Last week I found out that someone I’m connected to through the Internets had said some pretty negative things about me and my work. When I get negative feedback or treatment, the first thing I do is consider whether I brought it on myself in some way. Sometimes I have, which is no fun to face up to, but it’s better to be aware of it in the end. In this case, I couldn’t think of how it was my doing.
Luckily, I am experienced enough to know that this kind of thing doesn’t matter that much in the long run, personally or professionally. It stung nonetheless, so I decided to not think about it for three days.
I didn’t complain to my parents or my friends about it, because complaining about something means you have to think about it. I didn’t discuss it with Mr. Donovan over dinner. I didn’t mentally go over what I might like to say to this person.
Whenever it popped up in my head, I said “NOPE” and switched to thinking about something, anything, else–recipes, how snuggly my dogs are, you name it.
I didn’t dwell. Dwell is an interesting word, because it means both “to linger on or emphasize” and “to live in a given place, condition, or state.” When you dwell on upsetting things, you kind of live in them.
After three days, it was easy not to think about it, because I no longer cared.
When I realized that it didn’t even bother me any more, I thought of this piece of writing one of my co-workers did for Hallmark character, Maxine. I remember the day he wrote it, and I have always loved it.
The art of disregarding is one of the best skills a person can have.
Disregarding isn’t particularly fashionable. It’s derided as “denial.” Denial is a bad thing when it comes to abuse, addiction, or other ongoing situations that you need to get yourself out of.
But all of us will have bad things happen to us now and again, and spending a lot of time thinking about them will not stop them from happening. By controlling our own response, we can profoundly limit the negative effect they have on our lives.
As a teenager, I read this Buddhist story, and maybe you’ve read it before. I am not Buddhist, and I do not know the source of the story, but I thought it contained a lot of wisdom. (I am copy and pasting this particular version from Daily Buddhism.)
A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.
Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!
Most of us are not in such dire circumstances, and it should be even easier for us to disregard the bad so we can focus on and enjoy the good.
Sometimes I’ll be seduced into negativity because I think, I have every right to feel angry, or It’s only natural that I would feel bad. But the right question isn’t, What is understandable? But rather, How do I want to spend my day?
The good thing about the brain is that it develops habits. If you always turn away from thinking about the negative stuff, after a while, this becomes a reflex. If you wake up every day and force yourself to spend ten minutes thinking of all of the things you are grateful for, after a long while, you will just wake up feeling happy and grateful. (I can tell you for a fact that this works.)
When something upsetting happens, I have the opportunity to practice ushering it off the center stage of my consciousness. I hope I get better at that all the time.