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Accept, Don’t Resist, Your Negativity

May. 24, 2023 Psychology Today

When you read the title, you may have had a double take: “A mental coach is telling me to accept my negativity? How can that be?” I realize that my statement is counterintuitive, but let me show you why accepting your negativity is actually the best thing to do whenever anything unhelpful enters your mind.

To begin, negativity is one of the most common reasons why people come to me. Despite having demonstrated in your life that you can achieve your goals, your mind may be filled with negativity, uncertainty, doubt, worry, “what ifs,” anxiety, frustration, fear, or anger, particularly just before important events when positivity is so critical.

There are two reasons why you go to the “dark side.” First, regardless of your objective abilities, you may lack confidence in that ability. This disconnect is so important because you may have all the ability to be successful, but if you don’t believe you have that ability, you won’t give your best effort to fully realize that ability.

Second, that negativity keeps your expectations low, which reduces the pressure you put on yourself. It also protects you from the pain of failure if you do give it your all and you don’t achieve your goals; you have an excuse for your failure. This reaction relates to a fear of failure (a topic you can learn more about by reading my four-part series). In other words, by being negative, if you end up performing poorly (at work or in school, or in some other setting), you won’t be that disappointed because you will have expected it. And if you actually exceed your self-imposed low expectations, then it feels like a bigger victory than it might actually be (and a big relief that you didn’t fail).

Regardless of the cause of your negativity, it will only hurt you in your efforts to push your limits and realize your goals. So, the question you must ask is: “What do I do when negativity rears its ugly head in my mind?”

Resisting Negativity

Negativity is very large and heavy psychologically and emotionally, meaning once it gets in your mind, it is very difficult to remove it. The typical reaction that most people have is to tell themselves, “Stop being so negative.” In other words, you try to push that negativity out of your mind. Unfortunately, that approach usually doesn’t work. Here’s an exercise that explains why: Don’t think about a pink elephant. What did you do? You likely thought about a pink elephant, despite my asking you not to. But really, don’t think about a pink elephant, don’t think about a pink elephant, don’t think about a pink elephant. What happens? You can’t get that pesky pink elephant out of your mind. Here’s why. Imagine the pink elephant in a room and you want to get it out of the room. Have you ever tried to move a pink elephant (or any colored elephant, for that matter)? Probably not, but I think it’s safe to assume that, because of its size and weight, you would not be able to move it. Negativity is like that pink elephant.

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