You wake up in the morning. It’s a sunny day. You hear the birds chirping. You might even have a smile on your face. Then, on your way out of bed, you stub your toe something serious and it’s ruined. The sun, the birds, the smile…replaced by anger, irritation, and self judgement. Ugh. This again.
Why is it that your brain is so quick to eliminate 3 good things for 1 bad? Let’s think about the function of your brain for a minute, at its MOST BASIC level. Survival. Your brain is focused on survival. It is doing what it needs to do for you to live. You need to be aware of what the bad things are so that you can avoid them in the future. So, your brain zeros in, puts of a ton of attention on that comment that annoyed you and tries to make you NEVER MAKE THAT MISTAKE AGAIN (even if you stubbed your toe and it wasn’t your fault).
It’s called Negativity Bias. And it’s a thing.
I was first introduced to this idea by Marie Forleo in this video. She explains in this video that for ages we have needed to be able to interpret the dangers around us in order to survive. Our brains are simply wired this way and it was USEFUL when we were in danger of being attacked by predators. Today? Not so much. Staying focused on the negative blasts your immune system making you more susceptible to colds, flus and a host of other issues (autoimmune diseases anyone?) AND increases your chances of having ongoing problems with anxiety and depression! Gross.
Marie gives 3 suggestions for what to do to train your brain for the positive and I’ll share them with you here. Then, I’ll add 2 of my own for an added boost.
Marie Forleo Suggestion number 1, follows in the steps of AA.
Awareness. You can’t change what you don’t see. If you can read this blog, watch Marie’s video and then take a week to just notice that negativity bias is actually happening, you’ll be well on your way to making a change.
Marie Forleo Suggestion number 2
Once you’ve gained awareness, change your focus when you notice negativity bias pop up for a visit. So, notice it’s happening and then choose, on purpose, to focus on something else. I’ll add that I think it’s helpful to have a short list of 3-5 things that you can focus on instead so that you don’t have to come up with anything in the moment.
Marie Forleo Suggestion number 3
Notice the positive events and give yourself at least 20 seconds to really revel in them. Hold them close, dance with them, and tell those positive events how much you love ‘em. Really soak up these moments and your brain will start to look for them. Give yourself a chance to really feel all the good stuff… REALLLLLLY feel it. The more you do this, the more it will become habit – and who doesn’t want a positivity habit?!?!
Cait Donovan Suggestion number 1
Start a gratitude practice. Set a specific time aside each day (just as you wake, just before bed, after getting in from work, after a workout… whatever) and write down three specific things that you are currently grateful for. Be SUPER specific. Today, I’m grateful for my blue mini mug that holds just the right amount of coffee for me (about a tablespoon, my husband always laughs). Avoid the overgeneralizing “I’m grateful for my family” statements. You don’t activate your happy centers unless you are so specific that you can elicit positive emotions just by writing about what you are grateful for.
This is important because it trains your brain to look for more things to be grateful for, without needing to be a reaction to a negativity bias situation. Brain training is where it’s at people, get on board.
Cait Donovan Suggestion number 2
I know, I know. I say this ALL THE TIME. Breathe. You can do this super simple 4-7-8 breath. Or you could do my other favorite breathing exercise. Find a song about 3 minutes long that makes you feel calm and happy. Play it. While it’s playing, listen to it and breathe deeply. 3 minutes is all it takes to send your brain away from stress mode and into relax and regenerate mode. If you do this at least once a day, your brain will start to look for that moment and as soon as the song begins, you will slip into a better, happier place.
Do you notice negativity bias in your life? Where?
Do you find yourself ever focusing on the one bad review or bad judgment even when you are surrounded by people who love and appreciate you? (Guilty of this!)
Let me know in the comments below what trips you up the most and sets you off on a negativity bias roller coaster and which suggestion you’ll put into place first to help yourself off the ride!