No Negativity Challenge Lessons Learned

Last month I did a “no negativity challenge.”

The goal was to stay away from negative words and conversations or steer them towards something positive. In truth, it’s a near impossible task to completely guard ourselves against negativity. That might be why I felt like it would be an important challenge. I like to think I’m a realist as opposed to an out and out optimist and I really just wanted to see what would happen if I paid attention to the negativity from myself and those around me.

So what did I learn last month?

1. Many (most?) conversations devolve into something negative at some point.

As a result I avoided a lot of conversations, especially via Skype and Twitter.

I’d love to figure out why this is the case (maybe it’s me?), but almost every in person or online conversation I had took a negative turn at some point. Usually a complaint about the weather, a beverage, food, a person, the world. Nothing necessarily extraordinary, but complaints none-the-less. I was part of this sometimes as well, though I was often able to recognize it and change course thanks to the challenge.

2. Sometimes I felt stifled.

In some ways I felt stifled because I couldn’t mention something or express my thoughts fully. That said, I don’t know that it’s beneficial to state negative thoughts and feelings except in certain circumstances.

There are a few ways to look at complaints and figure out if they’re beneficial.

  • Complaining about things you can’t change is useless. (Weather, for example.)
  • Complaining about things you won’t change is senseless. (Your job or relationships, for example.)
  • Maybe the only time complaining is actually positive is when you use it to fan the flames of change.

In other words, if you’re using a negative thought or feeling to motivate you then more power to you. If you’re using it just to complain then stop.

3. Living without news is not only beneficial, it’s necessary.

I used to check CNN.com, Google News, and Reddit a few times a day prior to this challenge. I diligently used the Self Control App to block them for the first couple weeks of December. At that point I often forgot to open Self Control, but I wouldn’t visit the sites anyway due to the newly broken habit. It was outstanding.

I still got news, of course. Everybody on Twitter and Facebook seemed to have an opinion about the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. and I heard all about that immediately. It didn’t get me down as much as it probably would have in the past because I was tuned out of the majority of the coverage.

While I think it’s important to know what’s generally going on in the world it’s not necessary to know all the details. If you’re a journalist or a pundit then yes, it’s your job to know. But if you’re a regular person you’re doing yourself a disservice by exposing yourself to drama and negativity that doesn’t much concern you. Especially when you have no power to affect any change.

You’re better off reading a book, listening to music, spending time with loved ones, or even doing absolutely nothing. If everybody took a 30 minute nap instead of watching 30 minutes of news coverage I have a strong feeling the world would be a decidedly better, happier, and at the very least more well-rested place.

4. I had to stop reading the bible.

I’ve been reading the bible (King James via a free iOS app) so I can be smarter about it. It’s been 20 years since my forced catechism classes and I didn’t remember all that much detail, but this experience has been telling. To find the positive parts of this book you have to cherry pick as they conveniently did for us in catechism and church. (Exodus 23:9 “thou shalt not oppress a stranger”; I can dig that.)

“Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.” – Isaac Asimov

Death (“And all flesh died that moved upon the earth …”), destruction (“And every living substance was destroyed …”), evil (too many quotes), misogyny (“and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee”), people who live to be hundreds of years old (Noah = 950 years old; not negative, just ridiculous). And that’s just in Genesis.

Full review when I’m done, but this is a difficult and slow read. I hope to be finished by year’s end, reading front to back (Old and New Testaments; no cherry picking!).

5. We live in outstanding times. If you focus on creating more good moments you’ll put yourself in a better position to realize this.

In that way I think it’s better to do a “positivity challenge” instead of a “no negativity challenge.” During a positivity challenge you’re focused on doing good things and thinking good thoughts. It feels better to think “how can I make this a positive experience?” instead of “how can I make sure this isn’t a negative experience?” It’s subtle, but if I were to do this over I’d do a positivity challenge instead.

What about you?

If you joined in on last month’s challenge I’d like to know how it went for you. What did you learn? What was a struggle? What was easy?

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I posted a new challenge for this month right here.

5 Responses to No Negativity Challenge Lessons Learned

  1. I’ve been dealing with news the same way you do for a few years. I’ve not missed anything “important” yet but it doesn’t get me down as much anymore.

    I do want to break a lance (weird german proverb?) for complaining. I’ve studied non-violent communication and other ways of living with less friction and all of them have made allowances for “the wolf show”. It’s a contained place to whine, speak insults and complain. You can do it on paper or in person if someone wants to listen. You get all the negativity out and then you have a clear head to actually tackle the problem which is satisfying whatever unsatisfied need is behind the grievance. Sometimes it’s hard to actually get at the problem if you are suffocating yourself in a whole bunch of shoulds about not complaining.

    I’ve found that in casual conversation complaining acts as a sort of societal glue. Group cohesion is achieved by a common state of suffering. Suddenly being happy or positive is a radical subversive act.

    I met an old friend recently and in our reminiscing he said something about how none of us (from former social group) had managed to really get our lives together or be happy. He was really taken aback when I objected that even though my financial situation isn’t the best, I’ve been happier than I can ever remember and look forward to the new year with anticipation because my life is structured the way I want it.

    I’d rather have a group held together by rejoicing though :)

  2. Karol, I thought it was going to be much easier than it turned out being. The hardest part was just remembering. I did two things….

    I prepared a couple of post it note reminders and placed them around so I’d be less likely to forget.

    And next I shared the challenge on my own blog and enlisted the support of my community which turned out to be the
    most helpful and fun part of the challenge.

  3. I felt the same way about staying away from conversations. I realized it right away. And, I think this is difficult if you live with a friend (as I did last month) or family (difficult to shut them down). It’s harder than I thought to just be silent or say “uh, huh, uh, huh” when someone is simply being negative about life or another person. (Basically just negative gossip which is never positive.)

    My other thought is: Sometimes good friends and family simply need to vent. Even if I know the reasons (relationship, other issues) sometimes I just need to say it even if I say “I know I can’t do anything about this but it pisses me off.” I think sometimes it bonds us. But, I also think you have to pick your people and situation for this type of venting and if you find yourself doing it too often then it is time for a reality check.

  4. I agree that is was difficult to keep out negativity this past month. Although during these months my family’s mood and mine seem to sink due to the weather (like seasonal depression in a way), I was hoping the results would have been a bit more outstanding. Sometimes it’s hard to live with family that is almost constantly negative, either small or large issues. It also doesn’t help that the news is on for what seems to be all day in my house. More often that not, I just want to leave my house to get away from it all, but I guess it’s good to acknowledge a loved one’s negative energy and emotion with compassion and just be there for them. With all said, I’m going to pass this positivity challenge on to my family.

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