I've always been cynical. Sarcasm makes me laugh, and complaining burns off some steam. When someone close to me commented on my negativity and my tendency to complain, I began to feel like a hypocrite. See, it's my job to help people eat better and feel better, and my holistic approach focuses a great deal on the mind-body connection.
I spend a lot of time talking with my clients about their stress levels and emotional well-being and how that impacts their health. How could I preach the importance of emotional health to help my clients when I wasn't doing the same myself? If you're chronically unhappy and stressed, it's impossible to fully achieve wellness.
Don't get me wrong, we're not meant to be ebullient 100 percent of the time. It's normal to feel sad and down occasionally, and working through those feelings is part of the human experience. But if you delight in negativity like I did, and cynicism is your comfort zone, maybe it's time to see why this approach may not be working for you. I started to realize that when I left the house with a scowl on my face, I didn't get many smiles or much warmth in return. When I would silently curse someone for bumping into me and glare at them in punishment, I only dug myself deeper into my comfort zone of negativity; and worse, that negative energy was certainly returned to me. What you exude is what you get back in return.
Here the steps I took to shed this negative attitude and achieve a happier outlook:
1. I started by making a gratitude list and writing down three things I was thankful for every day.
At first it was more grandiose, like "my wonderful friends," "my supportive family," and "my awesome boyfriend." Sometimes it was "I got a great parking spot at 10 p.m. directly in front of my house" (if you live in San Francisco, you know this is worth a lot). The point was that I focused on three things that day that were positive, no matter how big or small.
2. I stopped complaining.
Ok, I tried really hard. This one was difficult! Even worse, I didn't realize that every time I talked about how freezing cold my house was or mentioned what so-and-so did that annoyed me that I was complaining. I thought I was just making "a statement of fact." But no one likes a complainer. And what does complaining foster? Negativity. I put the "think before you speak" rule into action, and if I was going to spout a complaint, I bit my tongue.
3. I started complimenting someone every day.
I make it a practice to point out an accomplishment to each of my clients, no matter how big or small, in every session. Why wasn't I doing this outside the office? At first it was the corner store guy on the brand new shirts with the store logo he bought for the employees. Then it was someone's shirt/earrings/hair, then someone's talent. I noticed the more I complimented (genuinely), the happier I felt to spread positive energy.
4. In my business, I stopped reacting from a fear-based place and started getting involved in community and sharing.
I used to think if my colleagues were more successful than I, and if I shared their great work or awesome resources, I'd drive business away from myself. The holistic health community is such an amazing group of people with varied talents, and our common goal is to share information to educate people and make the world a healthier place. I realized that by sharing as much information as I could and by referring my clients to my colleagues' websites and research, I was contributing to this common goal. Once I started sharing, that energy was returned, and I felt even more a part of this tight-knit community. Community fosters positivity.
5. Finally, I just plain tried to stop being negative.
If I didn't have something to nice to say about someone, I wouldn't open my mouth. Instead, I'd think of something positive about that person. If I was having a bad day and started mentally listing off everything that went wrong, I'd catch myself and focus on my gratitude list. This is how you form new habits: Be aware, and when you start to backslide, override that tendency and shift into your new habit.
Most importantly, I learned that I was hardest on myself. In my internal dialogue, I told myself things that I would never say out loud to a friend — or anyone. I was overly critical of myself. Maybe that was the source of my unhappiness. Once I learned how to love and accept myself, I became truly happier. It takes practice — I'm still practicing —but soon it becomes second nature.
What are you thankful for today?