Some years ago, whilst attending a personal development workshop, the participants had to pair up and each spend an uninterrupted three minutes regaling how we had been recently wronged.
I chose a miserable time of my life; three minutes was no problem, I could have waxed lyrical for three hours. My workshop partner actively listened, nodding away, pleasingly sympathetic as I shared my woes. It felt good to be validated, even by a complete stranger. I was not alone. The room was filled with similar chatter.
Misery is easy. Why? Why do we become consumed by negativity?
The twist in the exercise was to then take three minutes to relate the same event in the positive. No negativity allowed, we could only relate the polar opposite, describing the upside, the benefits, the lessons learned.
A seemingly simple twist on events but I was not the only one who struggled. The room suddenly became very subdued as we exchanged stilted statements; periods of silence and nervous laughter prevailed.
I had to concentrate to get past the negative thoughts that swamped my mind. It was hard work. In my 40 odd years of existence, I’d never practiced the art of re-framing a personal injury, of seeing the gift in the misfortune. Indeed the very word itself tells us that the fortune was missed.
Misery preoccupies us. Facts and scenarios churn over and over in our minds keeping us awake into the small hours, interrupting our working day, the conundrum that will never be solved. There’s no chance of being innovative when we’re overwhelmed by misery; our best ideas come from positivity.
Why do we choose misery? Why is it so easy? How do we break the habit?
When you’re in it you can’t see it
It’s become your brain’s default setting, choosing to be negative. You don’t even know that you’re doing it, it becomes the norm, and it becomes who you are.
You’re the victim of your own story. Deciding that you want change in your life may be a small step but it’s a giant breakthrough.
Recognise what’s going on
Start listening to yourself or take a moment to write out some of your thoughts and read them back to yourself.
A greater understanding can help but if you still can’t stop thinking negatively at least you’ll have progressed to being consciously aware of it.
Break out of the never-ending loop
Choose a new direction. Like a plane in a holding pattern, misery takes a whole lot of energy but gets us nowhere.
Decide what you want more of in your life and focus on that instead. If you’re stuck in the past, having to look over your shoulder instead of where you want to go, you’re diminishing your chances of moving forward.
Be kind to yourself
You may not be able to control how long this is going to take, there may be many challenging moments of three steps forward and two back but hang on in there, have patience and always be thankful for making any progress. You’re heading in the right direction to break free.
Surround yourself with supportive people
I remember being horrified when one friend said that we couldn’t continue our friendship if I didn’t stop being so negative. She had had enough. I thought her to be ruthless but she did me a favour.
Who do you spend time with? Are they happy to sit with you throwing yet another log on the fire to keep the flames of injustice burning or do they encourage you to move on?
Break free from the relentless diatribe
There will come a time when even you will get bored. Look out for that moment, when you can say to yourself, ‘Do you know what? This is boring, I’ve got better things to think about’. Celebrate as you step into your awareness of the situation.
It will likely feel very challenging at first
Our thoughts create neural pathways in our brain and just like sheep tracks, they become deeper and the default route over time. Changing our thoughts means creating new neural pathways and just like a new pair of shoes it’s going to feel uncomfortable at first.
It takes effort to move away from the well-worn pathway, focus and appreciate that you’re moving in the right direction.
We always have a choice
I can remember the exact moment when I realised this unlikely and often unpopular truth. Yet another wrong had been hurled in my direction but I hadn’t perceived it in the moment.
The penny dropped five minutes later and the oh-so-familiar outrage began to consume me, my stress response flooding through my body in righteous indignation. In a lightbulb moment, I realised that I had been in possession of the facts for a whole five minutes without reacting.
In that moment I knew that I had a choice; do I continue to experience the outrage or detach and return to peace allowing the injustice to glance off and pass me by?
Always remember that you can choose to detach and step away from misery and into positivity. Don’t let negativity control you and your life. Focus on the positive and strive to make a step forward, allowing for the more you to grow and develop as a person, and in turn, grow and develop your company.
More from Louise on how leadership and softer skills can improve your business:-
- Are trust levels in your organisation affecting your innovation success?
- When an overwhelm affects your innovation and what to do about it
- How is your unconscious bias influencing the way you make decisions?
- 10 ways to boost resilience and confidence in business
- How innovation contributes to a company’s well-being