Thirty-five views and twenty-six likes. The stats for a recent blog post. Guess which number I’m focusing on?
Who are these people who read what I wrote and didn’t like it? Was it the way I strung my words together? Was it the attempts at funny – I worry about those sometimes; dry doesn’t always translate well to the electronic page. Should I have had a better picture? A better quote? Should I have talked about myself less? Or more?
What’s wrong with me? Why do I always fail?
Completely lost in the obsessing and angst and negativity are the people who gave me a thumbs up.
Isn’t that the way, though? We ignore the good all too often.
I have a tendency to focus on the negative. I have a tendency towards pessimism. This does not make me unique but I do wonder what’s up with that? They might be helpful qualities if I used the feelings as tools to grow and evolve but my default is still using them as a hammer to hit myself with.
I obsess over perceived shortcomings and forget to focus on things I’ve done well. I act as though my life is nothing but failure and always will be. Thoughts like these don’t reflect reality. Globalizations rarely do. The truth is, my life isn’t an abject failure. I’ve done stuff. I’ve accomplished things. Why is it so hard to focus on the wins?
But “didn’t” and “should’ve” and “failed to do” persist in pushing their way to the front of my brain. Perhaps it’s because the thoughts lack real substance; being light, they drift up to the surface and cloud the vision. We forget about all the things that they are obscuring; we forget about the wins and the things we do well. We forget to look at the bright side.
Attending to negatives seems to be instinctive. Perhaps it served us well at one time; if you fail in the hunt, learn from your experience or your genetic line will starve to death and die out. Now though, the consequences aren’t as dire; the instinctive obsessing has become more hindrance than help. Pausing in the self-flagellation and looking deeper can help us realize that we make the negatives worse with exaggerations and lies.
Why am I obsessing over the nine? What about the twenty-six?
I have ownership issues with the good stuff. Take school and my education. I cruised through, achieving high marks with very little effort. So, I focus on what I didn’t accomplish and deride the rest. Sure, I got good marks but that’s because I’m smart-ish and learning comes easily to me. I didn’t work for it, it’s a genetic gift, so it doesn’t count. The only things that seem to count are the failures.
I do the same for almost everything. Failures and results that are imperfect are my fault. Successes are a whim of fate or a gift and have almost nothing to do with me. Quite the conundrum. I can only own the negatives.
That’s not to say we need to blow off and ignore failures and efforts that went unrealized. It’s okay to admit to mistakes. It’s okay to try and fix them, to try and do better. Learning about where we fell short is good; it helps us improve. But we also have to acknowledge the things we do well. Even if doing so feels scary.
We are hardwired to want to fit in. We need security. We need to feel like we’re part of the tribe. It’s fundamental.
Unfortunately, a lot of us still react to the negatives as though societal death is the likely consequence of our mistakes. I certainly do; they often feel like a threat to my survival. I am imperfect and soon to be shunned unless I hurry up and fix the problem. One cannot expect the group to tolerate mistakes. Which probably also explains the pessimism.
Instincts are a problem. Our hardwiring has not caught up to our new reality.
Which means cognitive work.
I never imagined, growing up, that I would have so many conversations with myself. That I would give myself so many lectures. That I would spend so much time with my brain.
I often wish I arrived here in a model that had the updates already installed. I wish I was next-generation. I wish I was an evolved, glass half full, give myself credit kind of person naturally.
Sometimes, negativity and pessimism can be helpful. A certain level of self-dissatisfaction can be motivating. We can learn from real mistakes. It’s also a safety feature. “Defensive pessimism” * helps us insulate ourselves from attacks, personal and situational. Seeing the potential negatives can also help mitigate the anxiety associated with waiting for a particular outcome and allows us to practice dealing. It becomes a problem, however, when it’s the default setting.
Constantly obsessing over failures and problems is also problematic beyond the psychological. It has negative health implications in the physical realm – people who are chronic pessimists are more likely to die from cardiac issues.
Something to think about when I find myself obsessing over falling short.
Luckily, learning to focus on the wins and to see the glass as half-full is a skill that can be learned.
1. Create a more positive environment.
One of the easiest things to do is minimize the time spent on social media. Study after study demonstrates that for the most part, it does not make us feel good.
Think too about your real-world environment. Try not to spend too much time with people who drag you and themselves down by focusing on negatives while ignoring the positives. Challenge people who incessantly judge and criticize you even when that person is yourself. Remember, boundaries are a good thing for everyone.
2. Keep some perspective and practice some gratitude.
Most of the things I obsess about are, in the grand scheme of things, irrelevant. What does it matter if someone doesn’t like something I do? Other people’s opinions only affect us as much as we let them. I could focus on the people who didn’t give me a thumbs up or I could choose to focus on being grateful for the people who liked what I had to say.
Plus, in the real world beyond, where I’m not the centre of the universe, some people have things really hard. A friend of mine works as a care aid for a developmentally and physically disabled man. His challenges are plentiful. The stories she shares reminds me that however big I think my problems are, I am undeniably well off and extremely lucky.
3. Stay in the moment.
Focusing on the negative often indicates we’re obsessing over things not in our control. Like the past.
For me, the ultimate life would be one where I do the right things for the right reasons without worrying about the outcome. I am so not there yet. Does it really matter so much what someone thought about me twenty years ago? Obviously not. Why then, do I let it creep into my thoughts and bother me? Why am I trying to prove something to a person who isn’t in my life? Why ignore the comments and praise from people who think I’m all right? Why live anywhere out of my control, which is in the right now?
4. Slow down.
We move too quickly. We talk too quickly. Everything is done at warp speed. We make decisions and judgments instantly, without taking the time to truly evaluate the situation, to think about what we’re thinking. We’re physically agitated too. All of this leads to heightened anxiety which is not conducive to optimistic thinking and focusing on the positives.
5. Watch your language. Get rid of negative words.
It’s hard to focus on the positive when you talk down to yourself. It’s not being kind when you roll your eyes over your behaviours and choices. Our language informs our lives. Talk nicely to and about yourself.
6. Open yourself to the possibilities in life.
Even when things don’t go as well as you might have wished, it isn’t the end of the world.