Imagine this: You are on your way home and you stop at the grocery store to pick up ONE thing. You are already running behind, but you know stopping for this one thing will only take one second. You find a great parking space, run into the store, notice your favorite song is playing, grab your one item with a big smile and head to the express line.
This is where things fall apart. The customer in front of you has far exceeded the express line max number of items AND … she just pulled out her checkbook. Your smile fades and obscenities start to run through your mind. Now, assuming you are a civilized human being, you don’t say a word, out loud. Instead you roll your eyes, put a hand on a hip, check your phone, shoot the clerk a glance and think about paying for her groceries so she can stop looking for a pen to write a check. By the time you check out, you are really late, really frustrated and getting ready to bring that bad attitude home.
Other things that might shut down your smile
- distracted drivers
- long-winded voice mail
- political advertisements
- bad weather
- junk mail
Maybe you even react negatively to your negative reaction. Sounds crazy, but how often do you beat yourself up for getting frustrated in the first place?
Even if you are the nicest person on the planet, things come up during the day that trigger negative reactions. I am hardwired to react negatively to bad customer service, cell yell and drivers that don’t use their turn signals. In fact, until recently, I didn’t think I had any control over my reaction to these seemingly little things.
We are all prone to react negatively when we are hurt, wronged, or even mildly annoyed (especially when hungry, tired, stressed…) In other words, it happens every day.
It’s a well-known fact that we can’t predict or control what happens to us or what other people do, but we can choose to react more positively and the following 2 strategies will help. In fact, I think they might be our only hope to avoid not only negative reactions, but the negative spiral that often follows.
Two Micro Strategies to Combat Negativity
1. Do Something
This strategy isn’t about the actual doing part, but more the deciding part. If there is something you can do that will resolve things, make a decision to do that something. With the example above, instead of sending death glares into the back of the woman’s head that was asking, “Who should I make this check out to?” You could have done something. The best solution would have been to move to a new aisle or checked to see if there was a customer service desk that could accommodate you and your one item. You could also have picked up the magazine in the check out stand with the weirdest headline and thought about how that crazy story was even more ridiculous than the one you were living in line.
Write a letter, make a call, remove yourself from the situation. Take immediate action when you can or resolve to take the next step at a better time. Just the decision to take action will stop or slow a negative reaction.
2. Send it down the river
I recently started a new meditation practice. Actually, it started as a “just sit still” practice and has morphed into meditation. One of the ways I meditate is strategy #2 to stop negativity.
When a situation comes up and you can’t do anything about it, or have quickly decided that you won’t do anything about it, simply send it down the river. My biggest obstacle in meditating was all the thoughts running through my mind, not to mention the noises I noticed around me. For the longest time I thought that meditating meant not noticing those things and having a completely quiet mind. Instead, I learned that it’s ok (and almost impossible not to) be aware of what is going on around and in you when you are sitting still in a quiet space.
The trick is not to hold on to what you notice. To effectively let go of outside noises and inside thoughts, I imagine myself sitting by a river. Every time I notice something new, I toss it in the river and send it away. Inevitably a new thought pops up, but as soon as it does, I send it down the river.
You can send daily frustrations down the river too. If you aren’t going to do something about it, instead of holding on to check writers, bad drivers, annoying email messages or anything that brings you down, send it down the river. Before you start your day, imagine your place by the river so you can quickly go there during the day.
- what’s the weather like?
- are you sitting on a rock or sand?
- is the river wide or narrow?
- Is the water running fast or slow?
Once you get comfortable sending daily roadblocks down the river, you can send bigger things like fear and worry. The river can handle it and you can get back to living a good life.
Remember that your reactions are habit, and you can’t break that habit without a good strategy. Implement one of the above recommendations or create your own.
What would you like to send down the river right now?