Overcoming the Habit of Dragging Around a Chronic Poor Attitude
Carrying a bad attitude through life makes for difficult experiences. Not being conscious of how we’re acting and perceived negatively affects outcomes.
Developing a chronic negative viewpoint might seem like we’re in control yet it is the opposite. We’re being controlled, by the beliefs we’re attaching to our perceptions and the feelings that result. We often don’t recognize how we’re coming across to other people, to our detriment. This can be in our professional lives, our personal lives or both.
“I talk to a lot of my clients about how they approach things and what small shifts might look like,” says Priya Jindal, founder of Nextpat, a transitional coaching and wellness company. “We do a lot of work on awareness of how they are showing up in their lives and what impact that is having both positively and negatively in their outcomes.”
Chronic bad attitude can manifest itself in a variety of ways: constant complaining, blaming, criticizing and attacking others and choosing not to make personal improvements.
Helpful questions don’t get asked, ones such as ‘are my assumptions accurate,” and ‘How do I know for certain there is evidence present?’
‘Have I ever made an error before with my assumptions?’
‘Do I realize how people view and judge me due to how I’m acting?’
The reality is we don’t always know assumptions are accurate. We do make errors and then react negatively towards other people, feeling justified. We aren’t stress testing what feels factual and truthful.
“It can be hard to separate our reactions from objectivity,” Jindal says, because “we often jump to our reactions without giving ourselves space to process an objective truth.”
That creates a gap between skilled interpretation and guessing and relying on past experiences, psychological triggers and strong, negative emotions.
“It is really challenging for us to recognize what is factual and truthful. We have limited viewpoints beyond our own and often our emotions can shape our responses to information,” Jindal says.
What we can learn to do is pause and question our perceptions, ask if situations and people are not as negative as we are feeling them?
We can also ask ourselves 1) why we feel triggered and 2) what might not be true or what might be more true than our assumptions?
“One way to stress test your assumptions is to explore what thoughts are manifesting and what assumptions they may be based on. Then try an experiment, either see yourself as a scientist or anthropologist, and shift the perspective,” Jindal suggests.
“If I changed this assumption how would the story play out? Whether one is factual or not, it is always wise to choose the narrative that leaves you in a more positive mental space,” she says.
Giving more people, although not all, the benefit of the doubt can help curtail chronic negativity. If we don’t learn to do such, we run a risk of seeing the world through distorted lenses.
“When anyone is a villain, you run the danger of becoming a victim. Being a victim is disempowering and limits your capacity to develop new ways of being and thinking,” Jindal says.
It can become common for some people to get lost in their conviction of anger towards the world, forgetting, maybe conveniently so the mistakes or significant errors they’ve made in their own lives and might be committing now. Remembering to make sure to refrain from judgment until searching out and finding the facts and remaining objective to make a clear judgment is a difficult assignment.
“We frequently make a decision or choose a course of action in a moment of anger or negativity without thinking through the consequences, or having all the facts,” Jindal says. “That rash decision is rarely the choice we would have made in a different state of mind.”
She speaks to the importance of patience, curiosity and additional and deeper reflection.
“So, how do we at the very least consider what we might regret in the future in the moment? I think that again, it’s not about the facts or objectivity, but rather the presence of mind to know that this is not the moment for me to make a decision,” Jindal says. “This takes self-reflection and effort. You must recognize what is coming up for you, articulate it to yourself, and make a decision about whether this is the moment in which you want to move forward or if it’s a moment you want to pause in and recover some equanimity or balance prior to taking action.”
Stronger self awareness, greater patience and skilled introspection can help with stress management. Learning that we can access the courage to morally problem solve is another vital stepping stone towards stepping through bad attitude as an addictive habit.
“When we fail to look inwards and give ourselves the agency to impact outcomes we are at the mercy of our own thoughts and actions,” Jindal says. “It’s easy to see how being a slave to our reactions impacts our outcomes.”
How this is best accomplished can differ from person to person yet it’s rooted in gaining understanding of our personal power, responsibility to access it and disciplining our minds in a focused, committed manner “to understand our reactivity and accept it but also find ways to let the reaction pass so we can bring ourselves out of the misery we’ve created through our own minds,” Jindal says.
In chronic negativity we become blinded to how we’re viewed and judged, creating the likelihood that we will not gain allies but instead people disinterested in listening and helping. This is simply not something someone will think about when in grips of a storm of anger, rage and feeling contempt.
“Isn’t it so critical to our well-being to be well-regarded, to be thought well of,” Jindal asks. “And yet, we become consumed by our own emotions, reactions and forget that in the moment of feeling poorly or angry.”
Learning to consider our reputation as people and professionals both is important when our emotions are threatening to, or are derailing our composure and creating in other people the disinterest or resistance to wanting to listen to, hear us and help us. We aren’t thinking of what we should be doing instead.
“Ultimately, like everything else it comes to self-awareness and mindfulness,” Jindal says. But, how do we recognize that we might be hurting someone around us and what can we do in that moment? For many of us, sitting down and taking a minute to breathe deeply and recover our wits can help us respond more positively.”
Breathing exercises are well known as effective stress management behavior responses and Jindal recommends it.
“I love a practice called tactical breathing, used by the military to stay aware and calm. It involves breathing in for four seconds, holding that breath for four seconds, and then breathing out for four seconds. You repeat this four times,” she says, adding, “Those 36 seconds having an amazing effect.”
She details how this works in the body to calm the brain, help restore emotional balance, inspire clarity and improved impulse control and decision making.
“By giving yourself that time — especially if you can close your eyes — your body receives enough oxygen to realize that it is safe. That helps your parasympathetic nervous system — the one reacting — to recover, to rebalance, and allows the rest of your brain to operate on the threat outside of instinct, using higher order thinking,” Jindal says.
“This allows your brain to make better decisions and to think through what impact your actions are having on those around you,” she says.
A person’s professional reputation can generate trust, connection, influence, persuasiveness and opportunities or prevent all of that, making it vital to not lug around chronic negativity when communicating, whether that be with body language, facial expressions, words, and all behavior. Learning to find and adopt a better way to solve problems instead of carrying a sour attitude around with our name and reputation has to be recognized as wise and necessary.
“It’s so easy to hope that people will also see the best in others, assume noble intent, and see our work above our attitude,” Jindal says, “But as Maya Angelou said, ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’”
Remembering this truism and Angelou’s words can be highly insightful and beneficial in our dealings with other people.
“Our understanding of this can help us start off our relationships differently,” Jindal says. “We might focus on being the person who can rise above any situation and still be present for others. For many of us this requires a huge act of discipline and comes with many small instances of attention.”
This requires discipline, focus, courtesy and empathy.
“It includes things like turning away from what you are doing to listen attentively and fully to what someone else is saying, to contemplate what they are saying before answering and hearing them for what they are really saying,” Jindal says.
Thinking about how we want to be remembered at the end of our lives — and that could come much sooner than we expect — might seem extreme. It can also be a powerfully clarifying and drive different beliefs and behavior.
“An exercise I love to build awareness of your goals is an obituary or legacy exercise,” Jindal says. “Imagine you are viewing your funeral or your retirement party. What do you want people to remember about you?”
“Nearly always it’s that you were a good person who treated others well,” she’s found from working with clients. “This is really redefining when we start to think about how it shows up in our lives and can help ground our actions in something wholesome rather than anger or hate.”
Walking around with a negative attitude doesn’t serve a person’s best interests, name or reputation. It creates an ongoing expense.
There is, however, improvement and breakthrough possible by examining our assumptions, challenging our beliefs, adjusting the narratives in our minds, implementing small shifts, being honest with ourselves, conducting breathing exercises, learning how to improve decision making and considering the reputation and legacy by which we want to be known.
Michael Toebe is a reputation and crisis analyst and practitioner, serving individuals and organizations. He serves as a researcher, analyst, consultant, advisor, coach and communications provider and has provided analysis and advisory for online publications Chief Executive, Corporate Board Member, Corporate Compliance Insights, New York Law Journal and Training Industry and regularly publishes at Red Diamonds Essays and Reputation Specialist Essays (both on the Medium platform) and LinkedIn.