Negativity as a Virus

We all have negative experiences. It’s not uncommon for many of us to think of these as having external causes, which usually means we think they are other people’s fault; effectively, we can end up blaming others for experiences we don’t enjoy.

This leads us to resent the world and the people around us, and this feeling builds up for some period of time. At some point, it boils over and we take it out on someone else. Which is exactly what happened to that person who cut you off in traffic and flipped you the bird, or yelled at you for talking on the bus. Then one day you take it out on someone else. Maybe later you feel bad; maybe you feel justified. Maybe that bus driver really was a jackass for not opening the back door at your stop. Maybe that lady who cut in front of you in the checkout line deserved you to tell her off. Regardless, the spread of negativity continues in this fashion. The person you get mad at feels indignant and victimized, and they’ll later take it out on someone else. It’s like a virus, infecting each of us as we are exposed to it, working through us to infect the next person.

On the other hand, when someone is randomly kind to us, we unconsciously pass that on as well. And yet, somehow, this doesn’t seem to happen nearly as often. Why is that?

“Negative” is just our word for stuff we don’t enjoy. If it causes pain or discomfort on any level, we give it this label. We generally try to avoid pain and discomfort. But a funny thing happens when you try to avoid something: you end up paying more attention to it. Think about trying to avoid stepping in a puddle without paying attention to it. And, of course, there’s the classic example where I tell you not to think about a pink elephant. You’re going to picture one immediately.

The unintentional consequence of avoidance is that we focus on that which we’re trying to avoid. That means all the other things we aren’t focused on become the blurry periphery. So in focusing on the negative – trying to avoid it – it becomes nearly all we see.

Weird, huh?

So before you read any further, I’d like for you to take a second to think of what this means to you personally, and what could be done to change this pattern.

From my perspective, the solution is twofold:

1) Re-frame the concepts of pain and discomfort. Does it bring you down, or does it ground you? Does it hurt you, or does it remind you to appreciate health? Discomfort is a product of moving outside your established comfort zone. This means you’re growing. It’s like when you exercise. It hurts a little, or maybe a lot if you push yourself a bit too hard, and then you get stronger. “No pain, no gain.” You get the idea.

2) Focus on the “positive” – the things in life that make you feel warm and fuzzy, the things that make you happy. Then try to do those things for others, too. Hold a door open. Smile at someone. Make a joke. Give a friend a hug. Let the negative stuff become the periphery.

If you have more ideas, feel free to share them in the comments.

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