Has your community made negativity a habit?
By: Paula Jensen
Living in a small town, we are often inclined to see change in our community as a threat to ourselves and our way of life. When we feel threatened by change, uncertainty rears its ugly head and our negativity often takes over. We say things like – “What’s wrong with the way we’ve always done it.” or “Why do we need something new, the old one’s just fine?” or “We can’t afford that.” or “That will never work, we’ve tried it before.” And, sometimes we just outright disguise our negativity as facts, experience, or helpful guidance.
Every day as a community coach I work with rural changemakers to develop their thriving small towns. These passionate people explore what’s possible and create local vision. They work diligently to engage more people in the process and listen with curiosity to make ideas stronger. They seek outside resources and partnerships to fund projects. But along the way, these rural changemakers always encounter one common denominator – negativity.
One rural changemaker stated this: “When the negative voices in our community start to make noise it pulls us away from our purpose and each other… pretty soon people start believing what’s the loudest rather than searching for what’s possible.”
So, the overarching question is, how might a community change its negativity habit? James Clear, author of Atomic Habits writes, “The root of behavior change and building better habits is your identity. Each action you perform is driven by the fundamental belief that it is possible. So, if you change your identity (what you believe you are), then it is easier to change your actions.”
If you agree with James Clear that building better habits starts with changing your identity, then the answer to the question above is to create a new community identity. What if you became known as a thriving community of rural changemakers? It can start with one. One rural changemaker – YOU – can master your own mindset and manage the negativity habit that exists around you. Then ask other rural changemakers to join you on this quest for a thriving community.
As you gather your crowd of rural changemakers and engage with others who are stuck in the negativity habit take these conscious actions to constructively engage.
Show confidence in your skills, abilities, and new identity as a rural changemaker.
Listen to others intently and with curiosity to shift from problem mode to solution mode.
Say, “I don’t have the answer right now.” Diffuse negativity by tactfully supplying a well-thought-out response later.
Redirect conversations by talking about what’s possible.
Ask for solutions that could resolve problems from the past.
Turn complaints into opportunities by brainstorming ideas.
Focus on what is within your control, not things you cannot control.
Test innovative ideas by implementing short 30-day action plans.
Celebrate your successes to create a community buzz.
Become stronger together by recognizing all the good things going on in the community and share those stories publicly.
Cutting out every bit of negativity is unrealistic, but we can learn to live responsively instead of reactively, being positive when others are negative. If we simply ensure our attitude as a rural changemaker aligns with our community’s vision, together we can and will thrive into the next generation.
About the author
Having a passion for community leadership and development is what drives Paula Jensen’s personal and professional life. Paula resides in her hometown of Langford, South Dakota, population 348+. She serves as a Strategic Doing practitioner, grant writer and community coach with Dakota Resources based in Renner, South Dakota. Dakota Resources is a mission-driven 501c3 Community Development Financial Institution working to connect capital and capacity to empower rural communities. Contact her.