Do you remember watching “Little House on the Prairie”? How that bitch Nellie always used to screw over our hero, Laura? Turns out your brain can turn against you in a similar way. Somewhere in our evolutionary process, our monkey brains learned that a negative thought is a pretty darn good way to protect yourself against predators like tigers and bears. But guess what? In our culture, it’s no longer as useful as it used to be. I had a teacher who used to say, “Don’t be a negative Nellie,” whenever we would complain or say bad things about ourselves. And she was right.
In my home of suburbia, we may actually be more primed for negativity than our city or rural dwelling counterparts. Oliver Hapconf, a researcher at Notre Dame, has studied why we suburbanites are a little behind the eight ball when it comes to accessing social networks, a key ingredient to staving off negativity. In the suburbs, contact between neighbors is often described as stressful. Additionally, we suburbanites, especially those who live in wealthier areas, are more prone to isolation, low self-efficacy, loneliness and less psychological well-being. Wow. Why, you ask? In terms of layout, it may be because we have less front porches and more gates, larger lots and less opportunities to congregate. In general, those who live in the ‘burbs leave for work in the morning, come home at night and interact less and less with family and friends. Those of us in the suburbs tend to visit friends less, are less civically active, report being less socially embedded, feel they live in a culture of mistrust, feel “seperateness” from others, are more private and feel socially dislocated. All of which lead to, you guessed it, increased negativity.
So, what to do? That monkey brain is really powerful, and the things it tells us can be completely judgemental, not just to ourselves, but to others. Mostly, in our case, other women. How many times have you heard the following comments? She shouldn’t be wearing that. I wish I could look more like her. I am saving up for my boob job. Have you seen so and so lately? She looks …big, too thin, fill in the blank. I am certainly not immune and am guilty of the same negativity. And I really, really want to stop it already.
We can help to turn negativity on it’s ear by doing any number of things which will help you feel better about yourself and finally slow down that damn broken record once and for all.
Regard your negative thoughts as you would that annoying 2 year old tantrum. Let it pass and try to ignore it. Let it go to it’s quiet place and leave you alone.
Realize that negative thoughts may be true, but don’t regard them as “truths.” Contradictory, maybe, but failure and acceptance of the bad are not the end. Resolve to take a look in the mirror and see what your family and friends see.
It’s okay to substitute. Not heroin for crack, more like companionship in place of solitude. Or a walk with the dog instead of ruminating on your bad day in front of the tv. A visit with your neighbor instead of a visit to Dairy Queen.
Okay, this one is weird. Name your monkey brain. I call mine Negative Nellie. You can call yours monkey brain or Fuckface for all I care. It helps to call out the enemy, apparently. I don’t know, ask Martha Beck. It was her idea.
Treat others and yourself with compassion. Hey, here’s a brilliant concept. How about giving yourself a break? Not being so hard on yourself and others?
Breathe deeply. Yes I do yoga and can be a yoga-head. But this is scientifically proven shit. Breathing deeply reduces stress, anger and negativity.
Act. Even if you are not used to taking a touchy-feely perspective, if it’s not really in your DNA, you can demonstrate a positive energy that will transmit to all of us. Thank you in advance, by the way.
Here, I’ll start.
You are so awesome!