What you see is what you get could be rephrased as what you don’t see, you can’t enjoy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched one of my kids or grandkids struggle to find a toy that’s right in front of them. It’s always funny because I can see it so clearly while they overlook the toy with a blank stare. If they continue to overlook it, they don’t get to play with it.
In a similar way, I sometimes find myself seeing every single problem around me and failing to see what’s going well. It’s right under my nose, but I look past it to the next problem. I know I’m not the only one. I have seen friends, family, and clients do the same thing.
And why wouldn’t we? For some of us, life has provided inescapable circumstances that made it necessary to guard against a next inevitable outburst, attack, cruelty, or manipulation. We learned to be astute detectives of negative energy. We can feel the slightest shift in tone, mood, tension, set of a jaw, or raise of an eyebrow.
When we have repeatedly been blamed for someone else’s mood or behavior, we learn to personalize the negativity. Again, why wouldn’t we?
We meet each day with a foundational slant toward self-protection. Self-protection can be a part of self-care. But it’s only healthy when balanced by an ability to recognize and absorb the positive, to solve problems rather than just avoid them, and to have the capacity to step back and gain perspective.
This can be difficult when a day bombards us with things that are noisy, annoying, frustrating, unfair, difficult, and stressful. It’s easy to get sucked into a vortex of disagreeable, anger-making people and events, especially when we are tired, overworked, underappreciated, sick, or suffering from trauma or loss. Once we’ve been sucked in, it becomes even more difficult to see anything beyond what’s wrong in every relationship or situation.
And it can be hard to argue with our position because our complaints may be on point. Customer service should be more knowledgeable and helpful. Bosses should treat all employees fairly. Police shouldn’t profile. Minorities shouldn’t experience discrimination. White people should get the same consequences as POC. Rich people should be held accountable for unethical or illegal behavior. Policies should protect the vulnerable.
For anyone whose vortex pulls toward self-limiting thoughts, those may also feel true. Statistically, it may be less likely for you to get your dream job because of your race or your age. You may be less likely to get into the college of your choice if your parents cannot donate to its Foundation.
It isn’t unusual for someone to get caught in a cycle of negativity. And given the current failures of so many systems and institutions, it can be more difficult to extract ourselves.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to help change that.
Start by recognizing that what you see is what you get. When you focus on negative. You’ll only get negative. The good may be right there, but you will not get the benefit of it because you are focused elsewhere.
Collectively, we know this. How many movies have you seen where a character overlooks someone offering love, kindness, loyalty, and dependability in favor of someone who does not?
Find a token that reminds you to notice each small kindness or lucky break in your days. A bracelet, ring, watch, desk ornament, screen saver, bookmark, plant – anything will work. It just needs to be something that will pull your attention regularly.
If it helps you, keep a tally. You can do this as a text thread to yourself. Create a new contact on your phone just for this. Each time someone smiles at you, holds the door, tells you they appreciate something you did, apologizes, compliments you, helps you lift something, add it to your tally. Add up the score each day or each week. Sit with that number and allow yourself to see how it makes you feel.
Practice opposites. This is fun for rebellious people like me. We like flipping things anyway. Here’s how that may look. When you have a thought like: I won’t get that job because…(negative, negative, negative), flip it around to an opposite idea: I will get that job because I’m willing to work harder than anyone else (Even if you can’t bring yourself to say you’re the most experienced, talented, or best candidate, you have the ability to exert effort and claim that as a reason to hire you.) Trust me, I’ve hired a lot of people. I’ll take the employee who works hard over the most talented any day!!!
Question yourself. No one has to know you’re doing this. Just do it as an exercise. When your self-talk says: My boss always wants me to fail, question that thought. Begin by stating this as a belief rather than fact: I believe my boss wants me to fail. Follow that with this question: Do I know for a fact my belief is true?
Unless your boss has told you or someone else in the organization, they want you to fail and unless you have seen that in writing or heard a recording, you don’t know it for a fact. You have that perception, but it could be wrong. Stick with that possibility for a minute and ask this question: If I am wrong and they don’t want me to fail, what would I do differently?
Turn the answer into action. Do whatever it is you would do differently in response to the above question as an experiment. Commit to it for a period of time (at least a month) and notice the results.
Let yourself be surprised. Since you’re doing an experiment for yourself, you will not lose face if you’re wrong so let yourself be surprised by whatever happens. If things get worse, you just learned you need to get out of a situation that’s never going to let you fill your potential. If things get better, whoo-hoo you win! There’s really no downside to this.
Trust yourself. I know you may read this and say I am trusting myself. That’s how I know things are bad. True on one level. But that’s only one level. When you fully trust yourself, you’ll be able to set that aside and know you can be okay even when things are bad.
And the more you learn to trust those parts of yourself that may not have had the safety to develop, the more you will recognize you can be more than okay. You can achieve, inspire, be your best self…thrive.
The good is there. You just have to see it. What you see is what you get.