3 Steps to Get Out of Your Negativity Rut

Why concentrate on one insulting email and ignore the larger number of complimentary ones? Why walk out of a performance review feeling defeated because of one negative comment? Learn what science says about overcoming failure and accentuating the positive.

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #152

It’s called critic’s math. Blogger Jon Acuff defines it as, “1 insult + 1,000 compliments = 1 insult.” That one insult may be the thing you obsess over, reason through, and try to figure out. And do you know why? Very likely it’s because of our innate fear of failure.

Why concentrate on one insulting email and ignore the larger number of complimentary ones? Why walk out of a performance review feeling defeated because of some constructive criticism? Why don’t we instead celebrate all the positives our boss pointed out?!

Why? Our brains are wired to pay more attention to negative things. Scientists think it’s part of our flight-or-fight response to help us recognize danger. Think of it like our brain laying down a pathway. The problem is, the more we stew in the negativity, the deeper the pathway becomes. Then we can get stuck in that negativity pathway. 

So how do we climb out of the negative rut? We need to create and reinforce a new parallel route or a positive pathway that’s even deeper. We want that pathway to become the preferred route.

How do you do that? Here are 3 steps to help you get out of a negativity rut:

Step #1: Remember – You’ve Failed Before, and Survived!

Think back over the last few months. Is there a project, relationship, or goal that didn't end up the way you wanted? Everyone experiences some type of failure. It’s a universal. Yet, you got through it. You are still here, reading this article. I'm not suggesting you dwell on failure, but instead see that you survived it. It may have been tough. It may have been exhausting. But you got through it, and you can (and will) get through it again. 

So how do you kick start the process when you feel stuck at the bottom of the rut? It’s easier than you may think. Take action that shifts your focus away from the negative experience. Do something uplifting, fun, or mentally engaging. Simple things like physically moving to a new location or doing some exercise can make a big difference. Personally, I like to do something a bit more engaging and distracting, such as read a good book or go to the movies. For others, a good distraction may be playing music, exercising, or talking with friends. Any purposeful, enjoyable, or rewarding action will interrupt or counter the negativity. You need the interruption so that you are then able to take the next step toward positivity. And that is…


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.