As we all know, it is easy to carried away with the emotion of a crowd. Whether it is cheering at a football game, singing along at a great concert or crying along with the audience at a movie or play, we can experience great uplifting emotion. While we can get carried away with good emotions, it is even easier — and I think, greatly damaging — when we are carried away with the negative emotions of a crowd. When we ride the downward spiral of negative emotions, we can reach depths we never could have imagined. Often in our careers and in our lives, we can be faced with overwhelming negative emotions from groups both large and small. For our own, personal, self preservation, though, we need to to break the negativity cycle when it occurs.
I often visit career groups and speak to their members, both formally and informally. One almost universal, trait of these groups is the ability to “turn dark” at a moment’s notice. When faced with career challenges, financial troubles and long term unemployment, one person can start a trend that brings down the entire group within minutes. It is a simple truth of human nature that “misery loves company.” When we are feeling down, we want to express those emotions and others often respond in kind. Unfortunately, this leads to a cycle where each story, each action, each comment leads deeper and deeper into the darkness. While we all want to be empathetic and seek to understand what others are feeling, when we lose ourselves in the darkness we are helping neither others or ourselves.
Situations like this rapidly take the form of a “bitch session” where every complaint, every slight, every unfair action is re-lived and reinforced. Instead of letting go of negative thoughts the group digs a deeper and deeper hole. In some ways, where there are limits to how positive we can feel, negative thoughts seem to know no bounds. We just get more and more depressed the longer the cycle continues. This is just one reason why you need to break the cycle. Otherwise you are likely to bring yourself so low that you are no longer able to take action against your circumstances and only make them worse.
The simple fact is, to break the negativity cycle, you just need to turn away. With a little awareness, it is easy to see when a conversation begins to turn negative. For me, it is almost something palpable that I can sense. The tenor of the conversation changes and you can feel it sliding into negativity.
When you sense this change occurring, there are a few actions you can take. First, try to turn the conversation in a more positive direction. For myself, and some others, positive thoughts are based around direct actions that can be taken — and achieved — now. If you can move people to action, you can often break the cycle of negative thoughts. Give people something to do. Suggest actions they can take immediately. Take a break in the conversation and allow everyone a chance to re-group and let the negative emotions settle.
Of course, sometimes, there is no way to break the cycle amongst a group. Once rolling it can be very difficult to stop, especially if there are people in the group who tend to be negative at most times. You can try to move the conversation elsewhere, but they will drag it back down over and over again. In these cases, there is little else you can do but turn away. For your own self preservation, you must distance yourself from such people and such conversations. It doesn’t matter if this is a group of peers, a collection of friends or even your family. If you surround yourself with negativity, you will surely be caught up in the cycle yourself. Recognize this fact and then protect yourself from it.
Does this mean you turn away from family and friends? In some cases, yes. You may be able to deal with them when you are secure in your own thoughts and actions, but if you are afraid you might be pulled along by their negativity you owe it to yourself to distance yourself. Think of yourself, your life, your career and what you want to accomplish there. Building the career you deserve is hard enough without being weighed down with the negative thoughts of others. I know personally that fighting against my own negative thoughts, my own fear, my own depression, is difficult enough that I need to distance myself from others who seek to involve me in their own negativity.
Long drawn out bouts of negativity are good for no one. When conversations turn to complaints and anger — and away from positive thought and actions, we can all be pulled down into the depths of our own fear, worry and depression. For our own sake, and for the sake of those that depend upon us, we must look for the immediate, direct actions we can take. We must look for the positive steps we can take today and use them to push our negative thoughts and worries into the background. They will never disappear entirely, but if we learn how to combat our own negative thoughts — and how to break the cycle of negativity we can face from others — we can move on to great things instead of bemoaning our fate. Break the cycle wherever you face it — personally, professionally, within your family — and everyone will benefit from your guidance.