Can a Negative Thinker Choose to Be Positive?

Everything can be taken from a man or woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
—Victor Frankel

I love Victor Frankel’s quote, but it is true? Many diverse thinkers, including me, struggle with negative thoughts and emotions. Learning disabilities, autism, depression, ADHD, and other brain differences can make every day functioning more challenging for us. But can we learn to be more positive? Should we try?

Some research has been done to try to determine if we’re born with negative or positive tendencies or if they develop as a result of our experiences. The answer seems to be… both. The research also suggests what can be done about it if you are a negative thinker.  I’ve provided below links to two really helpful articles on this subject. “Are We Hard Wired to Be Positive or Negative” and “7 Ways to Manage Negative Thoughts and Emotions,” both by Ray Williams and published in Psychology Today.

A few things in the research cited in these articles jumped out at me. First, it seems that EVERYONE’s thoughts tend toward the negative. One estimate is that 80% of our thoughts are negative….and it’s suggested that may be a defensive mechanism allowing us to perceive and address danger or risk. Also, there are more negative emotion words (62%) in the English language than positive ones (32%). Other revelations for me in these articles are that negative experiences have more impact on people than positive ones….it takes 5 to 10 positive experiences to counterbalance one negative one. Also, a negative perspective is more contagious than a positive one.

So if you find yourself in a negative head space, don’t beat yourself up. It’s perfectly normal.

But it’s also not good to stay there.  Negativity can harm your physical and mental health, kill your motivation, and wreck your social life.  Here are some tips from the articles that can help.

  • Don’t ruminate on negative experiences or circumstances.  You’ll get stuck in a loop. And don’t tell yourself just to “think positively”. That will only make you feel worse. Instead, focus on what can you can do to make the circumstances better, avoid repeating the experience, and move past it.
  • Savor positive experiences.  Tell people about them. Play them over and over in your head. If it takes up to 10 positive experiences to outweigh a negative one, then maybe spending 10 times more energy thinking about them will help!
  • Limit your exposure to negative people.  Negativity is too contagious, and too toxic!

It may not be easy, but Victor is right. We DO have the freedom to choose our own way!

Are We Hard Wired to Be Positive or Negative?

7 Ways to Manage Negative Thoughts and Emotions

 

Be Noteworthy, Not Normal

What is “normal”? For years I believed that a normal person is one who does not need extra help. As a diverse thinker I have needed a lot of extra help. The equation was simple: I need extra help, therefore I am not normal.  And therefore, I am worth less. Only broken things need to be fixed.

This creates a terribly ironic, unproductive cycle for diverse thinkers. We often do not want to use the coping strategies that could help us because we want to feel “normal”, but it is using the coping strategies that will help us function more as a “normal” person.

After years of beating myself up for failures, but also achieving successes, I have a hard won self-acceptance.  I now see “normal” as the ability to conform your behavior to what other people do, and in doing it the way they do it. What’s so good about that? Innovation and forward movement has always come from the exceptional, not from conformity.

So chase achievement, not normalcy. Define for yourself what you must accomplish to feel fulfilled…..make a plan….then go after it. Let your effort, your creativity and your progress

toward these goals define your worth, not how long it takes you to get there, how much help you need, or by comparing yourself to what other people are doing. Focus on what you can control; your attitude, your actions and your progress.

Fully embracing this concept takes time and persistence, and more often than not, experiencing many failures before success. Diverse thinkers need to accept their limitations, recognize their strengths, create and use coping strategies, build reciprocal relationships of support, and accept help when it is needed.  We need to push ourselves to be as successful as possible, and to bring as many other diverse thinkers along with us as we can. We need to re-frame our struggles as learning experiences, and teach each other how to learn.

Multiply life by two: The importance of reciprocal support relationships in the lives of diverse learners

As a diverse learner, you will, at times be a challenge to the people you interact with regularly; your co-workers, romantic partners, friends, family, supervisors, business partners.  Being a challenge isn’t unique to diverse learners……everyone is a pain sometimes. However, we tend to make mistakes that others might view as careless or lazy, but are actually the result of the unique way our minds process the world. We may make these mistakes fairly often, even though good coping strategies can help to minimize their frequency and consequences.

We will always have gaps in our functioning.  Learning disabilities, autism, and other brain based differences are permanent, so most of us will always need some level (though it may be small) of extra support. Reciprocal support relationships are an effective, sustainable way to build this support.

All relationships are based on reciprocity. Both people need to get something out of it.  Diverse learners can create relationships that help address our weaknesses in specific areas and allow us to offer our strengths in ways that complement the other person’s needs.  For example, if you have a disorder of written expression but are exceptionally gifted in math, can you find a colleague at work who writes well but hates handling your department’s budget?  She handles correspondence for both of you, while you take charge of tracking and reporting her expenses.   If you have ADHD and have trouble remembering to pay the bills, but you’re a creative cook, can you hand off the money management to your partner or your parents and in exchange, cook dinner several times a week?   The point is to make the relationship a reciprocal one.  If it’s not reciprocal, it’s not sustainable, and if it’s not sustainable, it does not lead to true independence.

I know what you’re thinking… How can I be independent if I am dependent on a reciprocal support relationship?  Independence does not mean doing everything without help. Nobody does it all without help.  It means being able to advocate and get the help you need on your own; knowing how and who to ask, taking the right steps, and being persistent/creative until you get it.

What do you look for in a good partner for these relationships?  The person will:

  • Recognize your strengths
  • Understand your weaknesses as an issue of the brain and not a character flaw
  • Have a need for help in an area of life that’s important to them
  • Give, and take, constructive criticism
  • Be respectful
  • Be trustworthy

Here are a few things you can do to build and maintain a healthy reciprocal support relationship:

  • Explain your disability and how it contributes to your area of weakness and the habits or behaviors that others find annoying.
  • Clearly communicate the specific things you need help with….remembering birthdays, paying bills, writing reports, etc.
  • Ask the other person what they need and how they’d like you to help address it.
  • Take extra care to recognize and validate efforts made to support you.
  • Take steps take to minimize the mistakes you make that cause grief to the people in these relationships (coping strategies!), and make sure you explicitly tell them of your efforts.
  • Ask for feedback…. and give feedback… on a regular basis.

Finally, be confident in your contribution. A neuro-typical thinking person can greatly benefit from these relationships as diverse thinkers provide flavor and ingenuity, as well as uncommon knowledge, perspective, and skill sets. True, sometimes diverse thinkers require a bit more investment on the front end, but the returns are great. Besides, you always appreciate something more when you have to work for it, right?

Paraphrasing the Indigo Girls song just a little, “Adding up the total of a reciprocal relationship that’s true, multiplies life by the power of two!”

Affirmative Speech

When speaking to managers or co-workers about what you need to learn, remember to focus on the way you learn, not the way you don’t. Follow these helpful tips to get the help you need to perform at your best. 1) Emphasize your learning style, not your learning differences 2) Stay away from negative termsContinue Reading

Possibilities Not Disabilities

Diverse thinkers are people who see the world with a creative perspective unrestricted by neuro-typical convention. We think differently. We operate differently. We create differently. In short, we fill in the gaps that typical minds leave empty. Learning differences, ADHD, autism, mental illness, and physical differences are our strength, not our weakness. Through our struggles,Continue Reading