Positive Thoughts, Positive Experiences… Could it be that simple?

In my internet travels this evening, I came across this gem of a post on Dave Moulton’s Bike Blog:

Fear and Negativity: Don’t even think about it

Dave says:

I quit watching the news on TV because it is so negative and depressing…

The problem is, being constantly fed a diet of fear and negativity; it creeps into people’s lives and their everyday thinking. We speculate on the worst that could happen.

I see it on the various bike forums and blogs, where cyclists recall the near misses, and their run-ins with aggressive drivers. The problem is, the person posting is re-living the event, and causing others to re-live their bad experiences. We cannot erase bad events that have happened in the past, but we can learn from them and move on.

Is it any wonder that some, who would ride a bike, are afraid to ride on the road? A person might wonder why anyone rides there at all, if it is that bad. The truth is it is not that bad, if you look at the situation from a more positive viewpoint.

One thing I’ve had to work on—and struggle with, from time to time—is remembering that the negative experiences are a tiny fraction of all interactions on the road.

It is the way our little brains are wired. It’s the fault of the Amygdala—the primal part of our brain designed to protect us from predators. Its job is to place emphasis on anything that feels threatening.

In the book, Social Intelligence, Daniel Goldman writes:

When someone dumps their toxic feelings on us … they activate in us circuitry for those very same distressing emotions. Their act has potent neurological consequences: emotions are contagious.

Beyond what transpires in the moment, we can retain a mood that stays with us long after the direct encounter ends–an emotional afterglow.

Goldman discusses how we can change our moods and positively affect the moods of others with our behavior, even our facial expressions.

When I make you frown, I evoke in you a touch of worry; when you make me smile, I feel happy. In this clandestine exchange, emotions pass from person to person, from outside to inside–hopefully for the best.

A downside of emotional contagion comes when we take on a toxic state simply by being around the wrong person at the wrong time.

As cyclists, we’re much more vulnerable to the moods of others around us on the road. We’re exposed—no protective shell, no climate-controlled isolation. When some motorist decides to barf up his negative energy on us, it often feels brutal even without a physical threat.

One thing that’s helped me (Fred U has made this comment as well) is smiling and waving. From the start, a smiling interaction is disarming and usually brings a smile in return. It’s harder in the face of negativity, but if I can manage to smile, it does sometimes keep my anger from taking hold. And it makes the incident easier to forget.

Another important thing is attitude. As Dave says in his blog post:

Something else I have learned; the things that annoy me as I go through life have a tendency to keep repeating. I try to recognize these re-occurring annoyances, observe them as such, but try not to get angry. After doing this a few times, the annoyance stops re-occurring.

There is a tendency to find whatever we look for. If we look for the worst in people, this is most likely what we will find. Turn that around and realize that there are more good people in this world than bad.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you’ll never be harassed. But I have noticed that the better my expectations, the better my commuting experiences. I’ve also noticed that if a string of negative moments makes me feel cranky and negative, it seems to continue until I remember to “reset” myself.

Dave’s method…

I try to fill my mind with good positive thoughts before I even set out on a ride; I have no control over the thoughts and actions of others, only those of my own.

…really does seem to work pretty well.