If you’ve ever seen the movie, Steel Magnolias, you might remember the scene where the very grumpy character, Ouiser, says, “I’m not crazy, M’Lynn. I’ve just been in a bad mood for 40 years”. It’s one of those movie lines that makes you laugh, but also makes you think about someone, just like that character, who seems to be in a bad mood a lot of the time.
While it’s a funny movie scene, it can also be very relatable. With everything we have going on in our lives, it can feel like things just keep piling up on us so much that one day we wake up and realize that we’re the one that’s been in a bad mood for what seems like 40 years.
This realization can be jarring and uncomfortable, especially if someone else points it out to you. It can also be confusing, where you’re not exactly sure when or how it started, but your negative attitude has become a normal part of your day, week, month, or longer.
Your negative attitude doesn’t even have to be directed outward towards other people or situations because unfortunately, it is often directed inwardly towards yourself more than anything or anyone else. The “I’m not good enough” and “I’ll never be good enough” sentences we have swirling around in our brains can become as familiar as an old, comfy sweater.
Besides the negative, self-defeating things we might say about ourselves, a negative attitude can show up other ways – in the glass-half-empty assumptions we make about things, the negative comparisons we make with others, the negative ruminating we do about the past, the disempowering beliefs we have about others, our habitual blaming other people, places, and things for how we feel, as well as our fear of failure or making mistakes.
The issue is that once a negative attitude finds a warm, comfortable place to settle into, it can be challenging to vacate it and get rid of it. Unfortunately, the more your negative attitude persists, the more you’ll look for others who think and feel the same way, making it even more challenging to see things differently.
It might sound silly, but the often dysfunctional way we relate to others, whether it’s by gossiping or sharing a similar negative attitude, can become a very strong, but unhelpful way that we bond with others. And let’s be honest – if you got kicked out of the negative attitude club, there would be a dozen or more people ready, willing, and able to take your place.
Unfortunately, negativity is just so pervasive today. With so many of us constantly focusing on what’s hard, what’s wrong, and what’s lacking, it’s no wonder that so many people, especially accountants, are so unhappy and overwhelmed.
But brace yourself, because this is going to be a tough love episode my friends. I’m not going to sugar-coat this topic at all, so be prepared for some truth bombs that you may not want to hear, but you need to hear.
This week I’m going to discuss why it’s so easy to have a negative attitude and how you can lose it.
Why it’s so easy to have a negative attitude
As I said, I’m not going to gently explain this because what you probably need is some information and clarification, but more importantly, a wake up call. In essence, I’m going to be getting very real with you, but I also know that you can handle it.
Here’s the truth you need to hear – what you focus on, you feel, and when you argue for your limitations, guess what happens? You get to keep those limitations.
I cannot tell you how many accountants argue for their limitations. They will basically justify and fight so hard for their negative attitude, convincing themselves and each other that there’s nothing they can do about it and that it’s the fault of things like the profession, the IRS, the AICPA, Quickbooks, their clients, and on and on.
Believe me, I’m definitely not immune to having a negative attitude, especially at work. Most recently we merged with another firm and were adopting some of their processes and systems, but my brain was totally NOT on board – it was throwing a two-year old temper tantrum for days about having to do things differently.
My negative attitude felt completely justified and I wasn’t shy about sharing it with anyone who would listen. The funny thing is that the people who I gravitated towards when I had my negative attitude, also had a negative attitude about their own things as well.
As we complained about one thing and then another, I could feel myself getting sucked into the vortex of negative attitude land. It was like picking up a dark pair of sunglasses and starting to see everything and everyone through this dark, dreary lens.
Ironically, I coach my clients all the time on their negative attitude, but that didn’t stop me from having one. Here’s the truth – the reason it’s so easy to have a negative attitude is that our brain is hard-wired with a negativity bias, which means we are more likely to pay attention to negative things and later remember them more vividly, than we pay attention and remember positive things.
If you think about it, in the evolution of human beings, paying attention to bad, negative, and dangerous threats in the world was literally a means of survival. The tendency of our human brain to dwell on the negative more than the positive is simply one way our brain tries to keep us safe.
But just because it’s natural, doesn’t mean it’s helpful to us modern, 21st century women trying to balance an accounting career with being a mom. Just because it’s easier to have a negative attitude and to find others who will join you, doesn’t mean you don’t need to snap out of it.
Here’s some tough love – are you ready? We are WAY too fortunate to be so negative and so unhappy. Period. Our ability to have an accounting career and have a family is one of our greatest blessings, and we need to start acting like it.
Do you know how many women don’t have the access to the education that we have? Do you know how many women have things they cannot change in their lives? There’s literally no amount of money or motivation that can cure certain illnesses or bring back a loved one, yet we feel entitled to have a negative attitude when the internet is slow or when the IRS doesn’t approve a change to a tax return fast enough.
Seriously, you have the ability to have the balanced, happy life you want when you stop thinking, feeling, and acting like it’s such a burden or it’s just too hard. It’s not too hard – choosing to act like it’s too hard is a choice, not a fact.
This pervasive, negative attitude of accountants is unfortunately supported by the profession. I just opened my email a few weeks ago and there was an Accounting Today article titled “A Miserable Tax Season Looms” – my first reaction was “Are you kidding me? Why would you send that message?” and my second reaction was “Oh that’s right, most accountants believe tax season is miserable”.
I mean come on – when is the accounting profession going to stop supporting stress and overwhelm? When are we going to stop the glass-half-empty, doom and gloom view of things? When are we going to stop feeding into everyone’s negative attitude and wake up to how much we’re contributing to it, especially with national publications like Accounting Today?
I warned you that I was going to be tough on you, but I think it’s important to hear this – if you feel like you’re stuck in a rut and that you have no choice, you’re wrong. You didn’t just get stuck – you made choices along the way that got you where you are BUT you can also make choices to get out as well.
I really want you to see that your intelligent accountant brain isn’t meant to just process and analyze numbers. You can actually train your brain to drop the negative attitude towards your work, towards your life, and towards anything or anyone that has gotten caught in the crosshairs.
The single best thing you can do for yourself, for your career, and for your family is learn how to rewire your brain. When you learn how to override its negative bias and to lose your negative attitude, you gain so much more in the process.
I promise you that it’s worth it to lose your negative attitude. If you don’t do it for your sake, at least do it for your kids – they would greatly benefit from having a mom who doesn’t have a negative attitude and also one who can show them how to lose their negative attitude as well.
How to lose your negative attitude
First let me say that even though your brain has a negativity bias, it isn’t entirely the fault of your brain’s wiring for why you have a negative attitude. Let’s get real – you have thought yourself into a negative attitude with the thoughts you’ve chosen to think over and over.
If that wasn’t true, then everyone would have a negative attitude about everything. You may come in contact with people who also have a negative attitude, but that just means you have all thought your way there – some of it is your brain’s wiring, but most of it is you.
I want you to understand this because it’s incredibly helpful – no one injected you with thoughts that caused your negative attitude. Your brain may have offered you negative thoughts, but you chose to think those thoughts about the people, places, and things in your life without questioning whether they were helpful or not.
Believe me, you’re not alone because almost everyone will blame things outside themselves for why they have a negative attitude, but none of their reasons are true. You have a negative attitude because you’re not paying attention to the thoughts you're choosing and you’re not choosing helpful thoughts on purpose.
The reason you feel stressed, frustrated, or overwhelmed is because those negative feelings are created with your thoughts. Your feelings are never created by the circumstances in your life, they’re only ever created by your thoughts about those circumstances.
So the first step in losing your negative attitude is to own the fact that you created it. Until you stop arguing for your limitations by blaming the people, places, and things in your life for your attitude, you’re going to continue to have those limitations.
In my example with the new procedures and processes at work, I needed to own the fact that my negative attitude was caused by my thoughts about these new things, not by the things themselves. A new tax program can’t cause me to feel frustrated until I have a thought that causes the feeling of frustration; a new procedure for transitioning to paperless workpapers cannot cause me to feel overwhelmed until I have a thought that causes the feeling of overwhelm.
Do you see what I mean? My negative attitude was my own doing which also means it could be my own undoing. By owning my part in my negative attitude, I was able to get authority over it and change it.
The most important reason I wanted to get authority over it was because it was affecting my productivity and efficiency at work, and it was affecting how I showed up at home with my family. I mostly wanted to work on my negative attitude for my sake, but I also wanted to work on it for everyone’s sake.
So the next step after you’ve owned the fact that you’re the one creating your negative attitude is to get clear on the thoughts you’re thinking that are creating it. Again, it’s never the circumstance that’s creating it, it’s your thoughts about the circumstances that’s creating it. Period.
Think about something or someone you have a negative attitude about or towards – what is the circumstance and what are you thinking about the situation? Even if you want to argue that you have every right to think the way you’re thinking, you need to get clear about what it is that you are actually thinking.
That’s where you can gain the most authority over your negative attitude because those thoughts are the cause – your negative attitude is just the effect. Just like your finger might hurt when you touch it, until you realize that a splinter is causing the pain, you can’t stop the pain.
When I did this exercise with my negative attitude at work about the new processes and procedures, my thoughts were, “Why can’t we just keep things the way they were? This is ridiculous. Everything worked fine the way it was. This is going to slow me down. This isn’t fair. This isn’t smart.” That was just a few of my thoughts – when I talked with others who felt the same way, I also borrowed some of their negative thoughts as well.
Before I knew it, I’d spent a week thought-swapping with others and growing my negative attitude even bigger. And once my negative attitude towards work grew, it seeped into other areas of my life as well, in very unhelpful ways.
I’ll be honest – it was challenging for me to see how those thoughts were the problem because they felt like facts, not optional thoughts. But thankfully I got coached on the situation and not only was I able to see the cause of my negative attitude, but I was able to do something about it.
So once I owned the fact that I had created my negative attitude and I uncovered the thoughts that were creating it, now the third and final step was to choose better feeling thoughts and practice thinking them. Basically a better feeling thought is a thought that literally feels better when you think it, than the thought producing the negative attitude.
Whenever the thoughts that were causing my negative attitude popped up, I allowed them to be there, but started to also think new, more helpful thoughts. I chose thoughts that made me feel open, curious, and empowered, as opposed to the thoughts that made me feel frustrated, stressed, and overwhelmed.
When I worked with my coach, I decided that thoughts like, “It will get easier once I’m more familiar with the programs and processes. I know my brain doesn’t like change and that’s okay. I’ll eventually see the benefits of doing things this new way. I can slowly get on board. I’m smart enough to tackle anything.” As you can imagine, once I started practicing those thoughts, my negative attitude slowly melted.
The best part was that almost immediately, my productivity and efficiency improved at work, I had a better attitude with the people at work, and I wasn’t upset when my old, unhelpful thoughts popped up because I knew how to deal with them.
So if you want to lose your negative attitude, stop blaming it on things outside of you and take these 3 steps – own the fact that you created it, get clear about the thoughts creating it, and choose better feeling thoughts. There’s no reason you can’t lose your negative attitude when you follow these steps.
I know it’s easy to have a negative attitude when you’ve got so much going on in your life, but if you don’t get a handle on it, it’s going to become challenging to dig your way out of. Again, we’ve got too much that’s amazing about our lives and about the times that we’re living in, to have such a negative attitude.
Seriously, enough’s enough already, especially in the accounting profession. Let’s stop justifying the negative attitude and all work on losing it, one accountant at a time. And I promise you, that if you lose your negative attitude, you’ll gain so much more in the end.
- The issue is that once a negative attitude finds a warm, comfortable place to settle into, it can be challenging to vacate it and get rid of it.
- With so many of us constantly focusing on what’s hard, what’s wrong, and what’s lacking, it’s no wonder that so many people, especially accountants, are so unhappy and overwhelmed.
- Here’s the truth you need to hear – what you focus on, you feel, and when you argue for your limitations, guess what happens? You get to keep those limitations.