Avoiding Toxic Positivity

Avoiding Toxic Positivity

Hi team! It’s your friend, Mary, with The I in Team Series, where you can find, be, and build your positive influence. A few weeks ago, IA’s Gratitude Group discussed toxic positivity and its effects. Toxic positivity is the belief and pressure to ignore negative or painful emotions, putting a positive spin on even the hardest life events. Toxic positivity often leads to emotional repression, forcing individuals to believe that they should feel ashamed for feeling negative emotions or like nobody understands them. Avoiding toxic positivity can be beneficial for you and people around you. While it’s okay to have a positive attitude and outlook, ignoring the other side of emotions can be detrimental to your health.

Internal Toxic Positivity

Internal toxic positivity is when you don’t allow yourself to feel and accept your emotions, often telling yourself to stay positive. This is typically due to shame for feeling the emotion. Emotions are part of the human experience, so to avoid internal toxic positivity, follow these three steps.

Be Transparent

Being transparent with yourself about what you are feeling means having enough respect and self-compassion to allow yourself to feel. When you’re honest with yourself about your emotions, you make it easier to get rid of those emotions. Additionally, you can also weaken their hold the more often you are honest with yourself about them. By acknowledging their presence, you avoid emotional repression.

Validate

Knowing when you are feeling emotional is typically easy, but classifying those emotions isn’t always easy. For those who have been repressing their emotions, emotional identification becomes more difficult as they are typically classified as the highest-ranking emotions (anger, sadness, happiness). Additionally, it’s always possible there are multiple emotions present at one time. This can, again, make it even more difficult for those repressing their emotions to categorize the emotions they feel. One tool that can be used to aid in validating and identifying emotions is an emotion wheel. Emotions are valid, but the more you understand them the less power they have.

Have Empathy

Empathy and self-compassion are imperative to avoiding toxic positivity. You may feel both grief and happiness at the same time, and that is normal. Having empathy for yourself means realizing that emotions are part of the human experience and that you are allowed to have them. Empathy encompasses validating, identifying, and understanding your emotions, but with yourself.

External Toxic Positivity

Avoiding being toxically positive with others may be difficult if you are toxically positive with yourself. While you work on being less toxic with yourself, consider using those same (or similar) tactics with others. Below are three steps to avoid toxic positivity when interacting with others.

Listen

While being transparent with yourself requires you to listen, you also need to listen to others. By listening to others when they are describing their emotional state, make them feel acknowledged, heard, and validated by repeating back to them what you hear. For example, “I hear that you are experiencing immense grief right now,” or, “It sounds like that event made you feel very angry.” Don’t offer unsolicited advice, but if you want clarity on what they are looking for, ask them if they want advice or someone to empathize with them.

Have Empathy

Empathizing with others is a lot like empathizing with yourself. Showing empathy means being able to understand other’s emotions and demonstrating that understanding through some kind of support. Having empathy for the bad parts of being human is okay. Yin and Yang come from ancient Chinese philosophy and methodology, representing complementary forces, like good and bad. The symbol for Yin and Yang denotes there is some good in the bad and some bad in the good. Having empathy for others (and yourself) means accepting this fact.

Language

To avoid toxic positivity, you have to change your language. Toxic positivity often sounds like, “good vibes only,” “everything happens for a reason,” or, “it could be worse.” These are invalidating statements that can make people feel shame for feeling emotions. Emotions are not something to be shameful of. Replace these phrases with, “all vibes welcome,” “life is full of peaks and valleys,” or, “you aren’t alone in this experience.”

Conclusion

While positivity serves us greatly in many regards, when it becomes toxic positivity it becomes detrimental to our mental health. Overcoming toxic positivity and emotional repression is not an easy task, but it is possible. It takes willpower and habit building to rewrite your mind’s natural way of thinking. To continue spreading your positive influence, you must have compassion and empathy for the spectrum of human emotions, both with yourself and those you influence. Once you do so, life will, ironically, become more positive.

Take the High Road

Take the High Road

Hi team! It’s your friend, Mary, with The I in Team Series where you can find, be, and build your positive influence. This week, I want to focus our attention on what it means to take the high road. Taking the high road is subjective to each of us; at The I in Team Series, we believe the high road is when you take the path that helps the most people and hurts the least amount of people. Sometimes taking the high road means leaving someone or something behind so you can continue to grow in your positive influence. It can mean swallowing your need to speak when the timing isn’t right or being patient while you give someone an extra five minutes of your time. Taking the high road is always taking the right road, but you must understand what that path means and how to find it.

Finding the High Road

The high road is always the right road, but sometimes finding it can be difficult. First, you must weigh the paths you have in front of you. Ask if these choices, and subsequent decisions, influence anyone other than you (most decisions do), and then ask which choice will produce the most positive influence. When taking the high road, remember to put yourself first if the decision will influence you the most. We believe that in order to give people your most positive influence, you must live life for yourself and put yourself first. Some may find this selfish; some will say this is taking the low road. Taking care of yourself so you can have a positive influence is anything but selfish. So, when considering the high road, you will need to take yourself into account first, and then evaluate which decision will positively influence the most people.

Making decisions can be difficult when you don’t know what the outcome will be, but you have to trust yourself to weigh the pros and cons and analyze the information you have. Be diligent and seek out more information and trust your instincts. Ask people you can trust for their opinion if you need an external source to weigh in. You may find that one day, you are walking on what you believe is the high road, but you may find yourself standing alone.

Walking the High Road

Walking the high road can be a lonely road, as most people find it difficult to take the high road. You may become unpopular and shunned by peers for the decisions you make in life, but if you know that it is your high road then you must stay true to yourself. Let’s digress to a story about a man named Nicolaus Copernicus, who was a mathematician and astronomer in the 1500s, and the first to suggest that the Earth and all the planets revolved around the sun, rather than the Earth being the center of our solar system. He made several great strides in astronomy, including correctly hypothesizing why planets go into retrograde.

However, this was at a time when everyone believed that the Earth was the center of the universe and that everything moved around a stagnant Earth. Copernicus was utterly rejected by society, thrown in prison, denounced by his faith, and all but killed for his ideas (which, most, were later proven to be true). At no point did Copernicus waiver from his findings, and he spent his life trying to help others see the truth about our world. He died being mocked and shunned by society and faith. We now know that the Earth does in fact revolve around the Sun. This is one of my favorite stories of human strength and will. It would have been easy to retract his statements to be accepted by society and his church, but he refused. He knew what was right and he died trying to teach others. There are high roads that you will walk alone, but you must keep empathy in your heart for those on the low road.

Observing the Low Road

Choose curiosity over judgement. Do not judge those who cannot see the high road, be curious as to why they can’t or why they refuse to walk it with you. Having empathy for those who are walking the low road is another form of taking the high road. Like Copernicus, the best you can do is speak what you believe to be true from your perspective. Educate others and encourage them to be curious. Do not view others as being judgmental when they ask questions in a tone that questions your position; appreciate that they are looking for knowledge and view them as curious, even if they can’t control their tone. Being on the high road means holding empathy for those who are not with you, whether they choose not to be or don’t know how. Just because others haven’t joined you on the high road yet, doesn’t mean they won’t. Taking the high road is the mark of a leader.

Conclusion

Taking the high road is always taking the right road. Whether it is to benefit yourself or to help others, your high road is always right. When faced with an opportunity to take the high road or the low road, envision your hands with one up and one down; the one up is the high road, the road that will bring the most positive influence to you or others, and the hand that is down is the low road, the road you take when you are not your best self (most likely to induce feelings of guilt later on). Taking the high road may seem scary, difficult, or impossible at times, but if Copernicus could do it in the 1500s, you can do it today.

The Problem with the Golden and Platinum Rules

The Problem with the Golden and Platinum Rules

Hi team, it’s your friend Mary with The I in Team Series where you can find, be, and build your positive influence! This week, I want to discuss my personal opinion on the Golden and Platinum Rules. To review, the Golden Rule is, essentially, “treat everyone as you would want to be treated” and the Platinum Rule is “treat everyone as they want to be treated.” While these both offer great guidelines for hopefully treating others with love, kindness, and respect, I think they miss a huge component of humanity: Mental Illness. I know when I’m depressed, anxious, or in the pits, I don’t want to be treated well; more so, I don’t feel like I deserve love and kindness because my mind tells me I don’t. This is the primary problem I see in the Golden and Platinum Rules, but before I propose my solution, I want to dive into these rules a little further.

The Golden and Platinum Rules

The Golden Rule, in some variation, has been written in religious text for centuries. It essentially reminds everyone to stay mindful of how they treat others lest someone treat you the same way. It promotes a sense of empathy and social awareness. Although, it is a bit egocentric. It’s a rule that tells you to treat others the way you would want to be treated, assuming you believe you deserve to be treated well. I know that for me and others who suffer from depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses, not everyone feels that they are worth being treated well all of the time. So, for example, if I followed the Golden Rule while in a depressed state, I probably wouldn’t treat others very well. Why? 1) Because I feel horribly about myself and the world and 2) If I were hypothetically following the Golden Rule, I would treat everyone the way I felt I deserved, which I’m certain nobody wants.

The Platinum Rule was proposed and developed by Dr. Tony Alessandra and Dr. Michael J. O’Connor. On Dr. Alessandra’s website, he writes,

“The Platinum Rule accommodates the feelings of others. The focus of relationships shifts from ‘this is what I want, so I’ll give everyone the same thing’ to ‘let me first understand what they want and then I’ll give it to them.’”

Dr. Alessandra and Dr. O’Connor were absolutely correct to propose a rule that focuses on the other person more than the self. This ensures you are attempting to give someone what they want, but it leaves out what people need. Sometimes people want things that aren’t good for them, as I hope you understand by now with the example above. While we want to accommodate the feelings of others, we also need to be mindful that sometimes the people closest to us don’t know what they need to feel better and in those moments we should offer them love and support with no strings attached.

How I Approach Treating Others

To be honest, I didn’t know what to call it. But, the way I approach treating others is to, “Treat everyone the way you would want someone to treat the person you love most in this world.” Perhaps, this is redundant, as many people’s favorite person is themselves. Personally, this rule works for me. I don’t always have the best mental health and reminding myself to treat others the way I would want someone to treat Spencer, my fiancé, is really helpful. No matter what kind of mental issues I’m battling, I always want Spencer to be treated with love, kindness, and respect. To be honest, I just can’t say the same about myself, although I know those thoughts aren’t true, the mind can be tricky.

I believe following a rule like this will help everyone be more socially aware. Spreading a positive influence is the best way to combat the negativity of the world. If we can increase our emotional intelligence, do our best to realize when we aren’t feeling so great, and strive to treat others the way we would want someone to treat those we love the most, I know we can increase our positive influence. Maybe not every day, but we aren’t meant to be perfect every day. Life might kick us down, or we might have a bad day with a negative influence, but we just have to keep going forward, learning from our mistakes, doing our best, and striving to remain uplifted and positive. If we can do this, we can spread love, kindness, and acceptance in all areas of our lives.

Conclusion

These rules have always been meant as guidelines for treating others with love, kindness, and respect, and in reality, all three rules are saying the same thing with different wording. One is centuries old, derived from philosophy and religion. One is a more recent thought pool, used to increase others’ empathy and social awareness. And one is used to recognize that people these days have mental illness and we should remain mindful. It doesn’t matter your race, age, or sexual orientation; all human beings deserve a chance to be treated with love, kindness, and respect. We all deserve to live in a world where we are free to be our most true selves. In a diverse world, we all flourish, so spread positive influence to those who are similar to you and those who are vastly different. We are all important in this time.

How Your Environment Influences You

How Your Environment Influences You

Hi team, Mary here! Welcome to 2021. It shouldn’t come as a shock, considering 2020 was one environmentally influencing year, but your environment plays a huge role in what influences you every day. It affects your mental health, including your outlook on life and stress, depression, and anxiety levels. Understanding what in our environment influences us and how is the first step we can take towards combatting negative environmental influence.

Types of Environmental Influence

There are a few types of environmental influence that could be affecting you, including physical and social factors. Physical factors are things having to do with your body and your physical environment around you. Social factors include your family, friends, coworkers, and wider community.

Physical

Check out some examples of physical environmental influence below.

  • Your Home, Office, and Car: These are among the top places you spend your time. How these areas look (meaning, how clean and organized they are) influence your mental health daily. Living in a clean and organized home can increase your positive outlook on life because your immediate surroundings are also positive. Note: When we say “organized” we don’t mean you have to Marie Kondo your home! You might have a ton of stuff and keep it organized in a way that suits your needs. Your process of organization doesn’t have to match others’ processes.
  • Pollution: In case you don’t know already, air pollution affects your health! Psychology Today reports in this article titled The Impact of Air Pollution on Mental Health that air pollution can increase suicide risk and depression.
  • Sleep Deprivation: When you’re sleep deprived, your mental health declines. A good night’s sleep can boost your immune system, act as a light painkiller, prevent weight gain, increase heart health, increase your positive mood, reduce stress, increase productivity, and improve memory. Read more in this article titled 10 Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep by VeryWell Health.
  • Weather: Bad and extreme weather can influence your mental health! Dealing with snowstorms, constant rain, lack of sunshine, and freezing temperatures is never fun for anyone. Seasonal affective disorder, anyone?
  • Smoking: You already know the risks associated with smoking.
  • Eating Habits: If your doctor hasn’t told you already, what you put into your body has a direct effect on your mood and health. Check out this article Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food by Harvard Medical School.

These are just a few examples of physical factors that can influence your mental health. Try to remain mindful of these influences, even if they are negative. What other physical factors do you encounter daily?

Social

Check out some examples of social environmental influence below:

  • Stigmas: People experience racism, sexism, ageism, and other forms of prejudice that can have a serious impact on their mental health.
  • Relationships: Friends, family, lovers, co-workers, and strangers are all part of your relationships. The people you choose to surround yourself with has a major influence on your mental health. Don’t surround yourself with people who will mentally, emotionally, or physically abuse you. Choose relationships that lift you up and make you feel more positive about life.
  • Community: The community in which you live has a tremendous influence on you. Impoverished communities versus wealthy communities have different influences on human beings. No matter where you come from or where you are now, you absolutely have the capability to be a positive influence and have a positive outlook on life.

Social factors influence your mental health so pervasively because humans are social creatures! What other social factors influence you daily?

Conclusion

Realizing that our environments can influence us may help us overcome the negative side effects that can come from negative environments. Your environment doesn’t have to look like someone else’s to be positive or make you feel content. Part of your environment is your outlook, and if you can try to remain mindful of what influences you, you can try to remain mindful of how you see the world. Just remember, it’s okay to have bad days! It’s okay to feel negative and emotional. It’s how you pick yourself back up that defines you. Don’t let your environment drag you down! Instead, lift everyone and your surroundings UP with your positive influence.

Setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Hi team, Mary here! With 2021 right around the corner, now is the time people start considering their New Year’s resolutions. Personally, I prefer to call them New Year’s goals because I think goals are easier for people to deal with, they are less likely to be given up on because they are adaptable, and they can feel more rewarding when reached. Additionally, I think New Year’s resolutions have a negative connotation to them; roughly 80% of people give up on their resolutions by February, so it seems societal norm is to create resolutions but not stick to them. If we start planning goals, perhaps we won’t give up on them. With the new year right around the corner, let’s start creating our S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) goals now.

Choosing Your Goal

Some of the most common New Year’s goals are:

  • Go to the gym regularly
  • Lose weight/diet
  • Work on mental health
  • Get a new job
  • Buckle down on finances
  • Manage stress
  • Improve a relationship
  • Quit smoking/drinking

So, does that mean you have to set a common goal? Heck no! Choosing your goal is personal and should relate to how you want to grow. It can absolutely be a common goal, because making our minds and bodies healthier is a great way to grow, but it can also be an obscure goal that means something to just you. You may want to learn a new style of cooking, read a book series, go back to school, climb a mountain, run a 10k, practice or learn a new art, or anything you want it to be. Your goals should reflect who you want to be and how you want to grow.

My 2020 goals were to figure out grad school, read for an hour every week, write and release one song, and finish my crochet blanket. I’m happy to say, I did figure out grad school! With the help of some trusted friends and loved ones, I enrolled for my master’s in organizational leadership. However, once I realized how hard learning to write music was, I adjusted my goal to continue learning about music. When my hand started cramping up from crocheting, I adjusted my goal to work on my crochet blanket (it’s massive, like king-sized, so finishing it is going to take a long time). I didn’t read fiction for one hour every week, but I didn’t give up on the goal; I still read every week for at least one hour and read my fiction book when I can fit it into my schedule. Don’t be afraid to adjust, but don’t give up.

Specific

Once you have decided on your goal, it’s time to make your goal specific! Ask yourself these questions and write down your answers:

  • Who is involved in this goal?
  • What do I want to accomplish with this goal?
  • Where will this goal be achieved?
  • When do I want to achieve this goal?
  • Why do I want to achieve this goal?

It’s vital that your goal is specific, otherwise you might lose sight of what you are working towards. It also needs to be specific enough to follow the rest of the S.M.A.R.T. process.

Measurable

If you can’t measure it, you can’t control it. Making sure you have metrics to measure your goal will help you reach your goal. It will also propel you forward towards the end. If you don’t have a way to measure your progress, you may become discouraged half-way through and give up. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, what would your metrics be? For one, you can weigh yourself and tangibly see your weight loss, but you can also measure your calorie intake and how many calories you burn during exercise.

Ask yourself these questions and write down your answers:

  • How many/much X will I need?
  • How will I know I have reached my goal?
  • What will I use to be an indicator of progress?

Attainable

Your goal should stretch your abilities without stretching you so thin it makes the goal unattainable. For example, I could set the goal of becoming an astronaut. Becoming an astronaut is certainly attainable. In the S.M.A.R.T. process, attainable and realistic go hand-in-hand so be sure to keep a close eye on these sections. Yes, becoming an astronaut is technically attainable because other people have done it, so I could do it too. But is it realistic?

Ask yourself these questions and write down your answers:

  • Do I have the funds/resources/capabilities to reach this goal?
  • If not, what am I missing or how can I get it?
  • Are there any roadblocks that could prevent my goal from being attainable?

Realistic

Setting a realistic goal means setting a goal that can be achieved given the resources and time you have. So, continuing our example above, I could, technically, become an astronaut. However, am I in a position to become an astronaut? Am I astronaut material? Am I willing to go back to school, start my career from scratch, and spend more than a decade trying to reach my goal? Probably not. It’s not a realistic goal because I’m not willing to dedicate the time to achieve the goal, I probably wouldn’t be that good at advanced science and math, and even then I may not even get up into space so I would have to be content simply working for NASA or another space related company.

Ask yourself these questions and write down your answers:

  • Is my goal realistic?
  • Is this goal worth my time?
  • Is this goal worth my money?
  • Is this the right time to try to reach this goal?
  • Does this goal match other efforts/needs?

Timely

All goals need a definitive start and end date. If there is no timeline, there will be no sense of urgency; hence, less motivation to reach the goal. When I set my 2020 goals, they all had a deadline of the end of the year. Looking back, I didn’t create all my goals around S.M.A.R.T. or I would have known that releasing a song would be nearly impossible. However, my hand cramping up during crocheting is not something I could have foreseen, so I adjusted my goal’s timeline. Your timeline should be in line with what you need from that goal.

Ask yourself these questions and write down your answers:

  • Does my goal have a deadline?
  • When do I want to achieve my goal?
  • What else is going on in my life that could prevent me from hitting this goal in this time frame?

Conclusion

Now’s the time to start planning for your 2021 goals and I want you all to feel like achievers in reaching your goals. Don’t follow society and set goals for yourself just to never see them fulfilled. Doing so will just make setting goals harder and more discouraging because you train yourself to not meet your goals. You literally program yourself to think it’s okay to set goals and not meet them. I promise, once you set a goal and meet that goal, you’ll be changed. Looking back at your past self and knowing you made it is a reward worth having. Trust me, I’m so happy to be in school and at the beginning of 2020, I was sure that was a goal I would give up on.

Showing Gratitude

Showing Gratitude

Hi team, Mary here! We have had a pretty crazy year. Between the pandemic, civil unrest, and elections, it seems emotions are always running high. But in the month of giving thanks, I would like us all to reflect on that which we are grateful for. In times of uncertainty and stress, it can be easy to look at the past or future and wish for better, but that takes us away from the present moment. I implore you to focus on that which you do have, in the now. Showing gratitude for the positive parts of your life will help you remain positive and content overall.

What is Gratitude?

Most individuals believe that showing gratitude is the same as showing thanks. While being thankful is synonymous with showing gratitude, there are some subtle differences. Being thankful is when you acknowledge what someone or something has done or given you. For example, when your co-worker brings coffee to work for everyone, you may respond with, “Thank you!” Gratitude, on the other hand, is a feeling that is much deeper. It goes beyond the simple, verbal “thank you” and involves having a deeper appreciation and love for that person, event, or thing. It’s a deep emotional response that you feel down to your core, and the feeling lingers much longer than the “Thank you!”

If you’re someone who doesn’t have or express a lot of emotions, the differences between showing gratitude and being thankful might be difficult to grasp. You can still show gratitude and be mindful about how you conduct yourself in showing thanks while not feeling the deep emotional sense of gratefulness. Showing gratitude for the things and people in your life requires that you remain mindful of yourself and your surroundings. So, if you’re someone who has difficultly feeling or expressing emotion, meditation and mindfulness might be the solution for you showing gratitude.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a school of thought that can be expressed in several ways but boiled down it’s just about remaining aware of yourself, how you’re feeling inside, and remaining cognizant of the influence you have. Some people practice mindfulness by meditating while others may practice mindfulness by reading self-help books or engaging in self-education. Mindfulness is kind of what you want it to be, as long as you can stay grounded in who you are and how you influence the world around you. Staying mindful just means that you stay aware. It doesn’t mean you have to be perfect because none of us are. It means that if you identify an opportunity for growth, you try to grow positively.

Being Humble

Being humble goes hand-in-hand with showing gratitude. If you are boastful, you are certainly not being mindful. You might have a little or you might have a lot, but no matter what you have, it’s important to remain humble in those feelings. There are always going to be those who are less fortunate than you. Remaining humble and showing gratitude for what you do have in life will help you remain more content. Instead of constantly chasing greener grass or looking back on better times, find peace in where you are at in life. By showing gratitude, and feeling the weight of that gratefulness, you will inherently become humbler. Gratitude itself is a humbling feeling.

Conclusion

Focusing on what we do have rather than what we don’t have is how we can all live more content lives and spread a positive influence. When we feel grounded with where we are, we feel better about ourselves. When we feel good, we spread that good feeling to those around us. In the month of thanks, take some time to show deep gratitude towards those who have positively influenced you. You may even show some gratitude towards those who have been a negative influence in your life; sometimes negativity can make us better as humans and that is something to be grateful for. If you’re looking for more ways to be a positive influence and help spread the love, check out our Influence page! We have tons of examples of positive influence for children, your professional life, and your personal life.

I want to express my deepest gratitude to anyone out there who has read this blog, our book, followed us on social media, watched our vlogcast, and supported our efforts to spread a positive influence by teaching people how to be better leaders. You’re the reason I get up in the morning and why the sun will shine again tomorrow. You give my life purpose and meaning, and I will always be grateful for the opportunity to help anyone grow in their positive influence. So, how about you? What are you grateful for? Namaste, team.