Early last week I read a fascinating article about a man who had gone on a “Negativity Fast” for 21 days; he consciously gave up all negative thoughts. See the irony there? He had to try to give up something that would seemingly be a habit no one would want anyway. The very fact that he had to try to do without something so unhealthy means negative thoughts are either a) treats to us like candy, b) addictive, as in the more we think negatively the more we need to, or c) both of the above. It would seem we are addicted to defeating ourselves.
Keeping these concepts in mind, I was inspired by the idea and tried the fast myself. How freeing as a leader it was to give myself permission to expunge all negative thinking! I was now free of guilt, anger, oppression, defeatism, worry, jealousy and fear of failure. At long last, the secret to living authentically with strength and self confidence had been revealed to me! Well, for the first five euphoric seconds anyway. It took under ten seconds (seconds!) for my old customary negative thinking to return as though the weak dam called “self-discipline” collapsed like a wet plank of cardboard. Again, my mind went numb and saturated with that stale familiar soak of negativity which up until I had built that measly dam five minutes prior, I had all but blissfully forgotten existed.
As it turns out we are so accustomed to negative thoughts that we actually feed on them in more ways than we realize (until, of course, we try to rid ourselves of them altogether). In trying to give up negative thoughts, they seem to come ever more fast and furious to the surface. Sound familiar?:
“I can’t believe I did that. I am so stupid! I can never get over it. I will always ruin opportunities. Why even try?”
“I wish she would just leave me alone and get off my back! Yeah, I am sloppy so what? She’s a pain in the neck. Just like my boss. Women are always making my life miserable.”
“Are those wrinkles? Of course they are. I am old and ugly.”
“Another idiot in the office – big surprise. Why is everyone so incredibly lazy and incompetent?”
Negativity fills in the gaps in our inner monologue when there is nothing positive streaming otherwise. Almost like nicotine, like a drug, we are actually comforted by these thoughts at first. After all, if other people are stupid, you conversely think you are not. If they are the problem, you are off the hook. If it is all someone else’s fault, you need not be accountable.
The first step in breaking this cycle is to recognize the negative chatter streaming through your consciousness all day long; accept that your mind gets away from you sometimes and that you don’t intentionally mean to be your own worst enemy. Don’t try to break the whole habit cold-turkey. Unless you practice focused meditation upwards of 8 hours a day and live on a mountaintop the full year though, you will be far too soaked with negative thoughts to wring yourself completely dry on your first try. Are you thinking this is not good enough? Is your ego telling you this isn’t worth your time and you will never be able to rid yourself of negative thinking? Exactly. Don’t let negative thinking trick you into negative thinking! Give it up!
In part II of this series on the Negativity Fast, we will examine healthy ways to rid defeatist thinking from our minds. But for today, try to acknowledge your negative thoughts and make a mental or physical list of what those thoughts are for you. Some people are especially prone to sarcasm. Though a little bit is clever and funny, too much sarcasm may have you thinking other people are inferior to you and this is a terrible quality in a leader. Some people’s negativity comes from jealousy or the refusal to forgive. Still others suffer from the never ending thought patterns that tell them that they just will never measure up. They are not pretty, young, thin, smart, or rich enough. Ever.
Remember that negativity only fills in where positivity is not yet streaming. Changing your inner monologue will change your life and your entire leadership style. Listen to yourself today and get ready to seize greater control.
Please return for Part II of Negativity Fast: Start Being Your Greatest Asset