Psychologists have long known about the “negativity bias”—the notion that our negative comments and moments have an outsized impact on our psyche. This means even a single online comment or snide remark from a friend has a profound effect on us. And, if we’re not careful, those comments can infiltrate our own thinking. When freelance writer and lifestyle blogger Melissa Sonico started her line of mixed-material necklaces, she discovered it was her friendships that burdened her passion:
To put it short, I’ve really learned who my friends are in this process and, unfortunately, who they aren’t. I’ve found out that any little bit of success can produce spite and competition, and none of that is for me so I’ve had to streamline my friendships… I’m so lucky to be part of an immensely supportive and inspiring community of makers and creative. Just having their encouragement and help has been integral in my success… A support network is vital. Your family, friends, peers; having people behind you and cheering you on is so so important.
Design entrepreneurs Sean McCabe and Ben Toalson compare this scenario to a hole in the ground. The naysayers are at the bottom of the hole, you are standing by the edge and your support community is above ground.
If you’re hanging around people that are in a hole, it’s much more likely they’re going to pull you down than you are going to pull them out. That doesn’t mean we can’t minister to all the people in holes. When you’re with negative people, go on the offensive… Go in and plant the seed that might turn into a vine that will help them climb out of that hole. Don’t stick around too long and try to pull everyone out because you might get dragged in… When you hang out near or in the hole with those people, I imagine you’ve got one hand reaching up with other people outside of the hole holding on to your hand that are ready to hoist you back out when you’re ready.
If possible, McCabe and Toalson suggest you cut these people out of your life completely. Unfortunately, this cannot be done with everyone (such as some family members). You can, however, scale down the time you spend with the Debbie Downers in your life.
McCabe recommends offsetting any negativity by a factor of 5 (10 hours of negativity = 50 hours of positivity). This may seem like a lot, but remember the weight that even one negative comment can carry. When you are with negative people, be on the offensive. Understand that even if they don’t say discouraging things, their negative mindset may rub off on you. Don’t go looking for confirmation and inspiration. Be the inspiration. Ask about what they enjoy doing, when they did it last, and how they can find more time for it. Then find a support network that can inspire you.