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‘Decoding the Past’ - Understand the Truth behind Negativity

by Clayton John Ainger(more info)

listed in psychospiritual, originally published in issue 230 - May 2016

All of us have experienced negativity at some point in our lives, and most of us will experience some form of negativity on a regular basis. It’s often an unpleasant experience, but despite this, most of us choose to power through as best we can, often suppressing or dismissing our negative feelings so we can just get on with our lives.  But these approaches often exacerbates the situation and simply causes negativity to repeat its pattern until the pain becomes big enough for us notice and ask what’s really going on.  In this article, we will explore the affects of negativity and understand what you can do differently to ease or and remove its influence from life.

Biologically, negativity is an evolution of our basic ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response; the main problem being, that in today’s world those responses aren’t very adaptive and the number of situations in which fight, flight or freeze responses are warranted or useful is low, but despite being aware of this we still unconsciously can’t help but respond much as our ancestors once did.

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Like physical pain, negativity is unpleasant; it’s unpleasant for a good reason: it causes us distress, which we want to resolve. This can manifest in a wide variety of ways, but our most basic definition would have to include at least two different types of experience: the anxious experience e.g. worrying about future events or pressure of responsibilities, and the disheartening experience of e.g. being disappointed with oneself after failure or feeling incapable or inadequate in the face of challenges. The emotional distress associated with both experiences can have a profound physical impact on our mind and body. Furthermore the associated stress causes raised cortisol levels, which can impact our well being by affecting sleeping patterns causing tiredness, decrease our ability to focus and concentrate, and weaken our immune system, increasing the time it takes to heal after illness or injury.

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But unfortunately that’s not the end of it, because the biggest effect which negativity can have (if we let it) is on our attitudes. All of the physical and emotional responses I’ve mentioned aren’t really negativity; they’re just the effects of negativity. We’re interested in the causes: the thoughts, self-perceptions and self-talk which lead to these effects. While our ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response may be ‘hard-coded,’ we can certainly change the way we think about negativity, which in turn affects how we experience our life.

The main challenge we need to be aware of is that it’s far too easy to allow ourselves to feel the weight of our negativity. When we do this, our negativity can anchor us to the past and prevent us from making any progress in our lives. It’s often easier to bail out and accept failure than to push through and pursue success when we’re feeling negative. We choose not to find the effort, dedication and willingness that are required to get back on track. Worse still, we make excuses for giving up, and we base our future attitudes on our past excuses. This means that a small failure can lead to a constantly self-reinforcing negative attitude.

Say we apply for a job that we passionately want, but are unsuccessful. The experience hurts our confidence, and after many unsuccessful applications we feel uncertain about our ability to get that job even if we applied for the next opportunity. When this happens, we’re unconsciously trying to protect ourselves from the pain of failure by keeping ourselves out of situations, which we then doubt we can match up to.  The wider challenge is that the doubt causes an ongoing self-fulfilling prophecy that we’re not good enough, which can then ripple out into other areas of our life.

Then, after a while, we stop applying for opportunities because we ‘think’ we have little chance of success. When we make that decision, we’re likely to experience a bit of distress because we know, deep down, that we just gave up on something, which could’ve made us happier. The attitude causing us this discomfort appears on the surface to be a positive one because it keeps us safe. Since we’ve chosen to withdraw, we achieve comfort, very counter intuitively, by telling ourselves that we didn’t have a realistic shot at the job. Now our decision to withdraw is perfectly justified; in fact it’s totally rational.

Telling ourselves such stories gives us a reason for withdrawing from challenges, not achieving our dreams (and even withdrawing even from life altogether), which feels legitimate; we tell ourselves (and others) a story that I’m unlucky, or I’m not successful, or I’m not good enough. These negative self-perceptions continue to ‘keep us safe’ from the challenges in our lives, and allow us to feel comfortable with ourselves but reduce our expectations in life and of ourselves. Ultimately, they stop us from taking risks, which could enrich our lives, enhance our happiness and give us genuine reason to feel positive.

We also can put the responsibility for our failings onto other people, the environment or situation we’re in.  This has the same effect of excusing us from our life: we protect ourselves from emotional discomfort by pretending that there was nothing more we could’ve done. If other people were truly exclusively responsible for all of the big problems and feelings of limitation or emptiness in our life, then our actions would have no difference whatsoever to our outcomes. Just like the stories that tell us we’re not good enough, this attitude holds us back.

So what can we do to stop our negativity having this hold on us, especially when we have been conditioned to ignore it, dismiss it, stuff it down, or blame others? First of all you need to look at the meaning you give negativity. Negativity for many people is wrong or bad.   But how can something that is natural be bad or wrong? Negativity is a message from you to you; it informs you about something in your life is out of sync with your goals and hearts desires. If we listen to this message instead of simply trying to sweep aside the unpleasant emotions it causes us, negativity can be powerful fuel for change in our lives.

To use this fuel, you need to become aware of your thoughts and corresponding attitudes you’re forming. Your attitudes are born of your thoughts, which influence your behaviour, which ultimately shape your life experiences.  So it must follow that changing your thoughts, changes your attitudes, which changes your behaviour, which in turn creates new life experiences. Because our behaviour has a direct link to the attitudes which motivate it, we can look at things we’ve done in response to negativity, which didn’t serve us or hindered us. We can ask ourselves whether we were really trying to take control of the route causes, or just retreating to avoid short-term pain. We can also ask what we could have done differently if we’d got involved, rather than focusing on what might have gone wrong.

Just as a lowered sense of self-value encourages us to retreat, a realistic sense of self-value can inspire us to take control of those aspects of our life which cause us the most negativity. Coming to a proper sense of self-value requires us to focus on the evidence of our abilities rather than our insecurities. We can look to situations where our efforts were successful, and ask why. This helps to map our abilities to the demands that life challenges place on us.

The more evidence we have of our own ability and sense of control in past and present situations, the more confidence we have approaching future situations. If we don’t value ourselves, we don’t trust ourselves. Any decision based on a lack of trust can only hold us back. We can look for evidence of our successes in one area of our lives, perhaps the area in which we’re already most confident. Once we’ve established this, and explored what it is that makes us successful, we can carry that confidence to all areas of our lives. We can use that true knowledge of our own real value to argue against the subtle but destructive attitudes, which keep us ‘safe’ from failure by undermining our self-belief.

It can be difficult or uncomfortable initially to explore the excuses we’ve made or make for ourselves and to immerse ourselves into the areas of our lives, which cause us most negativity. Putting off change, however, just makes it harder to start making change, and crucially allows our self-undermining and self-defeating attitudes to grow stronger.   Listening properly to the messages we give ourselves when negativity arises allows us to take advantage of a valuable resource and use a power source of energy for creation, which so many people allow unnecessarily to have power over them. Becoming aware of the traps we set up for ourselves, and ultimately refusing to answer an instinctive and ancient call to withdraw which has no real relation to the modern world, can have a transforming effect across all areas of our lives. Only when we truly understand what we’re capable of can we achieve the success that we deserve.

To discover even more new insights and understanding to change old belief patterns and perceptions about negativity, I invite you to read my award-winning book The Ego’s Code because you deserve to live a happy and fulfilling life.


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About Clayton John Ainger

Clayton John Ainger plays many roles in his life, the most important to him being a daddy and husband. Clayton is a very passionate individual -  about loving life and enjoying every aspect of it. His ethos in life is about making every person matter every time. This is why he is so passionate about people and helping them to embrace their individuality, and understand the power of doing what comes naturally and discover what truly makes their hearts sing!

Clayton and his wife Lindsay run a successful training and consultancy business, working with people all over the world, from different walks of life. From once being a tax specialist, Clayton is now a sought-after consultant and speaker on “Why people don’t do better, when they know better.” Clayton loves to be different, to challenge the status quo, and inspire the people and companies he works with to explore new ways of thinking, attitudes and behaviours, transforming lives and results for the long term. Clayton may be contacted on Tel: 0844 740 1278;


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