You log onto your favorite social media site and you’re immediately greeted with this query: “What’s on your mind?” It’s often tricky not to focus on and repeat your negative story. These days, it’s almost impossible. Friends will cheer good moments but wow, the reactions and interactions sure flow when we post about what’s got us down.
Why do you cling to the negative?
It’s not just you. Studies show that the human brain indeed has a negativity bias.
-Two-thirds of the neurons in the amygdala are used to identify negative experiences.
-Such bad news is instantly stored.
-It may take up to 10 positive events to counterbalance a single negative episode in our memories.
-The positive stimulus must be focused on for at least 12 seconds in order to make the transfer from short-term to long-term memory.
-It’s possible we view those giving negative feedback as being smarter than us. If so, we logically give such input more weight.
Like any other psychological characteristic, the negativity bias is different for each of us. But it’s there. It helps explain why we tend to remember one insult longer and more intensely than one hundreds instances of praise. Two important points to factor in:
1. We may call it negativity bias but to our brains, it’s about survival. It would rather assume danger and be wrong than the opposite. So, perhaps we can begin to choose not see this as a carved-in-stone “negative.”
2. The negativity bias can be challenged. It’s not easy. Research finds that we may require five upbeat events to negate one bad one. Therefore, mindfulness (see below) is a great starting point.
6 Ways to Shift From Your Negative Story
As highlighted above, we’re hard wired towards assuming and retaining negatively. Thus, it’d be important to accept this reality. You are not uniquely flawed.
Much of our fear and pessimism is rooted in past experiences and/or assumptions about the future. Practice staying present. In this moment, the negativity bias finds its most powerful opponent: reality.
3. Practice recognizing real threats
Of course, genuine threats and dangers exist. There are logical and safe choices to be made.
4. Practice appreciating hidden resources
As we dismantle the power of false threats, we can choose to use that energy towards taking stock. What is going well? What are your strong points?
A major part of appreciating hidden resources is gratitude. As your mindfulness practice advances, you’ll more easily perceive the minute-to- minute pleasures and joys in your life. Expressing gratitude for them pushes you towards meeting that 5-to- 1 ratio of positive vs. negative.
6. Keep a journal to identify unmet needs
Amidst all this hard work, we must be certain we’re not just focusing on symptoms. Besides neurological realities, what lies beneath our tendency to cling to our most negative stories? If there are needs that have remained unmet, we may seek to “meet” them in other ways.
What if those underlying unmet needs are tough to identify?
We don’t want to linger on the negative or be fearful or limit ourselves. But it’s easier said than done to change all this. Yes, there are physiological factors. However, the amount we fall back on those factors usually relates to underlying unmet needs. The tricky part is “underlying.” We often cannot identify them! Working with a skilled therapist provides us with the guidance we need. Regular one-on- one sessions help us peel away the layers of denial and self-sabotage. This is tough work but the results can and will bring a new perspective of positivity into your daily life. This will give you a whole new answer to: “What’s on your mind?”
By CounselingWise on September 11, 2017