Coaching Moment – Removing toxicity from your life.

By Gery Deer

Toxicity comes from many sources. It comes from within and it comes from without. But what is toxicity? Why does it matter? And what kind of an effect can it have on your overall success both personally and professionally? These are all great questions. The problem is the only person that can answer them about your life and success is you. 

According to the Oxford dictionary, toxicity is defined as …

1.the quality of being toxic or poisonous.

 “The toxicity of a drug depends on its dosage.”

2. the quality of being very harmful or unpleasant in a pervasive or insidious way.

“She went public with allegations of workplace toxicity and sexism.”

While we might discuss the concept of toxicity with relation to physical health, or chemical influences, as with definition number one, that’s probably better saved for my old nerd in the gym podcast. Here, we’re going to deal with definition number two.

Put simply, toxicity causes you emotional or mental stress and can undermine your success in profound and unpredictable ways. I don’t like goats. I know, random, right? But I don’t, and I’m not going to get into why. But, because I don’t, any interaction with a goat might cause me unnecessary stress. So, provided I haven’t taken up goat farming, all I have to do is avoid goats, and I’m good, right? Don’t you wish the rest of your life could work that way?

Unfortunately, simply avoiding toxic stressors like my theoretical goat is often impractical and easier said than done. If for example you are trying desperately to lose weight or to build a healthier lifestyle for yourself, and you have a close friend or relative who is constantly giving you negative feedback about it, that is a toxic influence on your success. It’s hard to make difficult changes in your life without the support of your friends and family. They don’t have to be on board with it alongside you, they just have to support you and give you positive reinforcement. That doesn’t mean they are not honest with you, that’s different, but we won’t get into that right now.

You likely listen to my videos or read my articles in an effort to find some bit of information that will help you improve yourself in some way. At no point do I offer any sort of silver bullet, but one thing that can certainly diminish any effort you might make to move forward is an excess level of toxicity – and from myriad sources. So what can you do about it?

That’s a really good question with a complicated answer. The unfortunate thing is there’s no easy way to remove toxicity from your life, particularly if it’s family generated. You will always have toxic people in your family, sometimes you can extricate them from your day-to-day life and other times, well, you just can’t. In those cases what you can do is limit their influence. How you respond to that influence will determine the degree of that influence.

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The same goes for close friends. I have to say I have always tried to surround myself with people who don’t simply agree with me about everything but instead disagree with me on things about which they can make reasonably logical arguments to their positions. In that event, it doesn’t matter to me whether you agree with me or not. That does not create a toxic environment. On the other hand, if our base political views are so wildly different, for example, that the other person can’t have even a non-political conversation without attacking my view, that will eventually blow up. The underlying toxicity is already there because you know you can’t support each other in that instance. So that may be someone you need to cut out of your life. Again, that is not an easy thing to do.

Another type of toxicity is one that’s not so blatantly obvious. You may have coworkers, or even family, who constantly work against you in the background while smiling at you to your face. You may not even know what’s happening until it hits you. Unfortunately, it’s hard to determine who those people are and the best ways to deal with it. It’s not practical to simply quit your job every time someone working next to you tries to undermine you in some way. Those people could be a necessary means to an end… Like collecting a paycheck and paying your bills. 

If it’s a family member who might be doing that, you’ll have to determine what level of damage is being done in the background to decide if it’s worth continuing a relationship with them and how that benefits each party, if it does at all. This type of toxicity may not be easily resolved. Purging this kind of interaction from your life can be incredibly difficult. 

Here’s a more pervasive example – Social media. Probably one of the worst aspects of modern life is the influence of toxic people and content on social media. We’re surrounded by it day in and day out. Our phones beep and chirp, and our email is filled with notifications about the latest political stalemate, or family members posting about how miserable their lives are and dragging you into it somehow. It’s a never-ending battle to avoid that level of toxicity. 

The political landscape in America has been, to say the least, tumultuous. Opinions and emotions are at a fever pitch as right-wing and left-wing factions battle it out for political control. With the right attacking the presidential election results and the left accusing the president of every manner of a criminal offense, even a change in leadership isn’t likely to settle things down anytime soon. And, unfortunately, most of these extreme views show up on your social media feed… Even in the most innocuous ways. Although you may not think that you need to remove or block people and information from your social media feeds, that actually may be the best course of action. 

Yes, some believe that if you turn off social media content that you simply do not like it means you’re just choosing ignorance and sticking your head in the sand about what’s going on in the world. But the truth is, actually let me say that more accurately. The fact is that most of what’s posted on social media is wildly exaggerated, taken out of context, or blatantly inaccurate. Even most newsfeeds have a slant to them one way or the other. I don’t think anybody is surprised by that, but very few news outlets could be accurately described as completely unbiased or neutral. So regardless of the source, your information is delivered to you based on algorithms watching all of your likes and your shares, your purchases, and even what you delete. We are being spoonfed, and regardless of whether it’s right or wrong, you have the choice to stop looking at that material.

I’m going to step out of my coach’s chair for a minute and put on my IT hat to explain – factually – how it works. Algorithms (in a computer program, a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations) capture information, adjust the feed that you’re given and wait for you to respond to adjust it again. That’s how they manage to show you just the right pair of shoes you thought you wanted to buy… Because you bought a pair like that two years ago and it knows that you did. Or, it starts sending you material from the NRA, because you looked up gun cases on Amazon. The problem is, you did that through Facebook or a link on a social media page that took you to Amazon to shop. 

Your online activity is captured, categorized, serialized, homogenized, and then a whole new menu is regurgitated and spewed out to you regularly. If you fall for it that’s your own doing. You can’t blame anyone but yourself for clicking on the thing or looking up the things that you were looking up. You know this is how it works, if you want to avoid toxicity in your social media feed, you can’t click on information that you have strong feelings against just so you can comment on it, because that means the algorithms will start showing you more of that material. They have no idea that you commented negatively, just that you did.

The point here is that you have complete control over the material that you see, despite the conspiracy theories to the opposite. All you have to do is not react… And slowly start to purge that material from your feed, removing the toxicity from your attention. That does not make you an ostrich with your head in the sand, it makes you a responsible person trying to reduce your level of stress about things over which you have absolutely no control. 

I have a common mantra that I occasionally put out on my Facebook page that says something like this, “if you don’t like what I post here, or my comments, or anything else related to what I post here on my social media page, get off of it! Don’t follow me, don’t friend me, don’t have anything to do with me here if you don’t like my content. It is my page, not yours. It is what I want to see and what I want to discuss with people of like thoughts and minds. I have no interest in nor will I debate with people on my personal page. If you have a problem with that, it’s been nice knowing you.“

Does that seem extreme? I don’t think so. It’s a very honest and direct notice that I will not debate people on social media. There is no context, and most people have absolutely no rational reason for their opinions. There is no logic in an emotional argument. This generates toxicity. Unnecessary, unwarranted, unuseful toxicity.

One final note. Some of the toxicity in our lives we generate internally. If you have negative thoughts about yourself, maybe you feel ugly, maybe you feel unaccomplished, maybe you don’t feel smart enough, whatever the thing is, those thoughts generate another level of toxicity. Unfortunately, you can’t simply unfriend yourself. You’re stuck with you. In the end, all of us are alone. The person that is “you” exists only within a tiny little egg-shaped box on top of your shoulders, weighing about 7 pounds, and is little more than a mass of chemicals. That’s where all of this bad stuff is generated and it’s not like you can just scoop it out. Yes, there are drugs, psychotherapies, electroshock, bad self-help books, ridiculous meditation retreats in the mountains, the list is endless. 

But no matter how you choose to deal with it, it comes down to you. You make those choices. Your thoughts generate your emotions, they also generate your own opinion of yourself. No one can change that about you. If you need professional psychiatric help, seek that out. If you need to hide in a yurt, then do that. Whatever the response, do something. Don’t just let your own mind tear you down. If you’re listening to this or reading this I know that you’re better than that. You can do it. It’s incredibly hard, I know. 

I had someone say to me recently that it looked like I had all my stuff together, I had it all figured out. I couldn’t help but literally laugh out loud. Are you kidding me? Half the reason I try to help all of you is to help myself. By helping other people, it gives us a window into our behavior, our responses, thoughts, emotions, the things that drive us. These are all things to make us who we are, controlled not by the outside world, but by our own decisions, choices, thoughts, and responses.

As I’ve explained, toxicity comes in many forms, from many different directions, and on many different levels of intensity. You will have to determine how best to remove that toxicity from your day-to-day life. It is not possible to remove it entirely, but at the very least you can reduce it some, making the world a little more tolerable, a little more friendly. Start by looking in the mirror, give yourself a smile, and say thanks… Just that, thanks. You’d be surprised how much it helps.