“Toxic!!!” was what my best friend would tell me whenever I ask her how her work is going. In one of the workshops I conducted, I asked the participants to identify qualities of a manager they don’t like, and one of their answers was also  “toxic”. I asked them what toxic meant to them and they said something about having negative vibes.

So what does toxic really mean?

Urbandictionary.com defines toxic (as in “toxic person”) as annoying, rude and negative. In its literal sense, toxic refers to poisonous. Putting it all together, I came up with my own definition, which is contagious negativity

What’s interesting is that when we use the word toxic, we seldom (or even rarely) use it to define ourselves as in “I am so toxic” as if saying that you are a walking poison. Instead, we say things like, “my work is so toxic” or “my boss is so toxic” or “my colleague is so toxic.” Right?

So that’s good news right there! Toxic usually refers to something external to ourselves – the environment, the people around us, our circumstances, and so on. What’s outside us, we cannot control. But what’s within us, we definitely can control!

Where do we start? 

We all know that we cannot get rid of fire by using fire. So we probably also cannot get rid of poison by using poison as well. Yes we knowthat, but do we actually practice it? Probably not. I encounter many people everyday who express all their frustrations and resentment on social media, only to spread the poison even more. But by doing that, we not only spread our toxins to others on social media, but we immerse ourselves in it even more. Yikes. I know because I was like that in my past life. 

Here are simple steps to make ourselves toxin-free and toxin-proof.

Manage your triggers and tendencies

Change starts with awareness and acceptance. As Carl Rogers said in his book On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy, “When I accept myself just as I am, then I change.” Sometimes, we are in denial of our faults and flaws that we deceive not only others but also ourselves. Being aware of our behavioral tendencies when under stress like being rigid, withdrawing support and commitment, being aggressive, etc. is a good starting point to discovering how we can improve ourselves. If you have a good sense of self-awareness, you’ve probably observed these behaviors already, or people close to you would have told you about these. If not, then you can take personality assessments that will give you an idea not just of your stress behaviors, but also how to work on them. From experience the two assessments that have this information available is the DISC and the Birkman Assessment. (Both of which I am certified in so I can definitely vouch for these J)

When you know what your tendencies are, it is also helpful to know what triggers them. Whether we admit it or not, sometimes just seeing someone’s face or getting an email from someone can already get us triggered! Be aware of your triggers, AND consciously and intentionally replace your auto-response with something else. Psychologists say that the best way to change a habit (in this case, your auto-response to these toxic triggers), is to replace it with something else. 

Remove the toxins within

One of the best ways to remove the negativity within ourselves is to take the gratitude pill. The gratitude pill takes many sizes and forms, so it’s really up to you how you want to use it. 

According to Dr. Robert Emmons, a gratitude researcher, gratitude has the power to heal, to energize and to change lives. He has done several studies that prove that grateful people have advantages when it comes to success. They are happier, more satisfied, they do good things, are more forgiving, more compassionate and more generous. And people around them have good things to say about them too!

One of the most common ways to develop an attitude of gratitude is to spend five to ten minutes each night (and/or in the morning) to think or write five things that you are grateful for. If you have five more minutes to spare, consider also writing a gratitude journal. 

Need more convincing? Then check out this articleabout how Arianna Huffington, Oprah Winfrey and Tony Robbins use gratitude for success. 

Prevention is better than cure

Equip yourself with “vitamins” that will help you such as staying away from the situation, changing perspective, meditating and surrounding yourself with positive people!

You might not have total control of your work environment, but you can definitely think of ways to make the situation better. It can be as simple as posting positivity notes on your work desk, literally taking a breather outside when you feel that the work environment is becoming toxic or having your gratitude journal or even a nice photo of your family on your workstation. 

Changing perspective and meditating require internal work. For example, when things go wrong, you may consider looking at the situation more objectively without emotions or judgment. Exercising your right brain through creative activities (such as building blocks or drawing) can also help you see different perspectives of the situation and also think out of the box when coming up with solutions. And finally, meditation! I’m no expert at this but when I did this consistently for a couple of weeks, I noticed how I am more focused and more calm. 

What about you? Share your tips on how you keep yourself toxin-free despite the negativities around you. 

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