I’ve developed a new bad habit.

I’m not proud of it, didn’t even realize I was doing it. But last week the truth smacked me upside the head like the faithful palm of a best friend.

You’re being critical, Michele. Choosing negativity over grace. Haven’t you learned this lesson already? 

Pshaw. Not me! I’m a cheerleader, a staunch fan of the underdog. I’m the one who loves to take care of people, to celebrate their successes, to make them feel good about life and encourage them to keep going. How could I possibly be—gasp!—negative?

As it turns out, I could. And I was.

It sneaked up on me, over the course of weeks and months. It came out in short little snippets, a comment here and there sandwiched in ordinary conversation. When details of a situation were unknown, I assumed the worst rather than the best. After a disappointing day, I caught myself being sharp and curt with my replies. I heard myself criticizing people I’d normally applaud. What’s wrong with me?

I spent the better part of the last few days trying to unravel the why’s of my slide into negativity. Although I’ve been known to be tough on myself, I thought I was positive and grace-full with others. But practicing it on myself only made me more of a pro when relating with others.

I’ve discovered at least three triggers that pushed me down this slide. Chances are they might have the same effect on you. Just one of these is enough to spark a negative outlook. Combine all three at once and it’s like greasing the slide.

  1. A Personal Disappointment. When I believe I’ve failed at something or missed an opportunity, my recovering-perfectionist self talks smack. Thankfully, I’m better at accepting my shortcomings than I used to be. But it’s still an effort to keep myself from slipping into a negative thought pattern. Are you facing a disappointment? A dream unrealized? A mistake you can’t shake? Allow yourself disappointment, but set a limit. A day, maybe two. Then forgive yourself, drop it, and move on. Otherwise personal disappointment will bleed into disappointment with others.
  2. A Painful Wound. I’m not easily hurt. Loyal to the core, it takes a lot to wound me. But once I am, it’s a struggle to reengage. I shut down, withdraw. The details don’t matter, but I’ve recently let a wound get the best of me. Rather than confront it or release it, I’ve let it marinate and grow. And the result is negativity spilling into daily life. If you have a wound, join me in dealing with it, quickly. It’s not worth allowing a wound to poison a good life.
  3. A Place of Exhaustion. This is the clincher. Most of the time, I can deal with disappointments and wounds in measured doses. But pile them on at once, add stress and sleepless nights, and I become inconsolable. As I review the past couple months, stress and exhaustion mark my path like constant mile markers. How about you? Are you spent and worn? Perhaps the best thing you can do for others is actually take care of yourself. Get some rest, cancel a few appointments, slow your pace. Allow your mind, body, and heart to rest and recover. Then you—and I—will have the fuel to tackle the wounds and disappointments in a positive way.

Do you ever struggle with negativity? What triggers it for you?

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