“All I ask is one thing, and I’m asking this particularly of young people: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism, for the record, it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”
“Pessimist: One who, when he has the choice of two evils, chooses both.”
“Pessimism never won any battle.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Negativity rots your brain.
Haters and complainers make you dumb. Studies show that being exposed to too much negativity peels away neurons in your hippocampus, the part of your brain responsible for problem solving. This includes listening to haters, complainers, and other people who negatively influence motivation. It also includes watching whiny reality TV shows and doom and gloom news reports. There’s a difference between being informed and being weighed down by information. There’s also a difference between someone bringing your attention to an important issue that needs to be addressed and someone sucking up your attention with issues that can’t be changed. The key is to focus on your circle of influence and to keep negativity away from this circle.
Objections destroy people, ideas, and decisions. As counterintuitive as it seems, most people make better decisions when they don’t ask for other people’s opinions. This is especially true when it comes to achieving your goal and fulfilling your purpose in life. When you ask for advice, most people’s initial reaction is to tell you everything that can go wrong. They feel the need to make you aware of the different ways in which you can fail. The problem is that this negative information damages your hippocampus, making it much harder to make any decision at all. Of course, this doesn’t mean you bury your head in the sand and never ask for advice. It means you learn to differentiate a pessimistic protest from a constructive analysis.
Negativity blunts your best ideas. In Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity, author Hugh MacLeod writes “Your idea doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be yours alone. The more the idea is yours alone, the more freedom you have to do something really amazing. The more amazing, the more people will click with your idea. The more people click with your idea, the more it will change the world.” Understand: your dream doesn’t need the approval of other people to be great. When it comes to creativity, treat other people’s advice like a virus. Stay as far away from it as possible.
Monkey see, monkey do. Interacting with negative people engages your mirror-neuron system. A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when you act and when you observe another person acting. In other words, these neurons mirror the behavior of others. If you spend enough time with pessimistic people, you will start to mimic their behavior. This is why it is so important to cut complainers and haters out of your life. These people don’t want solutions; they want despair. They want to sit in the pits. And they want you to sit in the pits with them.
Be A Thermostat, Not A Thermometer
Deflect pessimism with positivity and productive action. Negative people, negative emotions, and negative circumstances are going to come against you your entire life. The key to overcoming them is to be a thermostat instead of a thermometer. A thermostat is a device that regulates temperature. A thermometer is a device that simply measures temperature. Instead of measuring the temperature of negative situations, start changing the temperature. When a hater or complainer comes to you with a problem, don’t give them a chance to wallow in it. Spend no more than 10% of your time understanding a problem. Start finding solutions right away. Focus on your circle of influence, or what you can control, and go to work. Don’t let other people drag you down into the pits with them. And don’t waste a single second feeling sorry for yourself. Asking “Why me?” will only eat up your time and erode your emotional energy. No obstacle can withstand the force of headstrong positivity and relentless action. Having a reputation for being upbeat and productive will automatically deflect most pessimists away from your life. However, some pessimists are persistant. In these cases, you must move from deflection to misdirection.
Negativity Requires A Target
Shit rolls downhill. The stickiest pessimist is the one who works above you. Whether she is your boss or manager, a coach, or a teacher, this person holds the keys to your future in some way. Most often, these haters and complainers will dump their bad days in your lap. Instead of dealing with their own negative emotions, they will pour them onto you. Bringing you down makes them feel better about themselves. As such, these people will do whatever it takes to keep you down. They will waste your time with busywork and squander your potential with routine responsibilities. Understand: these people are not coming against you because of who you currently are, they are coming against you because of who you are capable of becoming. When dealing with negative people in power positions, your best course of action is to conceal your ambitions.
Negativity and authority are a corrosive combination. In Graduate school, my mentor was very negative about the University’s tenure process. He constantly complained about the uncertainty of his situation. He deserved more funding. He deserved more respect. On and on. The worst part was, he took his frustrations out on his Graduate students. He would bring us down by ridiculing our efforts and ambitions. He refused to acknowledge anything positive. If someone in the lab passed her comprehensive exam, published a paper, or graduated, he refused to celebrate it. As I got closer to graduating, he started asking me about my dreams just so he could shoot them down. When I told him I wanted to be a professor, he said I didn’t have enough publications and wasn’t a good public speaker. When I told him I was considering a career in business and entrepreneurship, he said no one was hiring and I would never make it on my own. Every time we discussed my future, his mood darkened and his demands doubled for at least two months. Finally, I started hiding my ambitions from him. Whenever the topic of my graduation was brought up, I casually expressed a variety of vague interests. I let it seem as though I was no longer in a hurry to graduate. I didn’t lie; I just kept my responses nonspecific and disengaged. Without something defined and specific to fight against, he was left without a target. He had nothing to attack.
Haters Abhor A Void
Negativity is an excuse. Distancing yourself from a negative person can be extremely difficult, especially if that person knows you well. Too often, people keep negativity in their lives as a crutch. This negativity may come in the form of a particular situation, a bad habit, or even a close friend. Being a victim of these things is comforting. It gives you something to complain about. It gives you something to blame if you fail. Smoking cigarettes is an excuse to skip a workout. What’s the point of working out if you haven’t quit smoking? A low-paying job is an excuse to ignore your purpose in life. Making money comes before making changes, right? A negative group of friends excuses you from expressing yourself. Fitting in is more important than fulfilling a dream, right? Pessimistic friends, in particular, will keep you from achieving your goal. Friends who are also haters and complainers will bring you down every day of your life. They will do this either passively by refusing to support you, or actively by sabotaging your efforts behind your back.
Haters and complainers make horrible friends. Your friends are your friends, at least in part, because they have similar interests and desires as you. This creates a certain level of tension and competition, which, if left unchecked and improperly directed, can turn into resentment. Rivalry can be beneficial, as long as it’s mutually channeled towards a productive pursuit. Problems occur when people start directing their tensions toward their friends instead of toward their goals. When someone close to you becomes increasingly negative, your best course of action is to ask her to fix the problem. Simply have an open and honest conversation with her about how her negativity is affecting your life. Most often, this is enough to remedy the relationship. However, some friends are determined to stay negative. They don’t want to be positive and they don’t want you to be positive. These types of friends will subtly try to bring you down; first, with neutrality and inaction, then by talking trash and isolating you from others. When this happens, your best course of action is to create a void.
Don’t feed the haters. Without your positivity and productivity, haters and complainers can’t survive. Negative people need you and your aspirations to channel their frustrations and failures onto. They need you to keep tabs on. This gives them energy and direction. When you disappear, you force haters and complainers to carry the full weight of their own troubles. Creating a void is a powerful way to misdirect negative people and dissolve negative energy. Instead of wasting your time trying to change haters or complainers, disappear and watch them waste their time attacking empty space. The greatest example of creating a void is Russia’s response to Napoleon’s invasion in 1812. Rather than engage Napolean in battle, the Russians offered almost no resistance. They simply retreated further and further into their country. As Napolean’s army marched deeper into Russia, they became increasingly agitated, desperate, and weak. Without battle, Napolean’s army had no victory, no direction, and no plunder. Napoleon made one rash decision after another, pushing his weakened army forward in an attempt to illicit a response from the Russians. By the time he reached Moscow, his initial force of 450,000 men was reduced to 100,000. Napoleon was defeated. He was conquered by the void. Of course, your goal is to merely gain distance and perspective. After you and your friend spend some time apart, reevaluate the relationship and, if possible, rebuild. In my next post, I will show you how to overthrow negative people who compete with you directly.