Late in December 1993, I was holding my new weekly calendar for 1994 and starting to write in my appointments, deadlines for projects, and birthdays of family members.
As I was planning for the year ahead, I suddenly realized I was wasting a tremendous amount of time and energy being really unhappy about lots of things that were just not that important and that were usually out of my control.
I asked myself, “How much of this past year have I spent …
… obsessing about the unkind remarks and unfair actions from others?”
… feeling terribly embarrassed and upset with myself after making even trivial mistakes?”
… letting fear of having my feelings hurt harm my relationships and connections?”
… picking on myself for the way I look, the squeakiness of my voice, and the clumsiness of my body?”
I realized that I had wasted countless hours in useless negativity over too many days, weeks, and months – and was even reliving negative memories and feelings from the long ago past, whenever they popped into my mind, year after year after year!
As I looked at the beautiful nature photos and fresh clean pages of my new calendar, I thought that HOW I chose to live my life over these 12 months would be even more important than WHAT I was planning to DO during the following year.
On the front page, in big letters, I wrote my resolution: I will not let negativity diminish my joy in life, belief in myself, or caring for others.
As I worked to find ways to keep this resolution, I soon realized blind optimism where I failed to see pitfalls or made promises that were impossible to keep was NOT the solution. Ignoring or suppressing strong feelings of negativity also didn’t work for me, since they just kept leaking out in other ways.
What I needed to do instead was to find ways to change negative feelings into positive action. The lessons learned with the help of many wonderful people are the basis of many of the Kidpower emotional safety, boundary-setting, conflict resolution, and healthy relationship skills we teach. These include:
- accepting that we do NOT have to be PERFECT to be GREAT.
- letting go of needing people to act a certain way or for things to happen the way we want in order to feel good about ourselves.
- protecting our feelings from hurtful words and behavior.
- recognizing hurtful or unsafe relationships, situations, and behavior.
- setting strong and respectful boundaries instead of dithering, complaining, or staying unhappy.
- overcoming discomfort in order to work things out and to stay connected with the important people in our lives.
- being persistent when things don’t work well right away instead of giving up and feeling badly about it.
- noticing when upset feelings are caused by what is happening right now and when they are unpleasant leftovers from our past.
- managing our emotional triggers rather than letting them rule us.
- assuming the best intention even if someone’s behavior is not acceptable and needs to change in order to have a positive relationship.
- not letting fear of disappointing others or of being disappointed ourselves rule our lives.
- getting help, including professional counseling if needed, when we are stuck in order to gain perspective, heal from past hurts, and find good solutions.
- postponing an issue temporarily in order to get rested, eat something, have a cup of tea, and calm down.
- knowing when to let go of something we can’t do effectively and let someone else do it or accept that it might not happen.
- recognizing that leaving a damaging relationship or stopping something that is not working is sometimes the best choice.
Even though I make an ongoing practice of using these skills and strategies, occasionally I still find myself wasting time in useless negativity. The difference is that now I can recognize what is happening and do something about it sooner rather than later.
Some situations are so upsetting that negative feelings can become overwhelming – and yet letting the negativity continue can be counter-productive to doing what needs to get done and often adds stress to an already difficult problem. Creating a visual image for containing, transforming, or letting go of this negativity can help protect our emotional health.
In dealing with a very hard personal situation recently, I finally decided to keep sending my rage and sorrow about what had happened up to the sun, where I imagined my feelings adding enough energy for our sun to burn for an extra 100,000 years.
Getting rid of my negative energy left me feeling better and dealing better with what needed to happen next.
I would love to hear about YOUR experiences in changing negative feelings into positive actions as well as situations where you might feel stuck. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, we will keep your name and details confidential unless you give specific permission to share them.
I am sending hopes of great happiness to you and yours always.
Published: January 5, 2016 | Last Updated: January 5, 2016