Defusing Negativity LandminesMarch 22 , 2012

Do you arrive at work every day angry from your commute?  Do you end up yelling in frustration every morning, getting your kids out the door?  Does a toxic coworker consistently bring down your mood? 

Many of us have these kinds of negativity landmines in our life:  events, situations or people that consistently and predictably affect us in a negative way.  The good news is that once you recognize the pattern and take a conscious approach to it, you can often make changes that significantly reduce their chance of destroying your hour, day or week.  Here are some tips:

Identify your landmines

The most important thing you can do is identify those situations that repeatedly take a toll on your emotional state.  Take a few minutes to reflect on your daily routines – is there a part of your day you dread?  Something you wish you could avoid all together? 

Review the past couple weeks for data, and keep a mindful eye on your emotions for the next few days.  Are there times in your day when you consistently get sad, angry, embarrassed, scared or stressed?   Pay attention and see what’s causing it.  Just identifying those landmines is the first and, for many of us, most important step.

Get in a neutral space

Scientific studies show that we do our most accurate self-assessments and come up with the best solutions, in a neutral or positive state.  So before you start developing a plan to defuse these landmines, check in with where you are emotionally.  If you are still in the midst of frustration, take a breather, or find a healthy distraction otherwise, your “solution” may cause more damage than the original landmine!  Come back to the issue and start brainstorming ideas when you don’t have those skewed negativity lenses on. 

Change something

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

          – Anonymous (sometimes attributed to Albert Einstein and Ben Franklin).

We often lock ourselves into our misery unnecessarily.  While you can spend endless hours dreaming of telecommuting or getting your boss fired or not having to do those TPS reports, there are things you can do right now to lessen the impact.  Barbara Fredrickson, in her book Positivity, shares a lot of ideas on how to reduce the negative effects of these landmines.  Here are some ideas to get those creative juices flowing.

Avoid it: Do you notice you get angry, frustrated or depressed when watching the news, certain movies or playing video games?  Is the education or entertainment benefit worth the cost of feeling so crappy?  Read more about the science around violent media here.

Do you end up running into the same negative coworker at the same time each day?  Perhaps there is a different way to walk to your office?  Maybe you can park somewhere different?  Go to lunch at a different time?  Figure out if there’s a way to just walk around the emotional landmine.

Do more preparationMy wife and I used to regularly leave the house frustrated and angry because the kids took so long to get ready for school.  After the 50th repetition of ‘Put on your shoes’ at ever increasing volumes, everyone in the house was tense and crabby.  This concept is masterfully expressed in this youtube video So we implemented a checklist before bed which had the kids lay out their clothes and make their lunches the night before.   While this hasn’t eliminated all morning frustration, it’s amazing what a difference these extra preparation steps made for us. 

Change the Meaning: My commute to work used to be a stress-fest.  I’d think through all the things I had to do that day, over and over.  When I realized how useless this incessant chatter was, I decided to change the purpose of my commute.  Rather than planning, it became a time to learn. I started listening to audiobooks on things I found interesting – lots of positive psychology stuff at the time.  (BTW, check out which is essentially Netflix for audiobooks for a less expensive way to upload get access to audiobooks).  Suddenly I was looking forward to my commute instead of dreading it. 

Some friends of mine use their commute as a time to practice mindfulness or gratitude. Still others find a friend to drive with or schedule calls with distant friends and turn their commute into social and connection time. 

Think about how you can change the meaning of your landmine situation:   Is that torturous, political staff meeting a chance to practice loving-kindness or empathetic listening? Can folding endless piles of laundry be a chance to explore new music?  Get creative and have fun with it.

And if your landmine surrounds specific people, head back into the archives from the holidays here.

Potential emotional landmines litter your daily landscape, but you can minimize their effect by trying these techniques.  So identify and defuse those landmines before they destroy the positive mind-space you’re working hard to create!

Eric Karpinski

The Happiness Coach

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