As a first-year high-school history teacher in Chicago, I soon learned not to go into the teachers’ lounge, which I dubbed the “Ain’t It Awful” club. Worse than the haze of cigarette smoke that hung over the room was the cloud of emotional negativity: “Can you believe what they want us to do now?” “I got that Simmons kid again this year in math. He’s a holy terror.” “There is no way you can teach these kids. They’re totally out of control!”

It was a constant stream of negative judgments, criticisms, blaming and complaining. I didn’t want to be around that kind of negativity. I knew it would make it so much harder for me to be the positive, life-changing teacher I wanted to be.

Fortunately, I soon discovered a group of dedicated teachers who hung out in the library and ate together in the teachers’ lunchroom. They were passionate about their jobs and believed they could overcome and handle anything that was thrown at them.

I started hanging out with these teachers and implemented every new idea they shared with me — as well as a few more I picked up from weekend classes at the University of Chicago. As a result, the students voted me Teacher of the Year in only my first year of teaching. That never would have happened if I hadn’t avoided all that negativity.

All of us have to deal with at least a few toxic people in our lifetimes. They’re the ones who are always complaining and blaming others for their circumstances. They judge others, spread negative gossip and always talk about how bad everything is.

They tell you your dreams are impossible and try to dissuade you from believing in and pursuing your goals. They’re constantly trying to bring you back down to their level. A simple phone conversation or email exchange with them can bring tension, stress and disorder to the rest of your day.

Here are my three most valuable tips for liberating yourself from toxic people:

Get clear on who the toxic people are and how they’re holding you back

Make a list of everyone you spend time with: your family members, coworkers, neighbors, friends, people from your civic organization, members of your religious group and so on. When you’ve completed your list, go back and put a minus sign next to those people who are always negative, critical and complaining and a plus sign next to those who are positive and nurturing.

As you make your decision about each person, you might find that a pattern begins to form. Maybe your entire workplace is filled with toxic personalities. Perhaps it’s your friends who nay-say everything you do. Or maybe it’s your family members who constantly put you down and undermine your self-confidence. Once you identify them, you’ll begin to see how they’ve influenced your outlook on your life and career and held you back from creating the life of your dreams.

Stop spending time with them

You’re better off spending time alone than spending time with people who hold you back with their victim mentalities and mediocre standards. I know, it might be easier said than done — especially if those toxic people are your co-workers or family members. Maybe you don’t feel you can remove these people from your life right now. At the very least, I encourage you to severely decrease the amount of time you spend with them. And remember, nothing is impossible; everything’s a choice.

If you work in a toxic environment, apply for a different job. Tough market? Upgrade your skills to be a more attractive job candidate. If your family’s negativity is slowly poisoning you, have an honest talk and tell them how their negative words and actions are affecting you. If they don’t listen to you or honor how you feel, stop spending time with them. It really is that simple.

You have the power — and the right — to remove people from your life if they constantly attack your sense of self-worth or prevent you from becoming the best person you can be.

Surround yourself with positive people 

Here is the easiest way to insulate yourself from toxic people: Fill your life with positive people instead. Make a conscious effort to surround yourself with positive, nourishing, uplifting people who believe in you, encourage you to go after your dreams and applaud your victories.

Seek out successful people who have already accomplished amazing things in their lives. This is one of the most powerful ways to bring more success and happiness into your life. Hang out with people who inspire you and give you the support and advice you need to achieve your own success.

Where do you find successful people? Join a professional association. Attend your professional conferences. Join your local chamber of commerce or your country club. If you’re a young person, join the Young Presidents’ Organization or the Young Entrepreneurs’ Organization. Volunteer for leadership positions. Join civic groups like Kiwanis, Optimists International or Rotary International. Volunteer to serve with other leaders in your church, temple or mosque. Attend lectures, symposia, courses, seminars, clinics, camps and retreats taught by those who have already achieved what you want to achieve.

Your life will be so rich you won’t have any time for the “Ain’t It Awful” club. And who knows? Maybe your success will inspire the negative people in your life to aim higher in their own lives as well.

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