Counting down to my last day when I would officially end my corporate career of two decades and uncountable experiences, I reached out to all those who made an impression on me, whose opinion mattered, to officially (and personally) say goodbye. The conversations that followed had one thing in common. I was told to “keep that smile on and keep giving positive energy to others”. :)
I don’t consider myself to be an all-around positive person every single second, but to receive a feedback like that sparked a little epiphany in me.
This past year I have been listening to people around me inadvertently complain about their broken expectations and disappointments in life. I realised that poor attitudes and negativity often arise because people forget to see the big picture. I also realise that there is an incredible desire in us to find excuses for every situation; sometimes even putting blame on others even if it’s nobody’s fault.
Bad or negative attitudes at workplaces are easier to deal with as you aren't emotionally connected to them. In your personal space, it’s an entirely different animal.
Here’s a quick challenge: Close your eyes and imagine a situation when you encountered the most negative attitude at home, from your loved one.
Was it excessive criticism? Lack of trust? Negative rumination of your past? Or perhaps the constant comparison to others? Or maybe something else that hurt you the most.
Epictetus, a Greek philosopher, said it beautifully more than 2,000 years ago: "People are disturbed, not by things (that happen to them), but by the principles and opinions which they form concerning (those) things. When we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved, let us never attribute it to others, but to ourselves; that is, to our own principles and opinions.”
Sometimes we cannot change our situation or the people around us. We can most definitely not change attitude of others. But what we can do, is change our own attitude to respond. When you think of negative thoughts or expect negative responses, you develop a negative attitude.
So, how do we control what goes on in our heads?
I’ve had my share of negative thoughts and emotions. Observing mindfulness worked wonders for me. Mindfulness is our ability to be fully aware of where we are and what we are doing.
Consider this scenario: It is your big day and you stroll in for breakfast enthusiastically and your mom snaps at you because of something you said the previous day that upset her.
Now, your reaction to this situation will determine how your day will be. Isn't it? If you respond angrily, the situation can get ugly and you’d leave home in a grumpy mood and a hopping mad mom to handle in the evening.
1. Recognise the trigger
The first step is to be aware of situations that create negative thoughts or emotions. They are the root cause. Notice the sensations building inside you when faced with the situation such as above. Do you feel your ego rising to defend your position? Or perhaps increase in pulse or tightening in your chest? Simple awareness of these triggers is important to tame it.
2. Pause & Reflect
When you recognise your trigger, just pause. Mentally say ‘pause’ just as you’d pause a video. Mark Twain said famously ‘No word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.’
You can pause by taking a deep breath. Take it slow. For at least 5 times. An extra dose of oxygen will instantly calm you and boost your brain cells. There are enough articles that scientifically explain how deep breathing is beneficial. Look them up if you're curious.
While you’re pausing, just hold off responding and listen. There is no rule that you have to say something immediately. Simply observe your thoughts without any judgement or attachment.
3. Evaluate your response
Giving yourself even a few extra seconds before reacting can make a lot of difference. Every situation can be dealt with positive and negative emotions. Here are two alternatives for our scenario-
Negative approach: It’s such a big day for me and my mom had to get angry today. She spoilt my mood. She doesn't care for me anymore.
Positive approach: I’ve no idea what I said yesterday has hurt her this much. I’m glad she brought this up so I get to clarify. She can then have a peaceful happy day as well.
It’s not rocket science for you to understand which approach works the best.
4. Choose your words and tone
Studies have found that positive self-talk can boost your willpower and help you psych yourself up when you need to get through a difficult task. Similarly using right words that convey love, attention and gratitude will help calm the other person down in tense situations. Hence choose your words wisely and convey in a proper tone. People can figure sarcasm.
5. Practice diligently
Practice always makes it perfect. All the steps above are very simple yet very difficult to follow unless you practice diligently. It pays to put a deliberate effort for at least 21 days until it becomes a habit and eventually it becomes your way of life.
The human mind is wonderfully wicked. Buddha described our thoughts as drunken monkeys, jumping around screeching, chattering, carrying on endlessly. Fear is its loudest monkey that constantly points to things that ‘could’ go wrong. Every negative thought and response that arise from it are mostly because we listen to these monkeys.
However, these monkeys can be tamed. Using tools such as meditation, music, practising gratitude, positive affirmations and even an act of maintaining silence can help tame them. When you train your thoughts, your response will automatically improve. You will transform into a positive person.
People with positive attitudes naturally uplift your mood with self-motivation and encouragement. When you feel positive, you naturally radiate the positiveness all around you. Like an aura, you will also attract positivity and people would love to have you around them.
I’m happy I have learned to manage my monkeys so I don't hurt people around me. And I hope you take a decision to be mindful and tame your monkeys.