You complete nine tasks out of 10 on your ‘to do’ list – are you happy about the nine or do you dwell on the 10th?
You go on vacation and see everything you set out to see, except for one thing? Do you think about the one thing later, even more than all you’ve experienced? Be honest!
You leave a concert early and miss the last few songs – do you regret it or feel content with what you saw?
Do you remember the one negative thing someone said to you, over all the positives? Or the few negative comments you may have received in a meeting or class, over otherwise glowing reviews?
In other words, do you focus on the negatives?
I definitely do, more often than I’d like to admit. The fact that I feel badly about that one last thing I never seem to be able to accomplish (reflecting the fact that I always try to do too much in a day!). The fact that, more than a decade later, I still lament the rodeo that got rained out in Utah … the R.E.M. concert we left early at Jones Beach due to extreme weather … the Sam Bush autograph I missed getting at City Winery in NYC when we were rushing for a train to catch back to Long Island. The hurtful things people may have said over the years.
In the movie Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts talks to Richard Gere about being put down over the years and says, “The bad stuff is easier to believe. You ever notice that?”
I do. And it surprises me. Because I generally take after my mom, who’s got to be the most positive, optimistic, resilient person on the planet. I’m often accused of being ‘too nice’ and I was once taunted about seeing the glass as ‘full-full’ (versus half-full) in a small spat with a loved one. It definitely wasn’t meant as a compliment, but rather hinting at my innocent nature and stubborn naivete!
The truth is, I do like to think the best of any situation or person, until I’m proven otherwise. Why not at least start from a positive place? And, when the deck seems stacked against you, why not believe you can change the tides of fortune? And why not strive to do it until there’s absolutely no way out? (Case in point: Why not believe the NY Mets still have a tiny bit of a chance to make it to the off-season until they’re mathematically eliminated?)
I still think of a situation way back when in the Outer Banks of North Carolina when my sister-in-law lost her expensive new Ray-Ban sunglasses in the Atlantic Ocean. All the loved ones around her said to forget about it, she’d never find them. She felt otherwise, kept her sharp eyes on the incoming waves and found the prize within about five minutes.
I think we all know positive attitudes can lead to positive outcomes. So why do we, so often, go to ‘the dark side’? And why do I find myself downright scared at situations I can’t control, imagining the unimaginable worst-case scenario, all too often? Like a plane crash every time I fly. Or my kids in serious danger, or worse, every time they don’t text when they say they will.
Like most of us, I realize worrying is a wasted, counterproductive and potentially harmful state of mind. And yet … there are reasons we do it.
My friend, who’s studying mindfulness, shared that positivity is like Teflon whereas everything else – all negative feelings – seem to stick. I wondered aloud why. Given the mind-body connection most of us subscribe to now, I was thinking a positive state of mind would prove to be a strong evolutionary trait – to keep us healthier and living longer in the future.
My friend points out, however, that evolution still favors some of our more primitive instincts – fear, ‘fight or flight’ – from the days when humans were fighting daily for survival.
Heady stuff, I know. But the main point is we’re fighting a battle against negativity that is embedded in our very brain structure … and fight it, we must!
I have some little tricks. My same friend shared that it can help to basically force yourself to think about a positive event at least three times as much as a negative occurrence.
Speaking things aloud is powerful too. Do you ever notice it’s hard to voice something, out loud that’s painful? But that’s what gives it power. I was on a plane alone a few years ago. And while I’ve basically conquered a former fear of flying that had me grounded for a long time, I started to feel a little panic attack coming on. I literally said ‘no’ out loud, refused to acknowledge it and went on to read my book.
I sometimes ward off an unwanted negative thought or memory by literally shaking my head like the baseball pitcher shaking off the catcher’s sign. Or, embarrassing to admit, I still say this little mantra my best friend in the sixth grade taught me back then, “Take it back, take it back, take it back and throw it out!”
I also try to reason with myself. Because I know sometimes, when we feel too happy or blessed, many of us feel a need to somehow sabotage it. I’m going on a trip and super excited and I almost always have to add in thoughts of meeting disaster on the plane, for example. I try to take away the guilt of enjoying myself. A therapist I used to know said it was a common thing to scare yourself out of bliss – “I feel good. Knock on wood,” as she put it. As if we don’t deserve it.
Part of it is also, I think, all the Irwin Allen disaster movies I saw in my impressionable teenage years in the ‘70s – Earthquake, Airplane, Towering Inferno. In the latter, I always remember the Steve McQueen firefighter character saying, “They know we can’t save anyone above the seventh story, but they keep building those skyscrapers higher and higher.” Or something to that effect. Unfortunately, I work on the eighth floor now (but a coworker assured me they can now rescue people up to probably 10-15 flights up)!
I never fully got over seeing Jaws with my grandmother back then either. Having read the book, I begged her to take me to the movie. I got scared and wanted to leave, but she was invested and to this day, I can’t go in the ocean without at least having a thought of that massive shark watching all our legs underwater and sizing up his next meal!
But I shake it all off because that’s what life’s all about, right? I’m committed to staying positive. Also to staying open to opportunities and possibilities.
While I know I need to get better at saying, and accepting, the word ‘no’, I remember a John Lennon biopic that still moves me. He was talking about how he and Yoko Ono met. He was at an experimental art show of hers. The particular exhibit was a ladder you climbed that led you to a handwritten, folded up piece of paper taped to the ceiling. It had just one word – ‘Yes’. John said, if it said anything else, he wouldn’t have found the love of his life. And went on to sing, in Mind Games, ‘Yes is the answer. And you know that for sure.”
Yes I do. What do you think?