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I have a teensy problem, like there may be a hole in my actual brain: I remember every horrible, mean, or marginally rude comment anyone has ever said to me. Pretty much perfect, crystalline recall. Verbatim. And the positive things–which I’m fairly certain outnumber the negative by about 10 to one…What? Did you say something?

The compliments and admiration and acknowledgments drop out of my brain almost as soon as they’re put there. I’m sure there’s a name for this cognitive trend, but for now, let’s just call it Negativitis. And it might be the single most damaging mental habit I have–to both myself and anyone I encounter. It ensures that I feel bad about myself–and people who feel badly about themselves often have an awfully hard time complimenting, admiring, and acknowledging other people.

I’m interested in stopping the madess. If you are too, let’s try these tips together.

7 Ways to Catch the Positive and Drop the Negative

1) Notice. As with any mind-bump, first we must notice the problem. Ask yourself: What’s the last unkind thing someone said to or about me? And then: What’s the last kind thing someone said to me or about me? If the former triggers a flood and the latter a trickle, you might be grappling with this too.

2) Take Notes. Start making a list every time someone gives you some verbal love. Even the lady at the supermarket who admires your sweater. And especially the bigger ones–the times when someone says that you have changed her life or gotten her through some excruciating moment. All of it. Write all you can remember. then keep up. Hit your notebook for 10 minutes. See what happens.

3) Breathe It In. Those “you changed my life” comments are especially challenging if you’re a Negativitis sufferer. I’ve gotten some lovely letters from readers over the years who have said my work has touched them. I force myself now, but I haven’t always written back. And then used that as another reason to feel bad about myself. Just take a moment to absorb what you’ve heard. Repeat the statement to yourself when you’re alone. See the words as a beautiful cloud of love you can let yourself fill with feel.

4) Give a Compliment a Day. It’s a challenging but enlightening practice. It can be something surface like, “I love your shoes.” Some days that’s actually terrifying for me–especially in NYC, where any speech requires stepping through personal space bubbles–mine and theirs. Then you can experiment with deeper compliments and expressions of appreciation: “I wanted to say how much I admire that you’re always on time–it allows me to feel safe and relaxed around you.” Or “You’re really radiant today.” Doesn’t matter what it is–it just has to be true and not seeking anything in return.

5) Keep a Self-Esteem File. Our wonderful blogger friend Therese Borchard has a great video and gallery about how we can collect the nice things people say and write and keep them in an actual manila folder we can refer to when we’ve maybe decided that we are the worst person/mother/friend/child/employee ever to roam the earth.

6) Write Yourself a Love Note. Tell that person in the mirror all the things you love about her. It might feel funny, but see what happens. You can list your attributes or express appreciation for certian talents and gestures, just as you would write a beloved.

7) Play the Pick-a-Happy-Face Game. When you’re waiting on a line or in a crowd of people at a fair or the mall or walking down the street, see if you can find the happiest people. Don’t overthink it. Just scan for smiles. There are back-up studies for this that show it retrains your brain for noticing more positivity. And that’s the beautiful thing–once we see and feel the positive thinsg here right this very second–stashed in your memory, your inbox, or in a face just outside the window–we start feeling better about ourselves. And, as Marianne Williamson says: “…as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Do your have Remember-the-bad-forget-the-good-itis? How do you deal with it?

 

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