Negativity: Another Useless Tool From Evolution

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For some reason, it’s so much easier for me to replay negative events that happen in my life than it is for me to focus on the positive. At a given moment, my mind might be on overdrive, ruminating over my near-accident because someone cut me off in traffic, the time I played the wrong note in my sixth grade band rehearsal (embarrassing), why I don’t want to go out to dinner with my successful friend because I always end up feeling inferior (oh, and here are the reasons why I’m inferior…), or the one thing my boss said I needed to improve on even though 99% of what was said during our conversation was positive.

Obsession over things I interpret as negative is yet another one of those things which I lovingly term, “useless evolution tools.” Among these useless tools are our sweet tooth and penchant for a fatty diet – held over from a time when food was scarce and ye olde cavemen needed to survive. These days, I don’t need to get ice-cream every time I go to the grocery store, just because it’s there, nor do I need to hunt for my food or make cave drawings.

As for negativity, there’s no doubt that I could do without the constant stream of shoulds, coulds, and faults that my mind comes up with daily. So, I got curious as to what causes this constant focus on negativity, and found that apparently, I’m not alone in this phenomena.

There have been numerous studies about this – what psychologists call, the negativity bias. According to Professor Clifford Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford who studied this human trait, “Negative emotions generally involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones. Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events – and use stronger words to describe them – than happy ones.” One possible explanation is based yet again, on human evolution – namely, the need to survive. Hunters who remembered the way their friend got eaten by a saber-toothed tiger might be a little more careful on their next hunting expedition or decide to use a different path.

Unfortunately, knowing the reasons behind it doesn’t make negativity any easier to combat. Luckily, I have developed some tried and tested strategies for making it all go away – at least for the next five minutes. Try them yourself. They just might make break you out of your doomsday mood.

1) Unplug. There’s a reason the news mostly focuses on the negative – it sells. There’s nothing wrong with being aware of world events, but notice how your mind and body react to this constant barrage of news. Practicing a 24- or 48-hour technology fast can help bring you back to what’s real, true, and most importantly, good in life.

2) Remember this saying: “The only constant is change.” No matter how bad things seem, things are guaranteed to change. Quietly affirm, “I am not stuck in this situation.” There is always an out, but sometimes, things do take awhile to shift. Try to be patient and distract yourself in the meanwhile.

3) Re-frame and re-direct. When I can’t shut off my brain, I write, go for a walk, read a book, watch a happy movie, or do anything positive to get my mind off things for awhile. In today’s world of goal-setting and multi-tasking, it seems like relaxation is at best, a luxury, or at worst, a sign of laziness. However, we all need a rest and sometimes it’s okay to take a break, especially if it helps to shift your mind into the positive.

4) Be grateful. Yes, I know – gratitude has been mentioned so many times that it’s started to sound cliche, but in truth, when we practice gratitude it makes whatever is happening right now seem not so bad. So your boss is a jerk and you’ve given up hope of finding a new job? Be grateful that you are still employed and able to pay your bills. Gratitude is one of the easiest ways to shift vibration, which will help you attract more of what you want instead of more of the same.

5) Let go. There’s a common rule surrounding brain psychology and that is, whatever you try not to think about will automatically be pushed to the forefront. For some reason, when told not to think of a pink elephant, that’s the first place our mind goes. If I had to guess, I’d say that was another useless evolution tool, but it’s with us anyway. So, instead of trying to stop the negative stream of thoughts, encourage yourself in a dialogue. For instance, if you’re on a tailspin about how rude the clerk at the store was, how you’ll never shop there again, their products are overpriced, etc. STOP, and ask yourself some questions.

You could ask, “Why am I so angry at this event?” which would uncover old emotions, feelings of being hurt, guilt at how you might have treated people when you were a store clerk, etc. At which point, it’s time to let go. Another helpful question that stops me right in my tracks when I get caught in the negativity spiral is, “Is this really true?” Sure, I might think so and so is a jerk, but what about all of the kindness they’ve shown me in the past? Or, I might think I’m fat and I can never stick to a diet plan, but what about the time this week when I chose to bring salad to work instead of buying pizza? As mentioned in my previous article on afformations, questions are a great way to get around your brain’s current circuitry and re-wire it towards the positive.

We can all agree that it’s easier to be negative than to remain positive. In some ways, I think we’ve created a culture where positive people are seen as exceptional, unrealistic, or somehow different than the rest of us. Whatever comes up, my task is not to judge it, but instead, to focus on what it is I want. If I want happiness and positivity than I’ve got to reach for it. Only then do I have a chance to achieve it.

*Clifford Nass quote and the phrase, “the negativity bias” were sourced from the 2012 New York Times article, “Praise is Fleeting, but Brickbats We Recall,” by Alina Tugend. If you’re interested, you can find it here.

The Secret Behind Affirmations

Back in 2013, The New York Times quoted the self-help industry as being worth $11 billion per year.It seems like you, me, and everyone I know, are constantly trying to lose weight, have more money, change jobs, and find love. Yet, despite the thousands of dollars spent, the countless hours of study, and incredible amounts of energy expended, for most of us it’s a struggle to find the missing link that unlocks our desires.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from self-help, it’s that the only thing we can control is our mind. As a wise man once said…

 

 

And he’s not the only one. Teachers ranging from Lao Tzu to Napoleon Hill and Mahatma Gandhi said the exact same thing. It just makes sense. When you think about it, we can’t change external circumstances. What we do have the power to change, however, is the way we think about these things. Life is a chain reaction. The way we think affects how we feel, and our feelings create patterns of behavior which create our life. So it only makes sense to focus on changing our thoughts to change our lives.

The million-dollar question is, “How do I change my thoughts?” According to (nearly) every self-help guru on the planet, the answer to that is simple. Use Affirmations. Simply put, affirmations are touted as the magic bullet. Just say, think, write, or listen to a positive statement over and over and you will become it.

Unfortunately, there’s one big problem with affirmations. If you are mountains in debt and hate your job, saying, “I love my job,” and “I have plenty of money” will probably sound false. In fact, your mind will most likely start coming up with thousands of objections, which then puts you back in the negative thought spiral. Belief (or lack thereof) is why affirmations work so well for some people and terribly for others – even those like me, who have spent months saying the same positive affirmations.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like affirmations. On the surface, I think they’re a great idea. Plus, I don’t think all of the teachers who suggest it as a remedy for negative thinking are wrong. Affirmations just need to be tweaked, and that’s where afformations come in. Instead of affirming a statement that doesn’t seem real, afformations suggest posing your positive statement as a question. So, “I love my job” becomes, “Why do I love my job?” It’s easy to see that the mind has much less resistance to the question form than to the statement, and thus, the process of changing your thoughts can begin. Eureka!

As much as I’d like to take the credit for this neat little discovery, this isn’t just something I made up. I recently read “Afformations: The Miracle of Positive Self-Talk,” by Noah St. John. His theory is that unlike affirmations, afformations work because the human brain is wired to answer questions. That is, when asked, “Why am I so rich?,” your brain is actively coming up with answers and presenting you with opportunities that will answer this exact question.

Now, I didn’t title this post, “The Secret to Affirmations” just to bait you. There is, in fact, a secret to using these. Not only do afformations require repetition and focus, but they require something else that I believe most self-help books and programs leave out. Ready for the “secret?” *drum roll please* The secret is… action!

One reason I liked Noah’s book so much is that he includes action as one of the key steps to actually making afformations work for you. No matter how many positive statements you say, write, or listen to, nothing will change if you don’t step out and actually do something. Since we live in physical reality, each of us has an active role to play in changing our experience.

I don’t say this to overwhelm you. That action could be small. If you’re trying to lose weight, you could choose to go for a walk a few times each week instead of zoning out in front of the TV. (Bonus points if you think about afformations while you’re on your walk.) If you’re trying to change careers, you could revamp your resume so you can feel more confident applying for jobs. The point is, afformations aren’t magic, but they absolutely help, especially in the motivation department.

I recently used afformations to overcome an argument in my marriage. I simply asked, “Why is my husband so loving?,” and it was amazing how quickly the tension dissolved. My action at that moment was to say the afformation and let go of my need to be right in the argument. I’ve also recently tried out the afformation, “Why am I so thin and attractive at 125 lbs?” (with a result of decreased appetite and feeling motivated to take more salads to work) and, “Why did I easily get refunded?” (with the result of easily being refunded for a program I no longer wanted.) I’m also trying out, “Why do I love my job?,” “Why did I get hired as a copywriter at Evolving Wisdom?,” and, “Why do I thank God every day for my job?” Of course, the actions I took were to revamp my resume and to send out the job application, but I’ll be sure to update when I land the position.

If you get the book – and I highly suggest that you do, or at least pick up a copy from the library – you’ll see real case studies from people who have grown their businesses, lost weight, powered through marathons, found jobs, sold their homes, and more by using afformations. Like Nike says, “Just do it!”

So, here is my question for you: How are YOU going to use afformations today, and what action will you take to back up your statements?

I love to talk, so share, comment, and let me know how afformations are working for you.