dr. marlo archer

Fight The Negative Focus

As living creatures, we have a very natural self-preservation system that alerts us to potential dangers in our environment. For example, we grow completely accustomed to the normal evening noises of our homes and our neighborhoods, and when we hear something ‘weird,’ we are instantly aroused. We sit up, turn the TV down, tell our kids to be quiet, and we listen intently to see if we can figure out what the noise was. As soon as we identify it as something of no concern – like a car backfiring, a couple of kids playing baseball, or the teen skateboarders down the street banging around building some new ramps – we go right back to our relaxed condition and the sound no longer even registers in our conscious mind. That is, we are programmed to notice potential dangers and almost completely ignore any background noise that is not dangerous.

How this translates to our daily life is that we also ignore almost all events in our environment if they pose no threat to us. Think of an average day at work… Do you remember what your co-worker ate for lunch? What color is the tile or carpet in the break area? What were the first 3 personal e-mails you read? Chances are, you don’t know because those things really never ‘registered’ in your brain. They didn’t have to. They posed no threat to you. If, instead, I asked you about the last time you got written-up or yelled at at work, or about a time when a machine malfunctioned and almost killed you or a co-worker or lost years’ worth of data or destoyed thousands of dollars of materials, chances are you can remember those events, even if they were weeks or years ago. You remember those events because they posed a threat to you.

Now, how that relates to our inner life — Chances are good that people make hundreds of remarks to you, all day, every day, that pose no threat to you. Simple things like, “Hey Joe, how are ya?” “Nice tie, man!” “Where did you get that dress, Mary, it is really cute” “Did you see Idol last night?” “What is that? Tuna Salad?” “Want to go to Macayo’s for lunch?” “Here’s the quarterly reports.” “FedEx is here.” “Where do you want this?” “That is so funny!” And so on. People say hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of things to you ALL DAY LONG and you don’t remember ANY of them because they pose no threat.

However, when you hear that ONE comment – “Dude, get a haircut!” “You’re kidding, right?” “I don’t think it’s gonna work out” “Lookout, you clumsy ox!” “Are you retarded?!” “You could probably stand to lose a few pounds” “That’s a horrible idea!” “I think Ted is the better man for this job” “I don’t think you’re ready for this” “You’re gonna have to do better than that” “I don’t think you understand” “That would be fine if this were 1986, but it’s 2006, maybe you haven’t heard yet.” – You can’t get that ONE comment out of your head. You hear it over and over all day. You think about it at night. You puzzle on it the next day. It bothers you. It worries you. It stays in your conscious mind a long time, and you start to feel badly about yourself. You question yourself, doubt yourself. Your self-esteem takes a hit.

When you find yourself focused on a negative comment, in order to keep yourself from entering a downward spiral of shame, you’ve got to remember that EVERY DAY, you hear hundreds of comments that are not negative and you’ve got to balance that ONE negative comment with the HUNDREDS or THOUSANDS of non-negative comments you receive. It doesn’t mean you’re going to totally ignore the negative comment if it needs some attention, just that you’re going to put it into perspective.

Maybe you do have something you need to improve, but you can’t work on yourself while you’re hanging your head in shame, focused on your negative aspects. Instead, you must concentrate and draw upon your strengths to make positive changes. And, when you re-orient your brain to balance one negative comment with all the non-negative comments, often you realize that someone’s negative comment wasn’t even really ‘about’ you much at all. Perhaps it came from a very negative person who never has much of anything nice to say about anyone. Maybe whoever said it was having a particularly bad day or week and they weren’t on their best behavior. Perhaps the critic was nervous about something, angry about something, thinking about something that had nothing to do with you and he just didn’t choose his words very carefully. Maybe he’s jealous of you, threatened by you, trying to intimidate you, or whatever. When you have a more balanced way of thinking, you will often realize that the negative comment really shouldn’t impact you much at all and you can just let it go, just like when you identify the odd sound at night that turns out to be nothing to worry about.

So, do take all the positive in and use it to balance the negative. Think about negative comments in a balanced way. Evaluate them objectively to see if they even have any merit or not, and if they’re really more about the person who said them, and not really much about you, then just let them go and move on. Don’t let someone else’s mood or issues make you doubt yourself when you know you’re doing a good job.

By Dr. Marlo Archer