complaints about things now and again. Customer service for cell phone companies, or your tv service might be at the top of the list of things to complain about. And our society is actually set up on emphasizing the negatives. Look at all the advertising that tells you if you only had this watch, or that suit, or drove this car, or wear this cologne/perfume, you’ll have it all. It’s the lack that advertisers are pushing.
And these days, it seems no matter where you turn, people are grumpy. Grumpy about politics. Grumpy about the weather. Grumpy about their job.
And, just like other personality traits, pessimism has its’ variations too. The three most common types are:
VENTERS: These people just want to be listened to. Typically, they look for someone to listen to them and are quick to say that every possible solution to their problem is bad and why.
SYMPATHY SEEKERS: No matter what, they have it worse off than everyone else. Their life is THE WORST…EVER…ALWAYS.
CHRONIC COMPLAINERS: These people ruminate on the negativity. They obsess and think and complain about a problem. Worse, their complaining actually makes them feel worse as opposed to feeling more relaxed after venting their feelings.
And, just like any other type of thought, the more you focus on the negative, the worse it becomes. Eventually, you start seeing the negative side to everything in your life, regardless of what it is. Eventually, this actually physically changes your brain!
You see, chronic stress, such as that experienced with chronic complaining, releases the hormone cortisol. Among other things, this hormone literally eats away at your hippocapmus, which is the part of the brain that’s extensively used in memory. And just as new thoughts or learning creates and reinforces neuropathways, pessimism does the same thing. Making the negative emotion an automatic response. Think of it as being like learning a new skill like riding a bike. It’s hard at first, but with more time and practice, you get it. Your brain and muscles learn and understand what to do. Eventually, with enough time, the process of bike riding becomes automatic and you don’t need to concentrate on every little part of it to do it well. Constant, repetitive negative thought or complaining does the very same thing. Your mind doesn’t differentiate between “good” and “bad” thoughts. It does exactly what it’s supposed to do. Your thoughts, desires, and actions “train” it to be more efficient at whatever it is you concentrate on.
But, positivity can work the very same way!
As I said, you can train your brain to do whatever you want. All you have to do is put in the work. Just like building strength by working your muscles, working your brain makes it better too. So what can you do to train your brain to think more positively? Here are a few ideas:
Be Grateful: Start the day being thankful for at LEAST three things. No matter what, this should be your first thoughts. It may be hard at first, especially when you are used to thinking about work as soon as the alarm clock goes off. But again, daily practice makes it become easier. Do the same thing right before you go to sleep. This will help set up your subconscious to think more positively while you sleep.
If you find yourself slipping back to negativity, stop and pause for a minute, then start back on your grateful list. No matter what, you can find three things to be grateful for each day. This alone has been shown to reduce cortisol levels by as much as 23%!!
Catch yourself: Pay attention to your thoughts and words. You don’t need to wait for someone else to say something. If you catch yourself complaining, switch that energy into solving the problem or what lessons can be learned from the situation. Focus on THAT and not the situation, and move forward. Once you’re through it, celebrate your accomplishment! Go for a short walk, or drink a cup of green tea, or meditate for 5 minutes! Once you do this enough, it too will become a habit.
Change your mood: If you’re feeling totally overwhelmed by negativity in a situation, remove yourself from it. Then shift your thinking to something positive. I call it going to your happy place, but it works. Think of something you enjoy doing. Bike riding on a beautiful day, or walking on the beach, or sitting in the park, or whatever it is. Close your eyes and visualize yourself actually doing whatever it is that makes you happy.
You could even sit down and read a good book for a few minutes, if that’s what you enjoy. Reading a good fiction book can take you away and put you in the middle of whatever it’s about. This thought shift helps break the cycle of reinforcing the negative and helps retrain your brain to recognize the negativity as something to leave quickly and move to something more positive.
Practice wise effort: This is the practice of letting go of whatever does not serve you. Worrying doesn’t normally solve a problem or help you find a solution, so let it go and move on. Basically, you learn to step back from the emotions of a situation and look at it from an outsider’s point of view. Then you can think through the choices you have or advice you received and make a less emotional, more rational decision.
This isn’t the easiest thing to do, but again, with practice, patience and time, it becomes a lot easier!
Just like any other habit or learned behavior, you can train or retrain your brain to be positive instead of pessimistic. It just takes practice, consistency, patience, and time. Consistency being maybe one of the biggest factors. As I said to begin with, it seems like society is set up to accentuate the negative, so strive to constantly work on your positivity muscle. It’ll help you mentally, emotionally, AND physically, and help you have a happier, healthier life. And in the end, isn’t that what we’re all working for??