Two years ago, on a trip to the middle of nowhere, I got one of my first tastes of online venom. At one point, the phone got lucky and found fleeting net connectivity. It barfed up a few private messages before dying a swift death. One was from a dear friend with animated emoticons blowing kisses, another was a query about the best place online to buy a book, and then there was one from a stranger, spewing venom for reasons best left in the mailbox's trash bin. For a few seconds I was at a loss for words. The boys saw my face and asked me what the phone had hurled at me. So I read it out. Verbatim.
Next time someone looks at you sarcastically, passes a snide comment, or whispers behind your back, feel sorry for them...
There was a second's silence before they dissolved into laughter. "Whoa. That's a lot of hatred to fit into one message, Ma!" And that was that. The network left us and so did the negativity. Now, I consciously keep away from negative thoughts and if it comes to that, even people. And I am not apologetic about it. The thing is, when we let the negativity seep in, it brings in other devils with it, including self-doubt and hopelessness. So I am selfish. I keep the devils at an arm and a half's distance. Sometimes even a few miles.
Recently again, I faced some entirely uncalled for online ire. It never ends. The messages and outbursts also got me thinking about a couple of my friends, who in a similar situation would have developed a crack that would have taken a lot of love to mend. I do not exactly levitate a few feet above ground, nor am I beyond feeling hurt, nor am I the most peaceful creature there is. But I do manage to stay mostly positive. Here are a few things that help me keep afloat.
1. Love thyself
This is easier said than done, and stacks of books have been written on the topic. But one has to start somewhere! When you get ready in front of the mirror every morning, look yourself in the eye and wrap your arms around yourself, and say it aloud, "I love you!" A simple glance before you set about your day should tell you that you are loved by one person at least. Yourself. Take time out for yourself—have a solitary cup of coffee, and always treat yourself with "me-time."
2. Surround yourself with positive people
This takes practice and a thick skin. While growing up, there were several times I ended up being friends with negative people. They can sometimes be like termites—they gnaw you from the inside, suck your self-confidence, and leave you gasping for a breath of self-worth. Chances are you have met some yourself. It is time now to ball them up and throw them in the farthest corner of your life. You might seem arrogant, but ask yourself what is of more importance—being perceived as arrogant or getting the breath of fresh air that positive people bring with them?
3. Re-adjust comparison standards
We are mostly running a race against others, trying to set goals against other people. And in the process we feed the little beast that is self-doubt. Before we know it the tiny monster looms over our entire being and shrivels us up.
We spend a big chunk of our lives trying to turn our weaknesses into strengths, while our existing strengths languish in a corner...
I am trying to get the boys to be their own competitors rather than spending days feeling insecure in the presence of the kid who is the star of the class, or wins every medal there is in vocal music. Rather than that, how about setting our own standards independent of others? Everyone has their own set of skills, so rather than feeling terrible about ourselves on seeing others churn out fabulous work or achieving their weight loss target, we need to set our own goals that we pursue because we need to, and not because we are expected to.
4. Appreciate others
That is another tough one until you scale the fabricated wall of so-called self-respect. Then, it is a breeze. The other day I saw this lady in the most elegant skirt while I was running against time filling up the grocery basket at a store. I tested my own theory and stopped to compliment her. She beamed the warmest smile that lingered on for quite some time after we parted ways. It could have backfired and she could have walked away in a huff, denting my self-respect had I built it around other people's reactions in the first place. But the smile was worth the risk. Take that risk. Appreciate good things, work and achievements when you see them without letting any insecurity creep in. Just because I compliment someone does not mean I am saying, "You are better than me." And your self-respect has nothing to do with how others react to you.
5. Use your strengths
We spend a big chunk of our lives trying to turn our weaknesses into strengths, while our existing strengths languish in a corner, waiting for their turn to shine. Find out your signature character strengths (take a test here) and exercise them daily. Studies so far have shown that this exercise positively increases an individual's happiness levels.
6. Be grateful
Gratitude is not merely a philosophical concept or something we crib about our children not having enough of. It is a fairly easy to make gratitude—which goes a long way in generating positivity—a part of our lives.
Your dog loves you? Great! The family adores you? Perfect! If no one else, you have yourself. We already agreed on being our own first love, right?
On a friend's suggestion, I recently did an exercise during a workshop with children that can be easily emulated by all of us. We wrote the one thing we were grateful for in our lives and pinned it to the Gratitude Tree. By the end of the two weeks, the children were filled with awe on having so many things that they never really noticed or felt thankful for. So consciously look for and note down stuff you are thankful for. Chances are, you'll run out of paper.
7. Be open to constructive criticism
On a scale of one to 10, I probably am currently at a 2.37. The man would probably rate me at 1.2, but we shall leave the domestic squabble out of this for the moment. We often stay at extremes. Some of us shut ourselves to even a hint of criticism, and at the first instance draw our weapons and charge, or send hate mails.
Others take every word to heart and go to pieces—those very pieces that had taken a lifetime to put together. We need to sniff out constructive criticism and focus on it for a bit. This gets important since shutting our doors to all forms of criticism cannot be healthy if one aims to grow. So dwell on it, absorb the positives and discard the rest. As for criticism by trolls, that's best removed even from the recycle bin.
8. Face it. You cannot be in all good books
We try to please everyone—from our family members to the newspaper man. And when we fail at even one count, we break down, analyse ourselves, question ourselves, and torture ourselves. Accept the inevitable. You cannot be in all the good books there are. Some will scratch your name in charcoal. In that case, just hope that they use a good font and put you on top of the list. Other than that, let it go. Your dog loves you? Great! The family adores you? Perfect! If no one else, you have yourself. We already agreed on being our own first love, right?
It is an uphill task. These eight changes just about scratch the layers of negativity that we allow to settle on our souls, but the scratch is enough to let the sunshine in, let the warmth of positivity radiate, and definitely enough to allow us to smile for no reason at all. So next time someone looks at you sarcastically, passes a snide comment, or whispers behind your back, feel sorry for them because unknown to them, they are letting the devil of negativity grow behind them, ready to engulf them into the folds of its dark shadows. You, on the other hand radiate joy. So congratulate yourself for being positive, for loving yourself, and for being the carrier of an infectious smile. Go on and infect the world.