Do you have friends that make you feel like you can do ANYTHING? When you spend time with them, you’re energized and ready to take on the world. They encourage you, celebrate victories with you, and are always there for a quick word of good advice.
How about friends that are complete downers? When you are with them you feel tired, sad and worried about the future.
We all know negative people. They seem to walk around under a cloud of doom and rarely have anything good to say. Their relationships falter, their kids disappoint them, they are stuck in a dead-end job and are always complaining.
What do you do with the negative people in your life?
Monitor the energy drain
First of all we have to be mindful of the effect negative people have on our energy. Be aware of how you’re feeling and see if you can pick up patterns. Most of us can spot negative people when they’re sad Eeyore types.
It’s harder to spot people as negative when they’re funny. Do you know anyone who naturally seems to set up “us-vs-them” dynamics? Sarcastic people who snipe at others and put them down behind their backs? Who make you glad you’re not the one they are on the outs with?
The Eeyore types make you feel sad and can be exhausting, but the prickly, sarcastic types can be more difficult to deal with. It is easy to get pulled into their way of dealing with others and participate in their jokes and mean games. This does not build up others and definitely doesn’t make you feel good about yourself, especially at the end of the day when you look back at the hurt feelings and strife that has been caused.
Once you have identified someone who is negative, you can take steps to limit their influence on your life. Like watching the heating bill to see if your windows need weatherstripping, limiting your exposure to someone who drains your energy is a smart thing to do.
Seek out positive people
I’ve got good news for you! YOU get to choose who you spend time with. This may be a little bit of a shock, but if YOU don’t choose, then others will choose for you. Who do you want to be in charge of who you hang out with? YOU, of course!
You have to be intentional about who you allow to have influence over your life. It’s been said that you become who you spend time with, meaning that you adopt their attitudes and values over time. This is important for teenagers and I try to talk with them and their parents about monitoring their friendships to see if they’re hanging out with good kids. It’s also important for adults and for the same reason.
Do this exercise for me, will you? Sit down and make a list of the people you spend the most time with. Start on Monday morning and think of all the people you see through the week, until Sunday night. Your spouse will be at the head of the list, your children, your boss and coworkers, etc.
Now look at the list and put a number next to each name, rating them on a “positivity” scale, 0 being completely negative and 10 being completely positive. Think of the things they say, the things they do, and the way you feel when you’re with them.
If you look at the list of people you spend the most time with, how does your scale look? Do you have a lot of 2s and 3s? A lot of 7s and 8s?
If you find that most of the people you see are on the negative side of the scale, you need to actively seek out positive people. If you don’t run across them in the course of your daily life, you have to go find them. Where are people happy? That’s where the positive people are. Go there, you’ll find them. Some examples are yoga and fitness studios (endorphins galore!), art classes, music groups and Meetup groups where people share a common interest.
What makes you happy? What do you choose to do just for fun? Find people who share the same interest and hang out with them.
Be a positive influence
We are called not just to get through this life, but to make our world a better place. Some people are called to improve the World-with-a-capital-W (like Mother Theresa, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela). All of us are called to leave our little corner of the world better than we found it.
This is a little heavy, but once you are aware of the impact of our outlook on our lives and our happiness, you have some responsibility to help others improve theirs.
The next time one of your Eeyore friends is complaining about something, be sympathetic but also remind them of something good that happened or is going on in their lives. Gently remind them of a blessing. For instance, when Alison is complaining that she just can’t lose weight, and you know she had a big salad for lunch instead of a sandwich and potato chips, give her kudos for how hard she is trying. Let her know you support her efforts and are proud of her. Ask about the trip she and her husband just took, or how her daughter is doing at college, or something else you know is going well.
If someone’s negativity is directed outward, like the sarcastic friend who likes to put others down, the best thing to do is to refuse to participate. Just walk away. Take away the audience for their performance. It takes a special kind of courage to stick up for their target, but sometimes distraction with a change of topic will help.
Spending time with those who are negative has a cost. They will steal your energy. If you count the cost and spend that energy wisely, over time you can help your friends, family and coworkers become more positive and help make your corner of the world a better, happier place.
QUESTION: Do you spend time with a lot of negative people? How do you handle them?