Think back on yesterday, the past week or even the past year. What are the first memories that come to mind? If you’re like most of us, you’re likely to quickly and easily remember anything crappy that happened.
Like the waiter losing your debit card, the dog puking in the car on the way to San Diego, or the infected tooth that made it feel like your whole head was going to explode.
Yep, we’re big on remembering the negative over the positive, or even focusing on the negative instead of the positive on any given day. I recall one day when I was flying through my writing assignments with compliments streaming in like a burst-open floodgate.
But then one little negative snippet trickled in. Did I say, “Hell with the negative snippet, it can be drowned out by the positive.” Nope.
I instead thought of how horrible my writing must be because one person was unhappy with what I wrote (even though the cause could be traced back to their lack of adequate instructions in the first place). In any event, the single whisper of negativity ended up louder than the entire positive chorus put together.
All this negative stuff is not only self-defeating, but it’s downright exhausting. But there’s also a way out if we keep the following two facts in mind:
- It’s not our fault that we remember negative over positive.
- We can retrain our brains to stop wallowing in it.
Not our fault (yaay!)
The blame game sucks, but we’ll play it anyway here since we’re not to blame. The ability to more easily remember the negative over the positive may actually be built into our brains for evolutionary reasons.
It makes perfect sense when you think about it. If we humans can easily remember fear-inducing, threatening and otherwise negative experiences, we have an automatic reminder of things we need to avoid moving forward.
Back in caveman days, when they were worried about being eaten by saber-tooth tigers or wild hyenas on a daily basis, remembering the negative could have very well saved their lives. So, our ability to easily remember the negative is not our fault – but it is our fault if we choose to bathe, dwell and wallow in it.
That’s where retraining our brains comes in.
Retrain the brain
Focusing on the positive instead of the negative for me took years and years of constant practice, and I still slip into negative thinking (as evidenced by that day that was “wrecked” by a negative comment). Here are some of the tools I continue to use so I don’t set up permanent camp in that never-happy negative land.
Daily gratitude list: Kicking off my day with at least three things for which I am grateful reminds me the world is out there full of wonderful things. I even learned about a way to super-charge your gratitude list by recreating positive emotions.
Daily success list: Here I list five things I’ve accomplished every day. They don’t have to be big. They can be as simple as cooking dinner or even getting out of bed when you really really don’t feel like it. The point is to create an ongoing reminder of all the cool things we can accomplish in day.
One good thing game: I use this one a lot while driving. Rather than focusing on the jerk who cut in front of me or the uncanny way EVERY SINGLE light turns red the moment I near it, I try to find at least one good thing in what I would have normally classified as a horrible negative thing.
Perhaps the car that cut in front of me is a gorgeous purple metallic color. Or the red light gave me time to find a song I was dying to hear on my MP3 player. You get the gist.
You can apply the one good thing game with every person, situation or thing in your life.
- The lost debit card mentioned earlier was actually found (thanks, Lynn!).
- The dog puke in the car happened to happen on the way to San Diego. C’mon, we’re heading to San Diego – a week on the beach far outweighs dog puke. (Besides, I’ve learned to travel with a backup puke-proof car seat cover in the trunk.)
- The infected tooth was merrily removed, and I now found a new dentist I can use that’s open on Mondays.
And that negative comment on my writing? It enabled me to establish more concise guidelines before accepting an assignment to make sure I know – and deliver – exactly what the client wants. How’s that for good things coming out of what were pegged as negative experiences? I’d say that’s a pretty dang good effort. So good, in fact, it definitely qualifies as an entry on my daily success list. Enjoy!