Default to the Positive

As humans, we tend to focus on the negative so much that it has become a default response in all kinds of situations. When something goes wrong, we are quick to blame others. Our typical response is negative instead of constructive. By giving in to a negative response, we are being reactive. In that moment, we forget that our response matters more than the difficulty of the situation we are faced with.

Here are a few examples of negative responses that I’m sure you’ll relate with in one way or another.

  • In some instances, we are quick to point out the mistakes of others instead of focusing on what we could do to improve the situation at hand.

  • When your kid gets five As and a B, chances are you want to ask them about the B first rather than congratulating them on the As. This goes back to giving feedback.

  • When you’re speaking to a crowd and you see no reactions from the two people sitting in the front whilst everyone else is clapping for you, you focus on those two people and wonder what’s wrong with them (instead of ignoring them).

  • We focus on the one bad review of our book instead of ignoring it and looking at the positive reviews. In that moment, we wrongly choose to emphasize the negative.

We choose to focus on the negative aspects of others (instead of seeing the good in them). We tend to question people’s motives. This only happens when we don’t trust them.

We tend to give ourselves excuses for not doing the work by saying things like, “The market is bad”. The market is what it is. What matters is not how the market is performing, but what are we doing irrespective of that. And there is always something we can do.

In short, we choose to focus on all that is wrong with the world as opposed to seeing all that is right with the world. As such, the world is a reflection of how we see it.

Defaulting to the positive is not about positive self-affirmations or walking on hot coals. It is reminding ourselves that we are in control of our responses and that we can choose to be proactive regardless of the difficulty of the situation with which we are faced.

Here are a few reasons why we should default to a positive mindset:

Thinking negatively does not help us. Similarly, criticizing others (especially in their absence), condemning them, complaining about things, making comparisons with others, and being cynical are all reactive and counterproductive behaviors. Taking advantage of others’ weaknesses and using it against them is unfair. Doing these things helps no one — yourself least of all.

We can’t let the negative behavior of others determine our actions. How we choose to respond is up to us, and what we say and do is within our control. We can choose to be proactive.

Whatever we tell ourselves, we are right. We become what we say. What we tell ourselves is what will happen to us. “I am struggling with this”. By saying negative things, we are only reinforcing those things in us, which doesn’t help us at all. The more we continue to think about “struggle”, the more we will end up struggling. Our thoughts determine our actions.

Here are some strategies for defaulting to the positive:

Shift your focus from others to your own actions and see what you can do to improve the situation. This requires being proactive. It requires understanding that your response to any situation matters more than the situation itself no matter how difficult. Instead of complaining and/or worrying about things that are out of your reach/control, focus on things that are in your control and that you can do something about. We can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond. Focus on what is working instead of what is not working. Ignore the negative, and focus on (and amplify) the positives.

Accept or change things. There is nothing in between. Have the wisdom to know the difference between the two. When you find yourself challenged by a situation and you’re not able to change it, accept it. Make your peace with it and move on.

Reframe your problems as challenges or opportunities for improvement and growth. For instance, instead of saying, “I am struggling with something”, say, “This is a challenge I am working on”. We are not changing any facts here, only our perspective. How we use language matters a great deal and can make all the difference in how we feel about ourselves, but more on this in a future piece.

In any situation, learn to look at the bright side of things. Opportunities often come disguised in the form of problems. Are you able to spot them?

When others fail to keep their promise/commitment, give them the benefit of the doubt. If it keeps happening, then you’re better off not associating yourself with them. Besides, others are always teaching us about themselves through their actions. It is up to us to learn about them.

Be grateful for things you have while you pursue all you want (instead of lamenting what you don’t have). Stop comparing yourself to others. Stop trying to keep up with the Joneses. It is not a competition. If you want to compare something, compare yourself to your past self and reflect on how far you have come.

Learn to share proper feedback with others. Understand that feedback is for them, not for you. It should help them improve whatever they are doing. Give feedback on others’ actions, not their character. While the latter could potentially hurt them below their belt, the former would be constructive and help orient them in the right direction. Another way of looking at it is to look at the things one is doing well, and then look at things that could be improved.

Nobody is perfect, and that’s okay. Always look for the good in others, appreciate them for their strengths, and emphasize their positive traits. Make them feel good about themselves. We are not talking about giving empty/generic praises here, but honest appreciation for their actions.

When you find someone criticizing others in their absence, instead of partaking in it, give them the benefit of the doubt. We don’t know their entire story, so it’s not right for us to judge it. Regardless, it’s not right to judge others.

Before we pass our judgement on others, we should walk a mile in their shoes and try to see things from their perspective. What matters is not whether they are right or wrong, but that we understand their perspective. Enjoy them for who they are instead of trying to change them.

Our default response should be positive. It has nothing to do with “positive thinking”, positive self-affirmations, or walking on hot coals. Put simply, it is a more proactive way of being because we can only work on things that are within our control.

Remember, we are not ignoring the negative — we are simply emphasizing the positives and reframing the negative in a positive way since the way we use language determines our actions.

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