You don’t have to look hard to find negativity, which is everywhere. Some people think cynicism and pessimism are signs of intelligence or wisdom. Don’t believe them. They are spinning in their own circle, dealing with their own stagnation. Because negativity is so common, and so easy, you have to fight to keep it from infecting you. And yes, I intentionally use the word infect, because that’s what it’s like. It gets into your bloodstream and poisons your beliefs, emotions, and actions.
People that only ‘know’ me on a surface level naturally assume I am always optimistic, positive, and enthusiastic. Which is understandable, as that’s the side of me I choose to share publicly. And that is how I feel most of the time.
But I am not that way 24-7-365. I get angry, upset, sad, disappointed, cranky, and frustrated. I have fears, issues, low moods, and insecurities. But I acknowledge and accept those emotions as real, part of who I am. And that helps me stay positive. Not every minute of every day, mind you, but as a human being overall. I am authentically positive.
I preach positivity with the zealot of a convert because I have not always been this way. I used to harbor massive feelings of pessimism, cynicism, and contempt. I was easily frustrated, annoyed, and irritated and I was the king of making excuses, blaming others, and complaining. Yet most people in my life never knew my inner anger as I masterfully hid behind a (figurative) ‘clown mask’ most of the time. This was fueled by my penchant for holding grudges. To put it bluntly, if someone crossed me, I never forgot. I put them on my mental blacklist. I didn’t just shut them out, I carried that sense of being wronged with me n into the rest of my life.
But I finally realized that holding onto those feelings only hurt one person: me. There’s an old saying that expresses this idea brilliantly: “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for someone else to die.” All your negativity towards the world just weighs you down. Then you end up walking around complaining about how heavy things are.
I also have worked really hard to drop my propensity for scorekeeping, which is similar to grudge holding. Keeping score poisons an ongoing relationship and, worse, you keep the negative feeling inside as it grows. You just tally up your resentments in your mind, and drag each one around like a rock in your shoe. It might be about your spouse regarding who does more around the house, with your work colleague over who is getting more credit, or with a family member who isn’t as good at giving as receiving.
As you add all of these up, what are you gaining? Not a thing.
Guess what? Things will never even out. Just let go of the counting. Trust me: you’ll find your mood lifted and your motivation increase. You will have more energy for the things that matter.
And when you do, you’ll see less reason to hold grudges and keep score because what you put out in the world will come back on you. Our internal moods present our external circumstances. It may feel like things are happening to us, and yes, sometimes unfortunate things occur. But our day to day? We create that.
Positivity is not being naïvely innocent or clueless to the way things “really” work. Nor is it just putting on a fake smile and pretending the world is puppy dogs and ice cream (that’s Toxic Positivity). A positive mindset is choosing to take the world on the most productive terms possible.
As I mentioned, I feel emotions like anger, disappointment, and envy like anyone else. But I’ve worked hard to develop the skills to manage and process these emotions effectively so that they don’t erode my perspective or mindset. I do it through a process I call APD: Acknowledgment, Permission, Depersonalization.
- I acknowledge and own how I am feeling. I don’t ignore it, resist it, or suppress it.
- I give myself permission to feel that way! I treat myself with compassion. (e.g. I don’t get mad at myself for feeling mad, making it worse.)
- I depersonalize it. I recognize that I am not my emotions. I am the awareness of my emotions. Emotions are ever fleeting: happy one minute, mad the next. I view my feelings as information. I do not let them dictate how I behave.
Many years ago I attended legendary Coach Morgan Wootten’s basketball camp. One concept that he drilled into us on defense was to ‘Guard Your Yard.’ If you were guarding the player with the ball, you needed to guard one yard to your right and one yard to your left (meaning you would not let the defender drive right past you). Your yard was the area you were personally responsible for protecting and your teammates were counting on you to not get beat there.
I’ve adopted a similar mindset off the court. My ‘yard’ is my immediate surroundings and my environment. I guard whom I let in. I guard what information comes in. Before I can try to influence others, I need to make sure everything in my own yard is safe, fertile, and protected. I try not to react to things out of my control. I do my very best to stay internally focused on my own effort and my own attitude and let everything else be. And while many things that happen to, around, and for me on a daily basis are not in my control, my response to those things and how I let them affect me is 100% my choice.
I strive to only focus on what I can control. When someone says something rude, demeaning, or negative, I recognize that is a reflection of them (and what they are going through) – not a reflection of me. So I simply dismiss it and move on. Unless it is being delivered by someone I respect, I pay minimal attention to unsolicited criticism. Remember: no one makes you feel anything. You choose to feel a certain way based on your reaction.
I believe there are 3 ways you can bring more positivity into your life, while remaining authentic to your emotions.
- gratitude (positivity about what has happened: Past)
- enthusiasm (positivity about what is happening: Present)
- optimism (positive about what will happen: Future)
I’ll start with gratitude because it’s an emotion connected to everything that has happened up to right now. Gratitude is not about what you have. It’s about how you feel about what you have.
At both low and high points in my life, when things have been falling in place and when things have falling right on top of me, I’ve kept an attitude of gratitude. I do this for 3 distinct reasons:
- It simply feels good. A mentality of gratitude colors everything in my life, often when I need it most. Try to walk around consciously feeling grateful and you’ll be amazed at how your mood lifts.
- I’ve long lived by the mantra of ‘that which gets praised, gets repeated.’ If you want to have more to be grateful for, then don’t miss an opportunity to be grateful for what you already have. A mentor of mine once told me, “What you appreciate appreciates”—as in it goes up in value.
- It helps keep life in a healthy perspective. It’s so easy to get fixated by what we don’t have. Focusing on what we have provides clarity and balance.
Now let’s look at enthusiasm. I’ve always loved quotes. I began collecting them in middle school on a yellow legal pad and still do to this day (though I’ve switched to a Word doc on my laptop). One of the first quotes I ever scribbled down was from English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” It’s so simple yet so profound. How are you going to accomplish anything worthwhile without putting your whole self into it?
True enthusiasm comes when what you love, what you believe, and what you are doing are in alignment. Though we think of enthusiasm as something that is visible from the outside, that is not what it’s about. It’s an internal feeling that, when authentic, will likely spill out. In the same way that gratitude is not about what you have, enthusiasm is not about what you’re doing. It’s how you do what you’re doing.
Think of enthusiasm as an always available combustible material you can bring into any situation. It’s what you bring to the table before anything else. By beginning with the positive feeling, instead of expecting it to result, you are shaking yourself out of complacency. You aren’t waiting around for something to happen to you to be excited about. You are step one.
And lastly, let’s break down optimism. It’s been my experience that the highest performing people are the ones who learn to successfully balance optimism with realism. To me, that’s the epitome of strength. Optimism is being hopeful and confident about the future, carrying a belief that things will in fact work out for the best. It doesn’t mean that the universe will magically work in your favor. It means that however the chips fall, you’re still in the game. Remember: negativity is easy. Choosing to be optimistic is a courageous act.
Optimists accept that negative events occur and negative feelings arise. They don’t deny, minimize, or invalidate those things. The optimist admits disappointment, but believes in his power to move on. The optimist admits fear, but trusts his ability to overcome it. That is authentic optimism.
If you’re looking to make positivity a super power, then focus on leveling up your gratitude, enthusiasm, and optimism – all of which are controllable traits. And don’t ever forget, what you feel, you put out into the world. And what you put out in the world, you attract right back.
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