Have you ever heard of a concept called Negativity Bias? As humans, we are hard-wired to give far more weight to the negative than the positive… thoughts, emotions, experiences, etc. Our brains are hard-wired to focus on the negative as a means of survival. Think back to ages where basic survival was under constant threat therefore one had to focus on the negative in order to stay alive. While this does not apply in our modern-day society, our brains don’t know that.
Now think about this tendency and how this plays out during the current pandemic. There are so many uncertainties and our means of survival… income, food, physical and mental health, social needs, etc. feel threatened. We know stress causes health challenges. And yet the positive perspectives can have a tremendously beneficial impact on your health, well-being and ability to obtain desired outcomes.
Here are some suggestions to see the other side of the coin of the negativity bias:
First, become aware of your thoughts and self-talk. I know this can be challenging! One way to know if your negativity bias is active is to pay attention to how you feel. If you are thinking about something and feeling stressed, tense, depressed, anxious, that is a good indicator. Once you identify the negative, tell yourself to stop. Even if you have to do that over and over. Then find a positive thought either related to the original focus or not. If you can’t get to a positive, then go neutral.
Next, see the bigger picture of what is going on. That is where the benefits of a situation, the gifts, can be seen. While details are important, we can get mired in them and lose our way. That is where we can ruminate or go down a rabbit hole of despair. For example, some aspects of the bigger picture of the pandemic could include a shift in priorities, an appreciation for things once taken for granted, and a new sense of community.
Finally, give equal weight to the things that could go right as to the things that could go wrong. Negative bias causes us to focus 3 times more on the negative. Allow yourself to give as much if not more attention to the positive potentials.
For example, say you think about the possibility of losing your job. It starts with the thought of losing your job now. Then it goes to losing it in a few months. Then to how/when you will find a job if/when you lose it, then to what it will mean if you do lose your job, being without income, then the rabbit hole takes you to the worst possible outcomes of that scenario. First thing is to stop the thought in its tracks. Just say “STOP!”. Then, either focus on a positive thought such as “If I lose my job it will be for the best because I wasn’t happy anyway”. Or neutral:
“I may lose my job but I have what it takes to figure out the next steps and execute efficiently.”
Then list all of the possible positive ways this scenario could play out: “I may not lose my job at all.” ”I will find one I like better.” “I will use this as a chance for a career change.” “I can go back to school and learn a new skill.” “I can move in with so and so and we can share resources and lessen the burden on ourselves.”
This is a practice for sure. Give yourself time to get into the habit of becoming aware of your negativity bias and then practice shifting it, or at the very least, stop it. It’s ok if you don’t do it every time, just start now. It will bring a lightness to state of mind and being. We all sure need that right now and we have the tools to achieve it!