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Be Careful What You Look For – It’s Hiding In Plain Sight

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Most of us have heard at some point to be careful of what you look for or what you ask for. The universe has a wicked sense of humor at least from the universe’s perspective. 

My wife Lisa is a board-certified life coach. Lucky me, I get free coaching and I mean it. She calls me on my crap and keeps me centered when I ask for her advice.

Years ago Lisa taught me a lesson about what I’m looking for in myself. I have learned to apply this approach in just about everything I do. It’s simple and not that hard to do once it becomes a habit.

What do you want to see?

I had been working on some personal behaviors that I didn’t like in myself. One day I was particularly frustrated with myself. Lisa asked what I was struggling with and I told her about some situations that were causing me a lot of anxiety. I wasn’t answering her question.

She pulled the “What don’t I know?” question card and started asking me questions to help me identify what the actual challenge was. I finally blurted out that I was worried about some aspects of a major upcoming training that I had no control over.

Lisa looks at me and says, “Well, there it is.” “There’s what?” I asked. She takes a deep breath and tells me to stop looking at what I don’t want to happen because that’s what I’ll see happening, which in turn activates my anxiety. 

You get what you see

A challenge for many of us is to learn to accept what is outside of our control. If we keep looking for things we don’t have control over all we find are things we don’t have control over. The same goes for just about everything else.

I am grateful for Lisa’s coaching moment because it has helped me to look for the positive instead of the negative. I do, however, still struggle with it from time to time.

Negativity bias

According to Kendra Cherry, author, and educational consultant, in her article, What is the Negativity Bias? talks about the psychological effect of negativity. I have researched other professionals who have done similar research on the topic and there is a consensus as to the effect of this bias.

According to Cherry and other researchers here is what we as humans tend to do.

  • We tend to remember negative experiences more than positive ones.
  • We remember insults more than we do praise.
  • We have stronger reactions to negative stimuli than to positive ones. 
  • We often see a negative reaction in both situations and people rather than positive reactions.  
  • We have a tendency to make decisions based on negative information rather than positive information.

Does this have anything to do with our prime directive as humans for self-preservation? I have had people tell me it is easier to be negative than positive. If negativity is hard-wired into our brains as a way to keep us safe that could explain why it is easier to be negative than positive.

What happens when we look for the negative

Negativity in any form can have a variety of effects on how we think and act both at work and home. 

You need to take a deep breath on this one. For some reason, most of us are just as nervous about giving feedback as we are receiving it. Why? We know that this creates high stress and anxiety for just about everyone. Somewhere in our personal history, we worked for a leader who was more concerned about results and how that made them look instead of a leader who looked for opportunities to build a stronger team. 

I had a manager who would tell me that they had constructive criticism for me. I got tired of him using that approach and one day told him there was no such thing as criticism being constructive. If anyone uses those two words, STOP. The second you use the word criticism nothing else that comes out of your mouth is perceived as constructive in any way. 

Most of us have heard the sandwich approach, give a positive, then a negative, and end on a positive. Good approach, but as humans, we stop listening to anything that comes after a negative. 

As adults we like to believe we are right, the actions we take are correct from our perspective which is manifested from our source of truth lens. When any aspect of our self-concept comes into question we usually take the defensive stance. 

It gets real, fast

It’s eight o’clock in the morning and you receive a calendar invite from your boss asking for a one-on-one at three o’clock in the afternoon. If you’re lucky you stay busy all day, if not, what happens? If you have a good working relationship with your boss you’re not too worried, but the reality is you start thinking about what the meeting might be about, and no matter how hard you try the negative thoughts creep in.

You walk out of your semiannual review, it was positive overall and you received kudos on your performance so far. There were a few comments that pointed out areas where you could improve and you find yourself fixated on those remarks. Rather than feeling good about the positive aspects of your review, you feel upset and angry about the few critical comments. Has your self-concept come into question?

During breakfast, you had an argument with your partner over a certain annoying habit. As the day goes on you find yourself focusing on other flaws no matter how small they are. Even the most trivial of perceived faults are amplified while positive actions of being a supportive partner are overlooked.

You go to your favorite restaurant and for whatever reason, the excellent service you always have is less than okay. How long is it until you risk going back? You want to go back but you don’t want to be disappointed, have you forgotten all the great experiences you have had in the past because you keep thinking about the bad service you just had? 

Change the focus of your lens

Okay, stop it. You keep looking for the negative, and that’s exactly what you’ll see. Let’s try looking for the positives. 

Exercise | Deliberate practice

This is why I titled this section deliberate practice because you will need to be deliberately looking for the positives all around you. 

When you find yourself starting to focus on something negative, stop, and look for the positive. This is not easy especially if you don’t want to see something positive in a person or situation. Just try. Will you always be successful, no, because there are mitigating circumstances, mainly your source of truth lens, that will affect how you see or respond to something said or done. 

When you hit one of those unmovable walls of negativity, write it down in your journal. Ask yourself what don’t you know about how you are reacting. This is part of our work on self-awareness, understanding our own emotions and triggers. What you might find is that the person or action is actually not the challenge, it’s how you see it or respond to it. Nothing wrong with that actually, it’s your personal response according to your source of truth lens. It just helps us to know where our reaction is coming from. 

Start small. Start looking for positives in the smaller things around you and practice gratefulness. When you start looking for and seeing positives you might find:

  • Your anxiety starts to fade because you let go of things you have little to no control over.
  • Your outlook on your day improves. 
  • Your team actually works well together, more than you thought.
  • Your partner’s habit is actually not that annoying, it was the lack of sleep that amplified the effect.
  • Your boss needs your expertise to fix something someone else screwed up. 

You will see exactly what you are looking for in yourself, in your partner, in your team, in your boss, in your children, and so on. You have control over how you see the world around you. When you don’t, the difficult times will seem less stressful because you have discovered how to look at things differently. 

Team exercise

If you find your team being somewhat negative check yourself first. Is it you? As the leader, your team will pick up on your behavior before they see theirs. Start every meeting with a positive statement about the team. Do it every time you meet. 

I recently spent a week with my three grandchildren, a five-year-old granddaughter, and three-year-old twins. During dinner the first night, Mom asked everyone at the table to share something positive that happened that day. The responses were very funny. Several nights later it was my turn to fix dinner. The grandkids were at the table waiting for me. The five-year-old leans across the table, resting on her elbows she looks at the twins and asks them what was positive about their day. I looked at my son… he just smiled proudly. 

Don’t wait for tomorrow, tomorrow never comes. What you have is today and this is the best time to begin anything.

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