All it takes is just one negative comment, literally just one, and it can ruin your entire day. Even if everything else has been good in your day and other positive things have been said to you, just one bad thing and, more often than not, it wipes all of that out.
When I was working full time in marketing and advertising this happened to me all the time. And it wouldn’t even have to be a comment. It could just be something that I felt I hadn’t done as well as I should have or a mistake I had made that would then make anything else positive that had happened that day disappear.
I could have done an amazing job on a thousand other things that day, but that one thing that I didn’t do quite as well as I would have liked would over shadow everything else and send me into a spiral of thinking I wasn’t good enough and shouldn’t be doing the job in the first place.
And it’s not just me.
The amount of times I’ve had friends call me up in the evening to talk about their day because one thing didn’t go quite as they hoped and has left them doubting their abilities in everything is incredible.
It may be due to imposter syndrome, where you never really believe you’re good or competent enough to be doing the job you are, that we do this to ourselves. If we never really believe we’re good enough in the first place it’s no wonder that if something negative happens, or if someone criticizes us, we’ll grab onto. It’s almost as if our subconscious is screaming, “See I was right”.
Or it could be because our brains are programmed to hold onto negatives and that we have to work harder to see the positives once something negative has occurred (this is a theory that Alison Ledgerwood, from the department of Psychology at UC Davis, explains in a great TEDx talk on the subject https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=7XFLTDQ4JMk).
But whatever the reason is for our disproportionate acceptance of negativity; whether it’s imposter syndrome, that our brains are just wired that way or something else entirely that causes it, it needs to stop.
Having suffered from this problem for years, I dedicated a lot of time and effort to working out how to stop this from happening. Here are my top 3 tips on how to do it.
3 Steps to Stop the Downward Spiral of Negativity
- Accept the comment, or self-criticism you have imposed on yourself, and consider it. Really think about it.
Is it justified?
If so learn from it and change your behaviour, think about what you could do better or differently next time. That way you haven’t failed or made a mistake, you have learnt something. And you’ll probably remember that lesson a lot longer having learnt it the hard way than the easy way.
Something is only a failure if you take it as such. It took Thomas Edison 10,000 tries to create the electric light bulb and what he said of those not so successful attempts was;
“I’ve not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
He didn’t fail or do something wrong in those 10,000 tries that didn’t work. He learnt.
If the criticism is justified, learn from it.
And if it isn’t, just let it go. If it was someone else who gave you the unjustified criticism the comment probably says more about them than it does you.
- Remember the things you have done well that day. This will help in particular with letting go of the criticism if it’s unjustified but is also still equally important when the criticism is justified. Even if we made a mistake that we need to learn from we should still recognize and congratulate ourselves for the things we did well that day.
You’ll often find that when you really think about it the number of things you did well in a day, or the successes you had, far out weigh the one negative thing that happened.
It can be hard to hold onto these thoughts when we’re in a moment of self-doubt, so write them down. Better still write down your successes and achievements on the days when something doesn’t go wrong. The praise that others give you. The moments when you achieve something great against all the odds. That way when you’re doubting yourself or letting one comment send you into a downward spiral of negativity you’ll have all the proof you need to show yourself that you’re not a failure but actually a competent, capable person who can achieve great things.
- Talk to someone else about it. Tell a friend completely honestly about how you’re feeling in that moment and why. A little outside perspective can work wonders.
And most importantly remember that, more often than not, when we experience criticism or get sucked into self-doubt for something that didn’t go as we’d hoped, it’s when we’re pushing ourselves to do great things.
We very rarely experience great failure or criticism when staying in our comfort zone and only doing mediocre things.
I for one would much rather push myself and fail than never attempt to do great things.
As Robert Kennedy said
“ Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
So carry on pushing yourselves; do better things, get out of your comfort zone, achieve things you never thought possible. And if, and when, failure or negativity occurs as a result of that go back to the list above and learn or decide not to accept the negativity, and focus on what you have done well. I promise you that when you really think about it, the great things you have done will far out weigh the bad.