This post actually wasn’t supposed to be about the topic that it is about. A few minutes ago, I started typing something completely different, however I found myself surrounded by self doubt, constantly checking my spelling and grammar and I wasn’t able to focus on the message I wanted to bring across. Let me tell you why:
When I published last week’s post, I got lots of incredible and positive message, for which I am truly grateful, however I also received one rather critical response. A girl wrote to me that my grammar and English was rather weak and needed improvement. I am generally very open for constructive criticism and I am sure she did not mean to be hurtful. Ironically though, this girl used to go to my school, attended the same English class as I did and even got lower grades than me.
Positive words are forgotten. It’s the negative ones that get stuck
Despite that fact that I got nearly 100 positive messages, it was this one that I couldn’t stop thinking about. Was my English really that bad? Should I feel ashamed of the poorly edited texts I was publishing? I re-read my own post multiple times, trying to improve any grammar and spelling errors. Even sitting down to type this today felt challenging, because I was scared that this post would not be well edited enough and could be full of errors.
Then I paused for a second and asked myself: “Seriously Janine- what are you doing? When you read a nice message from one of your followers you feel happy for a few second, but you forget it right after. A critical message on the other hand you allow to get to you, to occupy your thoughts and to kick you right into a spiral of self doubt. Is this really how you want to deal with life?”
“She was unstoppable. Not because she did not have failures or doubts, but because she continued despite them.”
We only see the problems (and this is not our fault)
If I would have been logical about this, I would have realized that I got multiple nice messages and only one negative one. However, us humans are not beings of logic. My rather irrational emotional feedback is a small scale example of a big problem that our society generally struggles with: focusing more on the negative than on the positive. A professor at the University of Stanford confirmed this: “almost everyone remembers negative things more strongly and in more detail”, which is due to the fact that “negative emotions generally involve more thinking than positive ones, thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events”1. There are probably also a lot of other evolutionary reasons for this, however this is not what this post is going to be about.
Most of us tend to focus on the amount of work that we have to do, about that one person that recently got on our nerves or on the red traffic light that we just had to stop at. We tend to forget about the stranger that smiled to us on the street, the hug our friend gave us or about the kind “thank you” we got from the cashier at the supermarket. We focus more on the problems that lie ahead of us in the future instead of feeling proud of what we have achieved so far. Read more about this in the “Where’s your focus on?” blogpost here
“You think it is cool to hate things. And it’s not. it’s boring. Talk about what you love and keep quiet about what you don’t.”
Train yourself to remember the positive
But how do we turn this negativity dilemma around? Much like muscles, we must train our minds. Meditation is great, because it helps us to take a step back and observe our thoughts. It is as easy as spending 10 minutes a day by yourself without any distraction, observing the thoughts that come up and practicing quietness.
For the last few months I have also introduced a “compliment notebook” into my life. This is a notebook, where I write down anything positive people say to me. It is incredible, but doing this has made a huge difference. Not only are you way more alert of the positive things people say to you because you are going to have to write them down later, you also appreciate them a lot more, because whenever you write down something new you re-read old compliments. After only doing this for a few weeks I attracted more and more compliments: suddenly a makeup artist told me I had beautiful skin (my skin is something I have been struggling with a lot in my late teens) and the other day a random woman at the airport told me I had beautiful eyes (which was after not sleeping for 12 hours on the plane).
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi states that “unless we are occupied with other thoughts, worrying is the brain’s default position” and that we must learn “to control our consciousness and direct our attention to activities which give positive feedback2” to go against this this pattern.
“The trick is in what one emphasises. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. the amount of work is the same.”
Don’t let the fear of imperfection stop you
Perfectionism arises from this “focusing on the negative”. Even when 99% of our work is pretty much perfect, that flawed 1% will stop us from being happy. I am a perfectionist: I want everything to be as good as it possible can. Contrary to popular belief, perfectionism can sometimes be more of a burden than a benefit. A quote from the book It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be by Paul Arden helped save me from the constant urge to do and be perfect, it goes as follows: “Too many people spend too much time trying to perfect something before they actually do it. Instead of waiting for perfection, run with what you go, and fix it along the way…”.
Realising that you are not and never will be perfect is extremely relieving. Yes, my blogposts are never going to be perfect, but they don’t have to be. I would rather get my idea out there with some flaws, than be too afraid to use my voice.
“We are allowed to be both: a masterpiece and a work in progress, simultaneously”
To sum this up: take constructive criticism seriously, work on the areas of your life that need improvement, but don’t ever let anyone else tell you what you can or can not do. Don’t let the fear of other people’s opinions and reactions stop you from doing what you want to do. The bad and goods news are: you will never be perfect. Nor will you ever be able to please everyone around you. The point is not to achieve perfection or to fit into certain social constructs. The point is to do the best you can do everyday, whilst staying true to yourself.