We often under-estimate the impact of our thoughts and actions on how we feel mentally and physically, and on how we affect the people around us. Our tendency to be positive or negative is influenced significantly by our experiences growing up. When we’re young, the significant adults in our lives model behaviour which we tend to replicate. So, if you grew up hearing a parent constantly complain or speak negatively, there’s a high probability that you’ll pick up such behaviours. This has been confirmed by numerous studies, results showing that the attitudes and behaviours of parents have a long-lasting impact on their children’s corresponding attitudes and behaviour (Nauert, 2019). The good news, however, is that it’s never too late to break old habits and develop a more positive, healthy attitude towards life. We can learn to make different choices, including those which spread positivity and kindness in our everyday lives. Here are a few ways we can do this:
Use social media for good
Whilst social media can be very useful, it’s created a platform which allows people to express their opinions and feelings without restrain. The relative anonymity, physical and emotional distance and ease at which thoughts can be expressed without punitive risk, has resulted in people expressing harmful and abusive comments towards others online. Aside from the negative impact this has on the recipient, the negativity is absorbed by the many people who read such comments, making the negative impact even more widespread.
When you feel a strong urge to comment online, take a moment to pause. Try to identify what you’re feeling, be it anger, disbelief or fear, and ask yourself, ‘What do I want to achieve by expressing my opinions or thoughts in this way? Most of the time, we’re reacting from a place of anger, disapproval, hurt or fear and are lashing out without having adequate time to reflect. Before replying, ask yourself: Is my response going to be helpful? Is the purpose of my comment simply to tear someone down or ridicule them? Can I make the same point without being rude and unkind? If you really care about whatever issue is being discussed, you may want to keep in mind that replying with rude or derogatory remarks won’t help your cause. The other person will most likely react defensively or retaliate rather than actually take in your feedback. Rather, choose to respond wisely and you’ll be increasing the chances of people actually ‘listening’ to what you have to say.
Refrain from judging others
As human beings, our natural tendency is to try to make sense of things by classifying them in our mind. For instance, when deciding who to ask for directions, you may make very quick judgements about how ‘safe’ or reliable people look before approaching them. Such judgements serve a purpose as they help you feel safe. However, judging others is less useful when you label someone in a way that closes you off to that person or leads you to treat that person unfairly or unkindly. Very often, we’re harsh or critical of others because we’re feeling insecure or unhappy with ourselves or our lives. Such judgements, therefore, may make us feel better about ourselves but the effects are short-lived. Before you choose to judge anyone negatively, remember that we’re all human and make mistakes. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t confront bad behaviour or call someone out if they’ve done something to upset you. It just means that you allow the person the opportunity to explain his behaviour or give yourself time to get to know the person before deciding they’re not worth your time or effort.
Complaining can be healthy or unhealthy, depending on how it’s done. Complaining may be positive if it’s carried out using the correct channels and with the purpose of effecting change. For instance, you may need to tell your manager about a situation which is impacting your ability to do your job effectively and to explore possible solutions. Venting also needn’t be negative, particularly when carried out as a means of expressing frustration and obtaining support from a trusted friend or colleague. What we need to be careful of, however, is when we regularly complain in ways which are unproductive and promote an atmosphere of negativity. We all know people who push our buttons, but by regularly engaging in bad-mouthing, you’re allowing that person too much power. Not only are we being impacted by their bad behaviour but, by talking about them incessantly, we’re remaining stuck in a negative mindset. It’s also important to note that complaining increases levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which is linked to high blood pressure, depression, insomnia and heart disease. Therefore, complaining and being negative not only impacts your mood but has a direct impact on your health.
Be kinder to yourself
The way we treat ourselves impacts all our other relationships. The likelihood is that if we’re feeling good, this will be reflected in our words and behaviour. I often work with clients who are relentlessly harsh and critical of themselves. This involves making negative comparisons with others, being self-critical and holding themselves to very high standards. This is a learned behaviour and, therefore, can be unlearned. A good tactic to change self-critical and harsh behaviour towards yourself is to imagine what you’d say to someone you love if they made a mistake or were feeling bad about themselves. I’d like to think you’d tell them that they’re human and that it’s okay to make mistakes. Now try turning that same understanding and compassion towards yourself. It may not be easy to begin with, but it does get easier with practice. The messages we receive from society is that our bodies need to be perfect, we need to constantly achieve and that we’re not okay just as we are. These are such damaging and unrealistic messages. Remind yourself that you’re unique and allow yourself to make mistakes, seeing them as an opportunity to learn rather than a sign that you’re not good enough. Not only will you feel better about yourself but you’ll notice yourself feeling more patient and kind with the people around you.
These small, conscious changes to how we behave can not only result in us feeling calmer and more at peace, but they can have a ripple effect on our relationships, within the workplace, families and in the community.