Did you know your brain is hardwired to highlight and hold on to negativity?
Yep. Fun news, huh?
It’s called negativity bias, and it serves a scientific purpose, by helping us identify potentially harmful situations quickly. It kept your ancestors from getting eaten by dinosaurs, and it keeps you from juggling fire torches as a hobby. So it’s a trait we all really need. But it comes at a price.
Negativity “sticks,” which is why negative thoughts, emotions, interactions and traumatic events are easier to identify and harder to shake than all the great things happening in your life.
So if I’m hardwired for it—if it’s nature—am I just doomed to be a negative person? What am I supposed to do with this information, Chance?
Well, a lot of people do nothing. You’ve seen them. Depressed, angry, NEGATIVE people are all around us. They let their fear or hurt dictate every step they take (or don’t take). Many even allow their negative perspective to spill out onto everyone around them, almost like they’re providing a great service. (Now you know all the reasons why your plan won’t work and your dreams will never come true. You’re welcome.)
You Make a Choice
If you’re a life coach or counselor, no doubt you’ve encountered negativity bias in your practice. And let’s be honest, this is something we ALL have to overcome, coach or not. I find it helpful to remind myself and my clients that we’re each making a choice every single day. We can join the pity party and lean into our fear, or we can fight our instinct and find the upside.
There are lots of great ways to do that. Some of them are more obvious and widespread. Practicing gratitude, meditation/prayer, exercise and helping others are all common suggestions, but let’s get real. When you’re mad at the world you don’t want to do any of those things. So here are some other things to try.
1 – Be aware.
You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge. It’s a cliché because it’s true. Simply being self-aware enough to notice and admit when you’re leaning into negativity bias is an important first step. As obvious as this is, it’s often overlooked, and it can be the difference maker.
2 – Distract yourself.
Engage your brain elsewhere. Bonus points if you choose something positive and productive. Your hobby, a walk, your kids, a good book. These are all great, positive distractions that will pay a dividend for the time you invest in them. I watch TED Talks and YouTube videos of great teachers and speakers. It’s hard to stay in a funk when I feed my mind with positivity. If you don’t know where to start, try Shawn Achor‘s TED Talk. It’s home base for me.
3 – Remember the good times.
Think back on a favorite memory and walk through the event in detail. Think about what you saw, smelled, tasted, heard, and how you felt. Cement that goodness in your mind. Not only is it redirecting your thoughts in this moment, you’ll have to come back to later.
4 – Ask yourself great questions.
The truth is, it’s not all blue skies and rainbows 24/7. Sometimes our circumstances are genuinely difficult. In those times, it’s not helpful to deny our emotions, pretending all is well when it’s not. At the same time, we can’t sit in our sadness. Be inquisitive. Ask yourself (or your clients) questions that will help express and process the difficult situation at hand. After giving voice to the challenge, I love to wrap up by asking “Okay, so tough as it is, what positive change is this challenge producing? And finally, “What is possible from here?”
The answers my clients and I get aren’t just encouraging, they’re transformational. They instantly make a hard situation an opportunity.
It Is Up To You!
Friends, it’s helpful to know that you’re not just a negative person. That’s your brain’s natural inclination, and it works for you. But what you do with it is up to you.
What you focus on shapes your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, actions and ultimately, your results and experience. So choose wisely.
Chance Scoggins is a Certified Life & Business Coach for creative entrepreneurs. He blogs about bold, authentic, intentional living to over a million readers at www.chancescoggins.com. For more information about his process, check out www.chancescoggins.com/coaching.