Are You Negative Out of Habit?!

I’m in the process of reading The No Complaining Rule: Positive Ways to Deal with Negativity at Work by Jon Gordon. Don’t get me wrong, my workplace is GREAT, but I certainly could use more of a positive attitude. On a good day, I consider myself “a realist”, but to be honest, most days I’m just cynical and cranky! Anyway, this book is fabulous.

One point from the book I thought I’d share with you is a quote by football coach Lou Holtz who said, “Don’t complain. Eighty percent of the people you complain to don’t care and 20 percent are glad you have problems.” How true! Jon Gordon then goes on to say that usually we complain for two reasons: (1) We complain when we feel scared and out of control, and (2) we complain out of habit.

It’s the “out of habit” part I want to discuss. I have found many times in my life (and recently in the last several months) that often I will get in a mood or have an attitude toward a person in my life OUT OF HABIT. The most recent example concerns my poor husband. My bad attitude toward him started out quite legitimately – he did some things I felt were inconsiderate. Of course, I’m a peach to live with so everything was entirely his fault. (Ahem. Yeah, right.) The next time he did something inconsiderate – and let’s face it, since I was smarting from the last thing, I was looking for it – my irritation built on the last irritation. Days and weeks passed with him “constantly” doing inconsiderate things. Of course, some of his actions were a reaction to my complaints, sometimes he felt he could do nothing right (so why try?), and sometimes my dissatisfaction stemmed from the fact that I stopped giving him the benefit of the doubt. Now, I didn’t assume he didn’t see the mess in the microwave, I assumed he saw it perfectly well and was just too lazy to clean it up. I didn’t assume he was too tired after a long day at work; I assumed he didn’t think I worked hard, too. After several weeks of this, and dozens of cross comments (complete with biting and snapping), I discovered I was in the HABIT of being mad at my husband. Likewise, he was in the habit of being mad at me. We always assumed the other had the worst intentions, not the best, and we fed off each other (you were snotty to me; well, I was snotty to you because you rolled your eyes at me; I rolled my eyes because you talked down to me; I talked down to you because you were acting like a child; I was acting like a child because . . . you get the point.)

When I find myself in a bad habit cycle in a relationship, the easiest way to solve it is to grant each other a “do-over”. You both globally apologize, wipe the slate clean and start over – assuming the BEST of each other, both trying hard AT THE SAME TIME. It feels like work for the first week or two, but at some point, you get in the HABIT of loving each other and voila! – all is well.

I think that we fall into the habit of negativity more often than we realize. Have you ever been in a feud with a coworker or family member so long you can’t even remember what started the fight? Have you ever found yourself not remembering why you ever liked someone in the first place? Do you find yourself hating your job even when nothing went wrong that day? Do you ever find yourself in a bad mood for so long, you don’t even remember the last time you smiled and meant it or laughed until your belly hurt? Really?! So I’m the only one?!

Seriously, did you know you can actually trick your brain into thinking you’re happy? Honest! That’s why those self-help articles in women’s magazines always tell you to smile even when you don’t feel like it. Here’s the scoop: your brain can’t tell the difference between a real smile and a fake smile. So if you put a smile on your face even when you don’t feel like it, your brain reads the signal as a sign that your happy. Before you know it, your brain starts churning out all the feel good chemicals until you actually DO feel like smiling. Besides, if you smile, most people will respond positively to you – sometimes without even wanting or intending to – giving you positive reinforcement and a reason to be happy.

Tomorrow I’m going to build on this theme of getting into bad habits and give you a counter-intuitive piece of advice regarding your relationship with your significant other!



Don’t forget to send your name and mailing address to to register for Sandra Byrd’s wonderful book Bon Appetit. TWO winners will be drawn at random this Friday, October 24th. If you send me a recipe for French food, I’ll DOUBLE your chances of winning by entering your name twice in the drawing and I’ll post all the recipes at the end of the week. Good luck!


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