“If you want to pursue your dreams, do not tell them to your mother”

Stuck? Feeling hopeless? Unsure of your next step? For the almost two decades Idealist has been around, we’ve been asking you—our community—to tell us about the obstacles you face when trying to turn your good intentions into action. We’ve compiled a short list of the top-reported obstacles, and now we’re blogging about them one by one. This week, we present: people issues.

The following post was translated from Elena Martín’s original on Idealist’s Spanish language site, Idealistas

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Was that good advice, or are you shutting me down?
(photo courtesy CleftClips, Flickr Creative Commons)

You have an idea for a project—but you can’t seem to get going.

When you share your idea, some people tell you you’re just a dreamy idealist; some say you should straighten up and get serious; others might leave it at “you’re crazy.” You start to doubt yourself and don’t take any more steps forward.

Have you ever stopped to think how the people around you might be affecting your actions?

A friend of mine once said, “If you want to pursue your dreams, do not tell them to your mother.”

Clearly not all mothers are risk averse, but my friend’s point was that we’re more prone to act when we don’t hear well-meaning naysaying—things like, “Why don’t you just look for a good job with a stable company?” This can be the case especially when it comes to innovative social impact projects.

We may know in our hearts that going a safe-and-steady route won’t make us happy, but it can still be hard to brush off the dissenting opinions of others—especially when they’re people we really care about. We don’t want to disappoint them, and when they know us well, their advice can seem more meaningful.

So how can you determine who around you might be unwittingly shutting you down—offering you “wise” advice that actually aims to prevent you from acting on your dreams?

Think about whether you know anyone who fits these descriptions:

  • Loving family or friends who discourage you because they don’t want to see you suffer if your idea fails.
  • People who also have good intentions, but have never tried to act on them, or have tried and failed. They might be discouraging because they don’t want to be shown up.
  • Natural born critics who are negative in nature. They prefer to see obstacles at every turn, because if they saw opportunities instead, they themselves wouldn’t have excuses for not trying.

Even if you know some people with the above tendencies, the good news is that not everyone is like that. The world is full of positive people who are full of energy and don’t subscribe to blanket negativity.

These people don’t lose focus; they think and do; they have goals and listen to what people have to say, but don’t let discouraging comments lead them away from their committed path.

So ask this question: how can I surround myself with these positive people, instead of with negative critics (even if they mean well)? Who do I know that fills me with energy and motivation, rather than leaving me focused on the dark side?

Identify these people and commit to spending more time with them; you’ll see how your attitude and your world will begin to change. Good energy, just like bad energy, is contagious!

Do you have a story about a well-meaning person who inadvertently kiboshed your plans? Have you found success in surrounding yourself with overtly positive people? Tell us in the comments.

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Negativity gnawing at you? Shift your attention to break the cycle

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(Image courtesy bluekdesign on Flickr)

In a blog post titled “Overcoming Your Negativity Bias,” The Energy Project founder Tony Schwartz explains that we all come with a built-in evolutionary imperative to pay more attention to the bad things in life than the good—the lion chasing you, for example, rather than the nice feeling you had after eating a delicious dinner.

But now, in a time when most of us don’t have to worry about hungry lions, consciously shifting our attention away from negative thoughts and onto positive ones “such as joy, contentment, interest, pride and love pays huge dividends.”

This practice is sometimes referred to as “overcoming negativity bias.”

“It’s a simple concept,” he writes. “We construct our internal reality–our experience of the world—in large part by where we put our attention. More often than we recognize, we can make that choice consciously and intentionally. Doing so influences not just how we feel, but also how we perform, individually and collaboratively.”

In the world of ‘doing good,’ it can be especially easy to let negativity encroach: your program didn’t get the funding you were counting on, your star volunteer called out at the last minute, the wrong email went out to donors—and it’s hard not to take it all to heart because you’re passionate about what you do.

Try this quick tip: the next time you feel negativity creeping up and your energy grinding to a halt, take two minutes away from what you’re doing and write down everything you feel grateful for in the present moment.

Schwartz writes of his own experience with this attention-shifting practice: “Saccharine as it may sound… I got on a roll, and after just a couple of minutes, I was not only feeling remarkably better, but also far more able to concentrate on the task at hand.”

Might be worth a shot, huh?

Read Schwartz’s original post in its entirety for more insights about letting stifling feelings of negativity go.

What do you do to overcome negativity when you feel it coming on? Share your wisdom in the comments below.

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