“Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.“
Don Miguel Ruiz (Author, The Four Agreements)
“Men take on the nature and the habits and the power of thought of those with whom they associate… there is no hope of success for the person who repels people through a negative personality.”
Napolean Hill (Author, Think and Grow Rich)
“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”
Oscar Wilde (Dramatist)
The first step to being a leader in your career and in your life is to start ignoring other people’s opinions more.
Especially other people’s negative opinions.
Studies reported by Stanford University News show that exposure to negativity lasting 30 minutes or more peels away neurons in your hippocampus, the part of your brain responsible for problem-solving.
Negative opinions can literally rot your brain.
You might think that listening to negative people, or trying to make them feel better, is virtuous.
You might think that constantly listening to criticism will show others that you value feedback and will make you more successful.
Instead, these negative opinions will reduce your mental energy levels and hurt your performance.
For example, one study examined 120 participants who were asked to talk with or ignore a negative person.
After 4 minutes of interaction, each participant was given a thought exercise that required good concentration.
The participants who ignored the negative people performed better on the thought exercises than the participants who engaged with the negative people.
Think about that.
Listening to criticism literally reduces your intelligence.
In just 4 minutes.
There is nothing noble or beneficial about listening to unsolicited opinions, especially unsolicited negative opinions.
How Top Performers Avoid Negativity Bias
In research for his book, Change Your Habits, Change Your Life, author Thomas C. Corley followed the habits of rich people for 5 years.
What he found was that rich people don’t spend time with pessimists — on purpose.
It’s actually one of their success principles.
In fact, 86% of the people he studied made a point to spend time with positive, goal-oriented, success-minded individuals while at the same time making it a priority to avoid negative people.
And,for good reason.
Research out of TalentSmart picked up on the Stanford study on the damaging effects of negativity on the brain to look at how top performers circumvented these ill effects and noted that 90% of top performers have the ability to “neutralize difficult people”, thereby protecting themselves from their impact.
Sounds easy, but it’s an uphill battle all the way.
And, it’s your brain’s fault… at least until you get to the end of this article, and then the onus is on you.
Your brain is actually wired to be more attracted to negativity. Negative influence takes less time to make a deep impact and holds a longer imprint than positive influence.
It’s called negativity bias and it’s the brain’s evolutionary progress gone awry.
While that circuitry serves you for survival, it doesn’t serve you in your life where your life isn’t in danger.
The negativity bias in your brain is referred to by neuropsychologist, Rick Hanson as where the brain picks up negativity like Velcro and positivity like Teflon.
It takes a longer, intentional focus on positivity to make a lasting impression in the brain.
And, while your brain is attracted to negativity, it’s also damaged by it.
Why Leaders Protect Themselves From Negative People
As mentioned in the Stanford study, exposure to negativity erodes your hippocampus.
It also activates other structures in the brain similar to stress… with the harmful effects of stress piggybacking along for the ride.
It impacts your physiology, even weakening your immune system.
So, while you’re innately drawn to it, it’s damaging on every level.
Which means that in order to avoid being a slave to it and sinking with the masses, you have to be strategic, decisive, and firm when it comes to the people you allow in your life and the content they bring with them.
Because positivity already takes more effort, taking control of your environment is essential.
Leaders ignore the opinions of others for these 2 reasons…
1. Negativity is infectious.
We become who we spend time with the most.
The law of averages is that you become like the 5 people you spend the most time with.
Just naturally, we all sort of lean into the middle.
So, you’re only as strong as your weakest link.
Even if you think you’re immune to it.
Who you are most attracted to spend time with won’t necessarily be who’s best for you.
It’s typically more about who is most familiar, stemming way back from your family of origin.
Unless you had the perfect family, this alone should raise a cautionary flag.
Add the bonus round of neural mirroring where the neurons in your brain automatically mirror those of the people you spend time with, and you’ve got a set-up for negativity to be the biggest threat to your success.
There’s no vaccinating your brain against negative influence — you’re impacted on an unconscious level.
And now that you know this, you can’t even blame your brain anymore.
It’s on you to be strategic and responsible for the people you bring into your life.
Otherwise, you’re the passive recipient for every lost sheep, go-nowhere, perma-victim out there.
Already know the negative people in your life?
The naysayers, critics, and whiners?
Anyone with something to prove and a loud voice to do it with.
Someone that always cuts you down to build themselves up.
Not once, but forever, and start getting people in your life that are on your side.
2. Negativity stunts growth.
This might be where you plead exceptions… that is, excuses for not wanting to take a hard line with the people in your life.
You aren’t immune to the impact of others.
You might even revel in your role of being the most positive of your people and “helping” them.
Good for you.
You’ve officially lost your edge.
You’ve stopped growing.
You’re missing your potential.
While you bask in the glory bestowed upon you by your adoring fans… you’ve either stopped moving to your own goals, or you’re moving towards them at a much slower pace because of the anchor of others you’re dragging behind you.
Until you stop focusing on lifting others up, you’ll stay put.
The only solution is to stop enabling everyone around you from using you as a crutch and start focusing on your own life.
Start looking for people who are more positive, more determined, more successful than you — likely the ones that passed you by while you were cradling all your buddies — and start spending time with them.
Seek out people who are better, sharper, funnier, and richer than you are and move into those circles.
This is the only way you’ll level up.
Let that energy be the contagious energy you spend most of your time with.
Look — success isn’t supposed to just drop in your lap.
Being a leader isn’t about the path of least resistance and effort.
This is supposed to take work.
Otherwise, everyone would be doing it.
And clearly they’re not.
What separates leaders from followers is the ability to take this knowledge and use it to your advantage to move forward.
Everyone has an opinion for your life.
Usually one that justifies their own choices and very rarely feedback that serves your growth needs.
Because their opinion is all about them.
If you want to build success in the areas of your life and career that fulfill your purpose, it’s time to be bold and strategic in constructing the context of your life. That includes refusing to allow yourself to be either a doormat or a crutch for someone else and their negative persuasions. That includes choosing your need to be healthy, focused, and moving towards your goals with a strong stance against people who are negative. Protect your mental sharpness and your well-being by treating negative people like the infections they are and cutting them out of your life.
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