It’s so easy to give in to the caustic behavior of others. The person who cut you off in traffic, the guy yelling into his cell phone at the grocery store, the woman belittling the barista at Starbucks. Every one of these acts poisons the environment just a little. Together, they add up to a pretty darn polluted cultural climate that isn’t good for any of us.

Research shows that conflict, negativity, and distress (the kind of stress over which you have no control) are bad for our bodies and bad for our brains. The release of cortisol and other chemicals kicks off a primal response that prevents us from thinking clearly and making good decisions.

Even when the negativity isn’t directed toward you, it has an impact. Think about the media you consume. From news to reality tv to outrageous talk radio personalities, what are you getting from them that is valuable to you? Higher blood pressure, a defensive outlook and a prescribed set of “bad guys” isn’t going to make you feel any better about your life or the world in which we live.

What may make you feel better is remembering that every one of us can make a significant change in our cultural climate simply by showing up differently.  Try a few of the phrase swaps below and see if it makes you feel any differently. Also, watch how those around you adjust to your new vocabulary. (It’s a fascinating experiment!)

Change a Negative to a Positive

How many time this week have you said you “can’t” eat that food or buy that item or go on that adventure? Choose a new verb to replace “can’t” that puts you in a position of choice. Decide not to have the heavy lunch so you avoid the afternoon slump. Instead of saying you “can’t” meet when you get a meeting request for Tuesday at 2pm, try telling them you’re booked then but you’d be happy to meet with them at 3pm. It’s a mind game that can actually be good for you.

Neutralize a Negative

We all have Negative Nellies in our life who want us to join them in disparaging others. Instead of playing into their expectations, try a different route. For example, when the office gossip tells you a co-worker had a wild weekend and wants you to pile on the disapproval, try saying “Sounds like they had a lot of fun. Do you know if we’re ordering in lunch today?” This kind of response neutralizes the drama and redirects the focus to a completely neutral subject. (Also take a look at this blog on Neutralizing the Negative.)

Generate Your Own Sunshine

Listen to the voice in your head. Is it kind, supportive, and creative? Is it harsh, belittling, and demanding? You control that voice and can replace “you’re an idiot” with “you’ll figure it out”. Trade “she’s so rude” for “I wonder what’s going on with her”. Simply swapping some of the language in your head can have a tremendous impact on your outlook and, in turn, help you transform the environment around you.

The difficulty of the work we do every day, the struggles, the successes, and just surviving has a lot to do with the way we show up. Yes, life can be hard, unfair, and cruel. But you don’t have to feed that fire. Choose to go a different route.

Talk to you next week,

Amber D. Nelson



P.S. The brilliant Lena Horne put it another way, “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”

Cover of Amber Nelson's book, "Talk to Me"

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