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How Focusing on the Positives Can Be Counterproductive

How Focusing on the Positives Can Be Counterproductive

Whenever something bad happens or we’re feeling down, people will often tell us to keep our chin up—to look for the silver lining and keep focusing on the positives. The truth is that sometimes this is unhelpful and patronizing. When we are feeling sad or angry, when we’ve been through a rough time, we need our feelings validated and we need to acknowledge the negativity in a healthy way in order to move forward.

That doesn’t mean that we should wallow in bad feelings and harbor destructive tendencies. Instead we need to look for opportunities to see the bright side in healthy and constructive ways. We also need to give attention to negativity and address the things that are uncomfortable and unpleasant.

It’s important to find healthy ways of focusing on the positives.

When we face adversity, it’s vital to keep things in perspective so that we don’t spiral into depression and despair. Having an attitude of appreciation and gratitude about the things that are going right will help to balance our negative feelings. A good way to do this is to consider two things. Firstly, things can always be worse. Secondly, if things can’t get any worse, they can only get better.

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We should maintain awareness of privilege and ask ourselves, in the scheme of things, how bad is our situation really? Does what we are going through impact our physical safety and our health? Will it change our life dramatically in the long term? Or is it a minor hiccup, only causing us temporary discomfort and inconvenience? Often our emotional reactions are exaggerated because we are accustomed to a certain lifestyle or pattern and when things go wrong and our comfort zone is compromised, we can overreact. That is not to say that our initial feelings aren’t valid, but a brief moment of reflection will allow us to separate our immediate and reactive response from what is actually an appropriate and warranted reaction in a given situation.

It is precisely in the face of misfortune when experiencing joy is vital. There should be no guilt or shame for taking pleasure in the things that make us happy, even when a situation calls for grief or sadness. Laughter is indeed the best medicine and reminding ourselves about the things we love and the things that make us happy, in the midst of a crisis, is a good way to even out our emotions and help bring things into perspective. It gives us the relief and motivation we need to energize ourselves to get through hardship.

Living in the moment will take us away from the response to a bad situation that is often playing out in our minds rather than in reality. Often the psychological effects of a run of bad luck can be very powerful and crippling, stopping us from doing even simple day-to-day activities. Having a distraction from the drama and focusing on the positives in a healthy way, is best achieved by paying attention to the present. Sharpening our awareness of exactly what we are doing and where we are right now can be a potent strategy to take our mind off things.

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The good things in life are already good; let’s not taint them.

While putting things in perspective may inevitably mean making comparisons, we should be careful to avoid taking pleasure in others’ suffering. Schadenfreude is a German word meaning literally “harm-joy.” It refers to the feelings of happiness we can experience when we see others in a worse situation than ourselves. This is unnecessary and counterproductive. When we take pleasure in others’ suffering to feel good about ourselves, we inevitably assume others are doing the same to us when we find ourselves in crisis. Our attitude towards others will always inform how we think people see us too.

Instead of indulging in our privilege to boost our mood or self esteem, it is more constructive and kinder to understand our privilege and use it to promote empathy. Thinking about the good things in our life in comparison to the injustices others experience is important—not to serve the purpose of giving us satisfaction or pleasure, but instead to give us clarity and context. It should make us want to alleviate the suffering of others.

Altruism is cyclical. The more we connect with others and contribute to their well being, the more we find ourselves on the receiving end of the same generosity and affection and furthermore, the more we want to participate in the exchange. That doesn’t mean ignoring or shying away from trouble or ill feeling. It simply means using our common humanity and our shared experiences, even when they are painful, to raise each other up.

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Focusing on the positives and staying present shouldn’t result in a refusal to reflect on our past experiences or look forward to brighter horizons. Being mindful and present doesn’t mean disconnecting from the one thing that is unique to our human species: contemplation. In fact, mindfulness enhances this quality. The clearer our mind, the less clouded we are by irrationality, the more we are able to make sense of our past experiences in order to move forward.

While focusing on the positives in a self serving way can be counterproductive, we don’t need to spend our time dwelling on the negatives in order to extract value from our tribulations. Acknowledging our disappointment, feelings of betrayal, sadness, anger, jealousy and frustration is healthy, but it’s not necessary to feel obligated to indulge in ill feeling or lament injustice. It is perfectly normal and acceptable to respond appropriately to any situation that upsets us without needing to over analyze every aspect of it. However, to ignore these feelings or distract ourselves from dealing with them will only cause them to fester and grow. The result is a destructive and burdensome force that could have been prevented and avoided.

The negatives need our close attention.

Learning life’s lessons means living a life of complexity and diversity. We need the ebb and flow; the ups and downs to be able to make that distinction. How will we ever truly know and appreciate happiness if we never experience loneliness or sadness?

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Our endurance and resilience only flourishes when we are challenged and this in turn compels us to contribute and participate in life. It inspires us to want to make a difference.

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Diane Koopman

Writer, Author, Novelist, Self-Publisher

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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

Have you ever walked into a room and felt like your nerves simply couldn’t handle it? Your heart beats fast, you start to sweat, and you feel like all eyes are on you (even if they’re really not). This is just one of the many ways that being self-conscious can rear its ugly head.

You may not even realize you’re self-conscious, and you may be wondering, “What does self-conscious mean?” That’s a good place to start.

This article will define self-consciousness, show how practically everyone has faced it at one point or another, and give you tips to avoid it.

What Does Self-Conscious Mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, self-conscious is defined as “conscious of one’s own acts or states as belonging to or originating in oneself.”[1]

Not so bad, right? There’s another definition, though — one that speaks more to what you’re going through: “feeling uncomfortably conscious of oneself as an object of the observation of others.” For those of us who regularly deal with extreme self-consciousness, that second definition sounds about right.

There are many different ways self-consciousness can spring up. You may feel self-conscious around people you know, like your family members or closest friends. You may feel self-conscious at work, even though you spend hours every week around your co-workers. Or you may feel self-conscious when out in public and surrounded by strangers. However, you probably don’t feel self-conscious when you’re home alone.

How to Stop Being Too Self-Conscious

When you’re in the throes of self-consciousness, it’s nearly impossible to remember how to stop feeling that way. That’s why it’s so important to prepare ahead of time, when you’re feeling ready to tackle the problem instead of succumbing to it.

Here are a variety of ways to feel better about yourself and stop thinking about how others see you.

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1. Ask Yourself, “So What?”

One way to banish negative, self-conscious thoughts is to do just that: banish them.

The next time you walk into a room and feel your face getting red, think to yourself, “So what?” How much does it really matter if people don’t like how you look or act? What’s the worst that could happen?

Most of the time, you’ll find that you don’t have a good answer to this question. Then, you can immediately start assigning such thoughts less importance. With self-awareness, you can acknowledge that your negative thoughts are present and realize that you don’t agree with them.[2] They’re just thoughts, after all.

2. Be Honest

A lie that self-consciousness might tell is that there’s one way to act or feel. Honestly, though, everyone else is just figuring life out as well. There isn’t a preferred way to show up to an event, gathering, or public place. What you can do is be honest with your feelings and thoughts.[3]

If you feel offended by something someone says, you don’t have to smile to be polite or laugh to fit in with the crowd. Instead, you can politely say why you disagree or excuse yourself and find a group of people who you relate to better. If you’re nervous, don’t overcompensate by trying to look relaxed and casual — it’ll be obvious you’re putting on a front. Instead, nothing is more endearing than saying, “I’m a little nervous!” to a room of people who probably feel the exact same way.

On the same note, if you don’t understand why someone wants you to do something, question it. You can do this at work, at home, or even with people you don’t know well. Nobody should force you to do something you don’t want to do.

Also, even if you’re willing to do what’s asked of you, there’s nothing wrong with asking for more clarification. People will realize that you’re not a person to be bossed around.

3. Understand Why You’re Struggling at Work

Being self-conscious at work can get in the way of your daily responsibilities, your relationships with co-workers, and even your career as a whole. If you’re facing some sort of conflict but you’re too nervous to speak up, you may be at the whim of what happens to you instead of taking some control.

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If you’re usually confident at work, you may be wondering where this new self-consciousness is coming from. It’s possible that you’re dealing with burnout.[4] Common signs are anxiety, fatigue and distraction, all of which can leave you feeling under-confident.

4. Succeed at Something

When you create success in your life, it’s easier to feel confident[5] and less self-conscious. If you feel self-conscious at work, finish the project that’s been looming over your head. If you feel self-conscious in the gym, complete an advanced workout class.

Exposing yourself to what you’re scared of and then succeeding at it in some way (even just by finishing it) can do wonders for your self-esteem. The more confidence you build, the more likely you are to have more success in the future, which will create a cycle of confidence-building.

5. Treat All of You — Not Just Your Self-Consciousness

Trying to solve your self-consciousness alone may not treat the root of the problem. Instead, take a well-rounded approach to lower your self-consciousness and build confidence in areas where you may struggle.

Even professional counselors are embracing this holistic type of treatment[6] because they feel that the health of the mind and body are inextricably linked. This approach combines physical, spiritual, and psychological components. Common activities and treatments include meditation, yoga, massage, and healthy changes to diet and exercise.

If much of this is new to you, it will pay to give it a try. You never know how it will impact you.

If you’re feeling self-conscious about how your body looks, a massage that makes you feel great could boost your confidence. If you try a new workout, you could have something exciting to talk about the next time you’re in a group setting.

Putting yourself in a new situation and learning that you can get through it with grace can give you the confidence to get through all sorts of events and nerve-wracking moments.

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6. Make the Changes That Are Within Your Control

Let’s say you walk into a room and you’re self-conscious about how you look. However, you may have put a lot of time and effort into your outfit. Even though it may stand out, this is how you have chosen to express yourself.

You have to work on your internal confidence, not your external appearance. There’s nothing to change other than your outlook.

On the other hand, maybe there’s something that you don’t like about yourself that you can change. For example, maybe you hate how a birthmark on your face looks or have varicose veins that you think are unsightly. If you can do something about these things, do it! There’s nothing wrong with changing your appearance (or skills, education, etc.) if it’s going to make you more confident.

You don’t have to accept your current situation for acceptance’s sake. There’s no award for putting up with something you hate. Confidence is also required to make changes that are scary, even if they’re for the better. Plus, it may be an easier fix than you thought. For example, treating varicose veins doesn’t have to involve surgery — sometimes simple compression stockings will take care of the problem.[7]

7. Realize That Everyone Has Awkward Moments

Everyone has said something awkward to someone else and lived to tell the tale. We’ve all forgotten somebody’s name or said, “You too!” when the concession stand girl says to enjoy our movie. Not only are these things uber-common, but they’re not nearly as embarrassing as you feel they are.

Think about how you react when someone else does something awkward. Do you think, “Wow, that person’s such a loser!” or do you think, “What a relief, I’m not the only one who does that.” Chances are good that’s the same reaction others have to you when you stumble.

Remember, self-consciousness is a state of mind that you have control over. You don’t have to feel this way. Do what you need to in order to build your confidence, put your self-consciousness in perspective, and start exercising your “I feel awesome about myself” muscle. It’ll get easier with time.

When Is Being Self-Conscious a Good Thing?

Self-consciousness can sometimes be a good thing[8], but you have to take the awkwardness and nerves out of it.

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In this case, “self-aware” is a much better term. Knowing how you come off to people is an excellent trait; you’ll be able to read a room and understand how what you do and say affects others. These are fantastic skills for people work and personal relationships.

Self-awareness helps you dress appropriately for the occasion, tells you that you’re talking too loud or not loud enough, and guides a conversation so you don’t offend or bore anyone.

It’s not about being someone you’re not — that can actually have adverse effects, just like self-consciousness. Instead, it’s about turning up certain aspects of yourself to perform well in the situation.

Final Thoughts

When you’re self-conscious, you’re constantly battling with yourself in an effort to control how other people view you. You try to change yourself to suit what you think other people want to see.

The truth, though, is that you can’t actually control how other people view you — and you may not even be correct about how they view you in the first place.

Being confident doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it happens in small steps as you slowly build your confidence and say “no” to your self-consciousness. It also requires accepting that you’re going to feel self-conscious sometimes, and that’s okay.

Sometimes worrying that there is a problem can be more stressful than the problem itself. Feeling bad for feeling self-conscious can be more troublesome than simply feeling it and getting on with the day.

Forgive yourself for being human and make the small changes that will lead to better confidence in the future.

More Tips for Improving Your Self-Esteem

Featured photo credit: Cata via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Merriam-Webster: Self-conscious
[2] Bustle: 7 Tips On How To Stop Feeling Self-Conscious
[3] Marc and Angel: 10 Things to Remember When You Feel Unsure of Yourself
[4] Bostitch: How to Protect Small Businesses From Burnout
[5] Psychology Today: Self-conscious? Get Over It
[6] Wake Forest University: Embracing Holistic Medicine
[7] Center for Vein Restoration: What Causes Venous Ulcers, and How Are They Treated?
[8] Scientific American: The Pros and Cons of Being Self-Aware

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