Flammarion's Universum Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Flammarion’s Universum
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Everyday tons of emails mysteriously appear in my inbox.  Of course, that’s because I sign up for a lot of free stuff and don’t always remember to stop the follow-up emails.  Sometimes, in this flood of virtual junkmail, something shows up which is actually pretty cool.

Last month someone (I can’t give the reference or proper credit because I deleted the email, sorry) suggested a 10 day negativity fast.  That sounded cool, but I ignored it.  A day or two later another email came with the same suggestion (ignored again), then a bit later another one showed up.  So I figured the Universe was trying to give me a hint.  The next email which mentioned the Negativity Fast got opened, read, and followed.

The rules are simple.  First, decide to do the fast for 10 days, if you realize you screwed up it’s no big deal, just start on the 10 days again – the idea is not to “win” but to go 10 days without focusing on negativity.  Second, determine to stay aware of your thoughts; wear a rubber band on your wrist or place something weird on your desk to remind you to examine your thoughts and keep negativity at bay.  Third, we define “negativity” as lasting hurtful, judgmental, or angry feelings or thoughts which last for more than 5 seconds.  And fourth, consciously work to change the vocabulary we use away from negative connotations – for example, a “thoughtless” person becomes a “daydreamer”, and “problems” become “situations” needing solutions.  The trick is not to get irritated and frustrated because we screw up avoiding negativity, but to catch ourselves using it and train ourselves to think in paths away from negative associations.

I found that the first couple tries lasted only a day or two, then I was able to get through the whole 10 days.  Someone at work said something about how “un-sarcastic” I was and if I was sick, so I told her about the negativity fast and she tried it, too.  The most interesting thing was the effect those replacement words had on my thinking.  Sometimes I had to really think to come up with a positive word to replace the one which came quickly to mind, but the exercise itself really made me think.  I did this off and on through September, and find that it’s a lot easier to react positively to things which before filled me with irritation – or at least be aware of my reactions and change them.

Why bother?  The idea of “focus expands” keeps coming to mind.  What we give energy to grows, so when we focus on the idiot driver on the way to work it colors the rest of an awful day.  I really don’t think all the dumb drivers stay home now, but when I respond with thoughts like “He must really be in a hurry too” or “I sure hope she stays safe” and dismiss the incident, the cloud of a near miss doesn’t hang over my day.  And of course this works for a lot of other things.

When we judge another person we’re actually judging our projection of them – we react to the construct of the person we’ve built in our own minds.  So, in a very real sense our judgment of another is a judgment of our self.  And, in that respect I really enjoyed the Negativity Fast – I like giving myself the benefit of the doubt.

Thomas Cole's Pilgrim at the End of His Journey Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Thomas Cole’s Pilgrim at the End of His Journey
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons