When you have an outstanding performance and everybody loves it, you feel delighted and can’t stop talking about it for weeks. On the other hand, when something goes terribly wrong, you’ll remember it for years. You’ll be in your old age and still remember that day you were terrible at doing something.
Having acknowledged that it happens, let’s think about the reason. Why do negative feelings last longer? Rejection, humiliation, sadness, and fear will stick to your mind rather than happiness, relief, or peace of mind.
Negative feelings are stronger.
Emotions can be measured in intensity and permanency in time. For how long did you feel sad? For how long did you feel excited? Sadness lasts longer than happiness, and this is because negative feelings are stronger. A moment of humiliation will last longer than one of glorification.
This time can be even longer if the situation is perceived as inconsistent or unfair. You tend to over-analyze the situation leading to your worst enemy: rumination.
You had the most amazing performance ever. Great! What a relief! You can relax now and forget about it. Now, when you have a bad one, you think and think and rethink it. You keep asking yourself why, and that bad feeling lasts. You can’t let it go.
Do you recognize a pattern here?
Rumination about the situation extends the feeling. When something goes wrong, you think and rethink about it. You’re feeding those bad feelings, and they will not leave you. So emotions that lead to rumination (like fear, shame, frustration, or sadness…) will last longer. In fact, according to some studies, the longer-lasting emotion is sadness – it can take up to 120 hours for us to get rid of it.
There is an important role for constant and repetitive thinking on the experience and your emotions, and you should be aware of it.
Don’t let Rumination lead to Ruination
Rumination is the main factor that will drag you down after a bad performance. You’ll keep thinking about it. The feelings and emotions are so intense that any other performance, no matter how good it was… will not look that important. You’ll forget about it.
So, now that we’ve determined the cause let’s establish some plans to overcome the negative feelings and avoid rumination.
Exercise and physical activity are great allies to avoid rumination. It is proven to help you to put away bad feelings and even helps reframe the way you see things. Why? It makes you feel good and more confident about yourself.
Stop the negative thoughts by filling your mind with everything around you at this precise moment. Pay attention to what you see, hear, feel or smell. It helps to break the rumination cycle, allowing you to take a break and focus on something else.
Worst case scenario
Breaking a cycle of negative thoughts with positive ones is good, but you can’t always focus on rainbows and unicorns. So, let’s approach it differently: think of the worst-case scenario. So many things could go wrong, worst than they went. So many disasters could have happened, but they didn’t, did they? This helps you focus on the bigger picture and realize it wasn’t that bad. It will increase your resilience and prepare you to fight back – or, in this case, give your next presentation.
Another approach you can try is to face what you think was a disaster and ask yourself, “So what?”. You gave a terrible presentation, and your audience fell asleep, “So what?”. For each consequence, you keep asking yourself, “So what?” or “And?”.
This will lead you to a moment where you run out of answers, realizing you were probably exaggerating. Recognizing this is a great way to overcome the rumination process.
Hurt is bigger than joy
We give more importance when something goes wrong than when everything goes the way we planned. This is because negative feelings are stronger. We can’t get rid of them so easily, while positive ones give us a sense of relief and permission to forget about it. It is done. It’s over.
It all goes back to rumination and our inability to break the cycle. So if you see yourself falling into the rumination trap, take a deep breath and look for ways to break that cycle and be back in the present.
Cátia is a psychologist who is passionate about helping children develop and train social skills.