If you find yourself being too critical of yourself and others, too affected by rejection or setbacks, there are ways you can correct that.
The first mistake we make is automatically categorizing lots of things as negative without considering that their longer-term impact may be neutral, or mixed, or even positive.
The most dramatic example from my life was my house burning down. I lost the house and everything in it. And while I'll never think of that as a good event, it did lead me to re-evaluate where I was living and what I was doing and to make big changes that have made my life better.
I've heard similar statements from people who had a serious illness that prompted them to take another look at their lives and made big changes.
The solution: don't deny the negative aspects, but rather than categorizing the event as a total disaster, be open to any silver linings it might have--in fact, consciously look for them. The emphasis is not on positive thinking, but realistic thinking.
Imagine a situation in which you get feedback on something you've created. Ninety percent of it is positive, even glowing. Ten percent is negative. Which will affect you the most? Which will stick in your memory?
I used to teach a lot of workshops, and if 29 of the evaluations afterward were positive and one was negative, guess to which one I paid the most attention.
Of course it's good to see whether negative feedback contains anything useful, but often the negatives were specific to that person or about things beyond my control.
The solution: At the end of every day, as you prepare your to-do list for the next day. If something negative happened, take a moment to consider whether it yielded any useful information and how you can use that. Then take a moment to think about what good things happened that day. It can help to jot them down in a journal.
Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson suggests taking at least ten seconds to think about each of these in order to let them transfer from short-term to long-term memory.
A third error we make is to learn from something that isn't really a lesson because it doesn't apply beyond the immediate circumstances.
For instance, let's say you get criticism on a short story you've written and you realize the story actually isn't very good. It's easy to go from "this story isn't very good," to "My writing isn't very good" to "I'll never be a good writer."
A more constructive run of thoughts would be, "This story isn't very good," to "I can use this to learn to write better," to "There's a good chance I will be a good writer." (And even good writers turn out a dud from time to time!).
The solution: If you feel your thoughts and mood starting to spiral downward, stop. Listen to each statement your inner critic is making and evaluate whether or not it is justified by what has just happened.
Again, this is not about putting on rose-tinted glasses, it's about not letting negativity run away with you and gradually improving your ability to see things accurately.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
As you correct your evolutionary bias toward the negative you will become happier and more productive.
(You will find lots of tips for using creative methods to manage your time and life better, in my book Focus: Use the Power of Targeted Thinking to Get More Done. It's published by Pearson and available from all booksellers.)