Are You a Jerk? Human Toxins and Their Antidotes

mountain topHave you noticed the number of articles bombarding us with conflicting information about the possible toxic effect of using plastic bottles manufactured with the industrial chemical BPA (bisphenol A)?

While we’re waiting for the jury of scientists to return with a definitive conclusion, I’d like to spotlight a more immediate threat to our well-being and emotional health-human toxins. Poisonous social contagions are invisible, hard to measure and difficult to defend against. Yet they can easily pollute our outlook and sabotage our efforts to make positive lifestyle changes, including weight loss.

I’m referring to the words we say to ourselves and the words others say to us. Just as a smile can lift our spirits, a self-critical, undermining thought or an unexpected outburst of anger can suck the joy right out of the day.

The inner voice we hear-the one no one else can hear-is speaking to us most of our waking hours. The voice explains what is going on and how we should react. The voice emerged when we were children and is ever present.

In his book Hard Optimism, Price Pritchett asserts that we recognize our internal negative thoughts about 30 percent of the time; the preponderance of our negative thoughts remains outside our awareness but nonetheless influences our outlook and the choices we make. Gaining mastery over the voice requires that we step back, analyze its perspective and, where appropriate, update its messages to more positive ones. If all else fails, we can thank our inner jerk for sharing and ignore the message.

Our internal negative thoughts, however, are only one source of toxins. Additional potent sources are those ingested through contact with poisonous personalities. The bullying boss who rails at his employees, the speeding driver who weaves in and out of traffic during rush hour, the hurtful comments of a rebellious teenager or a cutting comment from a spouse can easily poison our mood.

Toxins from within as well as the ones others target at us can paralyze. The remedy is to be prepared. Arm yourself with your own pharmacy of antidotes. Here are strategies I use and recommend to train and condition the mind to remain balanced, stable and mentally fit (FIT):

F      Find alternative ways to interpret the negative event. Seek to find something positive in the experience. Focus on improving yourself rather than on obsessing over the shortcomings of the person who wronged you. Laugh it off-some encounters aren’t worth fretting over.

I     Invest your time in a constructive, creative effort rather than in regret for the past. Resist the impulse to get even. A well-lived life and a tranquil persona are the best responses to others’ dysfunctional behavior. When difficulties arise, consider the event an opportunity to practice your newfound equipoise.

T     Take the time to allow the full range of emotions to surface. Being present and aware on a moment-to-moment basis, even during the tough moments, speeds up our ability to throw off toxins. Take a minivacation-read a book, listen to your favorite music or go for a walk. Tell your friends and family if you are having a tough time and need some extra tender-loving care. Few of us get through life without occasional rough patches. Allow others to comfort you.

You can also practice social selectivity-that is, you can remove people who regularly wreak havoc from your world. Granted, this step is a difficult one to take-particularly if a friend or relative is involved-but extreme behavior calls for an extreme solution.

Managing our internal voice and sustaining an optimistic outlook are mental muscles you can strengthen with practice. When you are tackling weight loss and fitness, a positive mind-set is the most valuable tool you can have. I work hard to guard mine.

What are your strategies?

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