Name it to Tame It: Overcoming Negativity

JOEY VELEZ MA, MBA

Healthy Lifestyles Contributor

Back in California during the warm summer days, my family often headed out to the San Francisco Bay, where my stepfather would sail us around on his Catamaran.

Sometimes these days would be calm and relaxing, but there were plenty of times when it was quite the opposite.

If you are reading this and have experienced these less than peaceful times sailing, you probably know what I mean: rough waters, other boats impeding your path, high wind gusts, and maybe even a mutinous shipmate. These perfect storms come out of nowhere to try and stray us off course, but the ship must sail on.

The same is true of everyday life. Negativity is all around us, which can be viewed as distractions that take your attention away from where it needs to be to perform your best. These attention thieves come into your mind to steer you off path and to make your life more difficult. Regardless of what is going on around us, we must press forward. You must learn to continue toward your destination and act despite the negativity. Doing so will increase your chances of accomplishing your goals and performing at an optimal level.

What Does it All Mean?

Negativity comes in many forms: undesirable results, nothing going your way, internal self-talk, harmful words from others, poor personal habits and even your surrounding environment. One thing these forms have in common is they make it more difficult for you to act your true, authentic self. It becomes more challenging to achieve the results you want to achieve because your attention and actions are diverted elsewhere. One thing is for certain: these moments are not only unpredictable, but almost guaranteed to happen.

When negativity comes around, you must act to maintain progress. There are two types of actions you can take: random action or purposeful, deliberate action. For example, let’s say you are running late for work and you realize you have no idea where your car keys are. Random action could look one of two ways. First, you place immediate blame on your spouse or your children. You start pointing fingers, yelling obscenities and bringing up other misfortunes about that other person, but you eventually realize they were in your pocket. You now walk out the door, disgruntled and annoyed that you wasted 10 minutes of your day looking for something that was not lost.

Second, you might begin catastrophizing. You might call yourself an idiot, saying you will never get to work, which means you will be fired, which means your family will disown you, which means you will lose your house, which means you will end up homeless.

On the other hand, purposeful and deliberate action looks a little different. Once you notice your keys are missing, you set down your briefcase and start investigating. You ask yourself, “Where did I leave them last?” “What was I doing?” Then you start patting yourself down and realize, “Hey, they were in my pocket the whole time!” You head out the door with a smile and laugh as you get ready to start your day. Now, which action would you choose in this situation? Do not act for the sake of acting; take deliberate and purposeful action to stay the path because random action will lead you down a rabbit hole you do not want to go down.

Me, Myself, and I

Growing up, I gravitated toward negativity. If I made a mistake and someone criticized me for it, it must’ve meant that I was not good enough. If I failed at something, then I would give up. A pessimistic mindset was a constant figure in my life. Negativity swirled around me, and I could not do anything about it. My path was forged for me.

It was not until college that I realized I was letting negativity dictate my actions. I learned that I had a choice in my thinking, I learned that I had a choice in how I acted and responded, and I learned that it was up to me to make those changes. Around this time, I came across a video on YouTube from an ex-Navy SEAL named Jocko Willink. The video is called “Good”, and if you have not seen it, then I suggest you take three minutes of your day and give it a watch. In this video, he talks about how he says the word “good” when he experiences failures and adversities. Saying this short, simple word allows him to acknowledge what happened but then redirect his attention toward what he can do instead. This video helped change the way I viewed negativity. Mishaps, failures and adversities are not in my control, but what I can control is how I respond to those situations. It was at this point I began to forge my path.

Name it to tame it

To take action despite any negativity, you first must acknowledge its source. It is difficult to change what you do not know; therefore, you must name it to tame it. The truth can hurt, so this step may be more challenging than it sounds, but it is vital. For example, if you are a pessimistic person, neutral situations are more likely to turn negative based on your perspective. Therefore, you must first accept and acknowledge that you are pessimistic, which is not easy, and I speak from experience. This acknowledgment can be out loud, to another person, or written down on paper, but to learn what is impacting your actions, you have to know what it is.

Next, you want to create an anchor. Something you can utilize that will stop you from veering too far off course. Your anchor can come in the form of a power statement, which is a form of self-talk to increase confidence and redirect your attention. Power statements must meet certain criteria to be most effective: they must be purposeful, productive and reflect possibility.

Purposeful refers to being deliberate with reason, as opposed to being more spontaneous and random. For example, remind yourself, “Just breathe,” instead of, “I hope this works out,” which has less intent behind it and is leaving things up to chance.

Productive refers to being more task and present-focused, as opposed to letting the situation dictate your self-talk. For example, saying, “Focus on the next sales call,” instead of, “I have to sell this next person,” which can create irrational beliefs and unnecessary stress.

Finally, possibility refers to not setting any limitations on your actions. If you tell yourself, “I can’t,” or “There is no way to come back from this,” then you have already lost.

Power statements increase your confidence and put you on the offensive by controlling the thoughts that you want to have to perform your best. Power statements can be motivational, such as, “You can do this,” or they can focus more on mechanics, “Strong base, steady balance.” The key here is to have a meaningful statement that passes the gut-check feeling.

Now that you have laid anchor, you must readjust the ship’s wheel to get you back on track. You can do this through focal cues, which can be short phrases, words or images to guide your attention back to the present moment. An important factor with focal cues is choosing cues that are based on what is most important. For example, let’s say you are sailing along in open water and are hit with a high gust of wind. Having the cue, “Reef the sail,” lets you know that you need to reduce the sail’s size so you can move effectively through the windy terrain.

Focal cues can also be motivational. For example, repeating the statement, “You are the captain,” might remind you that you are in charge of this ship; not Mother Nature. Once you have your anchor and you have redirected your attention to the path that lies ahead, you can sail more smoothly and reach your destination more efficiently.

Final thoughts

There are times when you can use the negativity around you to fuel your actions. However, you must make sure you are taking purposeful and deliberate action that continues you on your journey toward your destination. There are also times when negativity leads you so far off course that it is hard to regain traction. In these moments, you must utilize your anchor to recalibrate, readjust and redirect your efforts and attention so that you can make a more effective decision and perform your best.