Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Negative Nancy

Gus being a moper.
For those who know me, you would probably identify me as a very positive person.  I'm extraverted, enthusiastic, and generally upbeat. If you come to me with a problem, I am more than happy to reassure you that everything is going to be okay.

You are great.  Whatever happened may be difficult, but you have the strength to get through it.  Nothing catastrophic is going to happen.  Your worries are overblown! Don't be silly.

But for some reason, I can't give myself the same positive outlook that I so easily give to my family, friends, acquaintances... hell, even strangers.

The tragedy is, if the situation involves me, then I always jump to the worst, most negative conclusions possible and assume that they are probably right.  It's like pessimism, but only self-directed, and with more enthusiasm!  Like, I picture a pessimist saying, "The worst outcome is going to happen. Oh well."  Instead I'm like, " THE WORST OUTCOME IS GOING TO HAPPEN.  PANIC MODE."

Take for instance this past weekend: I was finishing the last sessions of an "ACT Bootcamp" for high schoolers.  It was basically a two-day weekend review of what to expect on the college entrance exam and strategies to help them learn how to attack it, study effectively, and figure out what scores to aim for. 

In case you haven't been around high schoolers in a while, please let me remind you that they are terrifying.  Trying to reach them and gain their respect is hard for anyone, and taking up their weekend with information many of them don't process as relevant is a hard angle to work.

That being said, at the end of the class, I handed out surveys.  I want to learn what works and what doesn't.  I want to see if what I did was actually helpful.

Most of the surveys came back positive, saying thanks and identifying that the class helped them feel better prepared.  Some actually didn't identify a part of the class that they considered to be "least helpful," and most of the criticism was constructive. 

But there were a few that were all negative.  For example, a student who circled "No" that he did not feel better prepared after the class, said the most helpful part of this class was "the book,"  the least helpful part was "the lectures" and in other comments said "None".  Another student who circled "No" that he did not feel better prepared after the class actually wrote a number of lewd comments, one of the tamer of which was "I didn't find it helpful eccept (sic) for dat ASS!"

After reading over the surveys, I immediately fixated on the negative ones. What if everyone felt like this was a waste of their time and money?  Had I done a bad job?  Was it my fault that certain kids were loud, disinterested, and distracting?  Could I have been more engaging?  Were my strategies useless? Was I just a joke to these kids?  What if I wasn't invited back next year?  

Negative self-talk is a huge problem with anxiety and OCD, and I am the queen of it.  It's no surprise that seeing some negative survey results caused me to catastrophize.  I give other people the benefit of the doubt and see their problems with a level-head, but as soon as I am faced with an issue myself I can no longer hear that reasonable voice that says, "It's going to be okay."

Months and months ago, perhaps even years ago, my therapist gave me a list of questions to challenge these kinds of thoughts, but I still always seem to go down the route of doom and gloom.  Anything negative sent my way is immediately put under a microscope, and then amplified until it drowns out the positive.

Still, I know I have to keep challenging.  I guess it is funny to think about the opposite scenario:  What if I had gotten mostly negative reviews from the surveys, and then picked out the few positive ones and concluded that I was the best educator alive?  It's easy to see how out of touch with reality that would be.  

Framing it the opposite way helps show me how ridiculous I'm being.  But I'd be lying if I said that is where my mind goes first.  The thing is, you have to learn not to always follow your mind down the rabbit hole.  Try to take things out of the perspective of anxiety and see them another way.  You can triumph over your inner-"Negative Nancy".


  1. I think many of us are plagued by negative self-talk and it's a tough one to get over. I'm sure the OCD adds to that. I love how you turned it around at the end of this. The framing really does make sense.

    1. Thanks! It's crazy how much framing can change things. I need to get better at applying these skills though!