Can you think of anything that you disturb and harm yourself with more than your persistent negativity? Negativity eradicates whatever energy you’ve got left while sheltering-at-home. It diverts indispensable attention that you need to even hope to achieve goals that you have (you DO have goals, right?). And, of course, it weakens your overall morale. Oh, and your gray sky, cloudy outlook that kills any rainbow? Well, that similarly pollutes those close to you as well.
Eventually, you make yourself so fed up with it all that you’re always on the verge of tossing your hands up in the air, pulling the covers over your head… or worse. Absolutistic, dogmatic, “It must be this way and it’s terrible, horrible and awful if it isn’t the way I insist it should be” is a killer of moods, relationships, careers…and sometimes, people. In fact, suicides linked to the COVID-19 calamity are sweeping the globe, with no indication that the numbers are waning. Between social isolation, financial distress, decreased access to spiritual support, illness and reduced access to medical and mental health care, why wouldn’t we expect to see increases in depression, anxiety and… suicide?
Sure, negativity these days seems to stem from what people deem as the most stressful set of events they’ve ever experienced, but the major source of negativity in daily life, now and always, comes from a far more complicated place.
The link is what you think. Negativity in general comes from your own perceptions, beliefs and negative inner dialogue. Negative behavior, whether in the home, in social settings, the workplace (remember your workplace?) or anywhere else, however, primarily comes from behavior or attitudes that results from child-like demands and needs that go unanswered and unmet.
As my teacher and mentor, Albert Ellis, Ph.D., who was kind enough to write a wonderful endorsement for my first book in 1988, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff PS: It’s All Small Stuff” noted, “If people stopped looking on their emotions as ethereal, almost inhuman processes, and realistically viewed them as being largely composed of perceptions, thoughts, evaluations, and internalized sentences, they would find it quite possible to work calmly and concertedly at changing them.”
Webster’s New World Dictionary defines “attitude” as, “A way of acting, feeling or thinking; one’s disposition, mental set.” Simply put, negative attitudes prevent us from getting what we want in our lives. Negative thinking and feelings often lead to negative actions. That’s the trail: thoughts create feelings and feelings create behaviors. Our life experiences and our degree of self-acceptance, indeed our level of accepting others and our life in general, strongly shapes our attitudes.
So, here are some questions to ask yourself to help you better understand your own attitudes:
1. Do you lack enjoyment or enthusiasm when you think of your current shelter-at-home situation?
2. Are you tired of the conflicts, irregularities, struggles, and problems being sheltered-at-home seem to bring?
3. Do you expect the best or worst outcome of this current COVID-19 situation?
4. Do you believe that if something can go wrong now, it will?
5. Do you see good things happening for you today, everyday?
It’s vital for you to balance optimism and pessimism. If your pessimism is overcoming you, you’ve become utterly nearsighted. You see change as threatening, and may believe “nothing will get better,” or “nothing’s worked well for me and my family in the past, so it won’t work well for us now.” That type of internal self-talk leads you to focus on, and magnify, what’s wrong, the pitfalls, the traps, the snares, and the hazards of COVID-19.
Unrestrained optimism and positivity are visionary, this mindset helps you see change as enlivening, invigorating and electrifying, and promotes your belief that “anything and everything is possible.” Folks who carry this type of thinking with them understand that even those who stop them, don’t stop them. They fully get that the storm only sharpens them.
A more pragmatic attitude and set of beliefs, a middle point between optimism and pessimism, focuses on concerns, points to change, helps develop suggestions, for improvements, stimulates you to think of ideas, and is realistic. This is a healthy aim. Bold, prophetic and pragmatic.
We all have what another teacher of mine, Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D. describes as “explanatory styles.” He says, “The general definition of explanatory style is quite simple. It is our tendency to offer similar explanations for different events.” Which of the three types of these explanatory styles do you carry with you most frequently?
This aspect covers the degree to which a person attributes an event to internal or external causes. An optimist might attribute a bad experience to luck whereas a pessimist might consider it their fault. Another person might also attribute an event to external forces in an unhealthy way (e.g. “I had no choice but to get violent.”)
This aspect covers characteristics considered stable versus unstable (across time). An optimist would tend to define his or her failures as unstable (I just didn’t study enough for this particular test) whereas a pessimist might think, for example, “I’m never good at tests.”
This distinction covers global versus local and/or specific and the extent of the effect. A pessimist might, for example, think that “Everywhere there is misery” and an optimist think that, “I have had dealings mostly with honest people.”
Here’s a simple model that I’ve used with many people in emotional education sessions and have found great success with it. I call it the SEEDS model. You can use it as a way to examine any circumstance and to help you recognize whether you are approaching it optimistically or pessimistically:
S= Situation – What are the facts of your situation?
E= Explanation – What are you telling yourself about the situation and what explanation do you tell yourself about what brought it about?
E= Emotion – What are your feelings about the situation? (happiness, anger, bitterness, joy, sadness)
D= Do – What are you going to do to alter the situation if you don’t like it?
S= Self-acceptance – Will your self-acceptance increase or decrease because of the action you are going to take?
I trust that by now you know how important it is for you and for those close to you to disturb yourself emotionally less, and do so by eliminating your pessimistic, negativity. It’s time to CRAFT a barrier against negativity in life, especially now. Here’s how to do just that:
C= Cancel your negative self-talk
R = Replace the negative self-talk
A= Affirm your new unconditional self-acceptance
F = Focus on an image that defines success
T= Train yourself for lasting positive change.
Stay tuned for my next edition of emotional education and I’m already sensing victory and triumph in your readiness to CRAFT some positive SEEDS! How’s that for optimism?