Eliminate the Negative

Relaxed wrist

Language is important. Negative language can have a powerful effect on who we are talking to. And probably an effect that we really don’t want.

Let me start with a real life example.

I was practicing qigong with a new teacher. We didn’t really know each other and it was just practice, not a class. I was following his movements and when we got to one of the movements he said “Don’t bend your wrists like that.” All qi flow stopped. What should I do? Fortunately, I remembered another teacher that when making a similar movement had suggested in a gentle and general way to “relax the joints and flex the wrists just slightly.” What a difference the two approaches had on me. In the latter I was given a better way. In my head I was saying “Yes, that is nice. It feels good.”

Negative statements frequently leave us with nothing to do. There is no action to take. It leaves us feeling powerless. Positive statements that suggest an action give us something to do. When we are about to make a negative statement we can take an extra second and think of a way to say what we want positively, in a gentle and encouraging way. Instead of telling a child not to run around, we can tell them to please walk. I heard a mother tell a group of rowdy teenagers in a grocery store to please be mindful of the people around them and behave in a courteous manner. Using positive statements make us feel better as well. It’s a kinder way. Using positive words opens our hearts.

Next we need to apply this to the way we talk to ourselves. Be positive and kind. Tell yourself what you want to do, how you want to act.

I started thinking about this subject a long time ago, but recently at TEDx Maui 2013 there were two talks related in some way to this idea.

Kim Rosen: Remembering Our First Language: Poetry As Medicine For Our Time

Jenelle Peterson: Engaging Students In Conversations That Matter


22 thoughts on “Eliminate the Negative

  1. Mahalo Eli. I really try to get this way of thinking across to dog people who I work with. Telling a dog “no” means nothing really. It’s negative and does nothing to help the situation.

    Giving a dog the thing you want them to do is much better. A simple “sit” allows a dog to do something, get positive reinforcement for it and become quite happy doing the job right. Wag! And usually a good feeling from dog person too. No, means nothing except negative and that feeling also goes all the around to everyone involved.

  2. Yes, providing alternative instruction rather than correction is the only way to go. I have a personal rule–that if I”m going to criticize something, I have to be willing to offer a way to fix it.
    It keeps my mouth shut except for useful commentary.
    Toby Neal

    1. Unless someone is in danger what is the point in saying something negative. I talk a whole lot less since starting to think this way too.

  3. Once you start it, it is not that difficult to keep it up because the response you get is so positive. And it helps you stay in a positive frame of mind. Thanks for visiting.

  4. So true, constructive criticism (although I hate that word) is the way to go. Helping us learn a better or easier way focuses on what we have control over. I do feel many of us still have a child inside that is worried we will anger someone or find ourselves embarrassed because we did something “wrong”. Beautiful post Eli.

    1. Thanks Tania. I look at it as providing an alternative positive action. It may even be looking on the bright side. Criticism always starts negatively. The child never goes away.

    1. Unfortunately, we all tend react to those closest to us with the least patience. But I do find if I can remain positive it usually works to my advantage. The more I practice the easier it is. It is hard when the other persons reactions are negative.

  5. I agree a wonderful reminder. Our choice of words very much effects those listening while on our tour. Our guides go through a rigorous training schedule that includes dealing with situations similar to what you described. I think it really makes a difference.

  6. This is one of my favorite posts by you, Eli! It’s so important to be positive and encourage positivity with speach and actions. I’m finding that to be very important in teaching my baby girl too.

  7. There’s a lot of great stuff in the world. I remember a stirring controversy many years ago was when someone made a cartoon of Godzilla vs Bambi. It really made a huge buzz given that we didn’t have the Internet back then (no Facebook, no Twitter). Today the news is filled with so many strong stories that are usually negative and make people feel helpless and dependent on someone or something to bail them out. The good news is that in our communities around the world, there’s a lot of good news and here on Maui, we’ve got more than our share of great stuff to talk about and some things we can fix with positive discussion and awareness. Thanks for the stirring post Eli… Aloha

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