This starts in grade school. Two kids are whispering and you assume it’s about you. Your boss hasn’t responded to your email in a week and you think she’s getting ready to demote you. Your child is late getting home and you assume they have been in a car accident. It’s all hardwired into your brain. Your ancestors didn’t wait around to find out if the rustle in the bushes was a saber tooth tiger. They ran. If they didn’t run, you wouldn’t be here.
The problem is that this constant focus on the negative in today’s day and age, is bad for your body and brain. If something good and something bad happen in the same day, you end up focusing on the bad. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt says, “Over and over, the mind reacts to bad things more quickly, strongly and persistently than to equivalent good things.” As Tony Robbins wrote for the New York Times, “It turns out that cultivating positive emotions such as joy, contentment, interest, pride and love pays huge dividends.” The good news is that you can rewire your brain towards the positive.
Here is how to transform your negativity bias:
- Gratitude. Taking stock of what is going right. It could be as simple as a roof over your head, being grateful for your child graduating college, or having your boss actively listen to you. I personally have been writing in a gratitude journal for over five years. I used to do it in the evening and then switched to the morning. I used to write five individual things like “Daddy”, “Baci”, “Dinner”, “Natalie” and “Ben”. Now I write three things and say, “I am grateful for Janine’s support. I am grateful for Joe’s attentive listening. I am grateful for a great dinner at SoCo.” It’s more specific and writing the word “grateful” has a bigger impact. Be grateful.
- Store. Look back right now at something that has happened positive today. I just had delicious bacon and eggs with my daughter. She really enjoyed the bacon. Now I need to stop, dwell and think about that positive experience, while I take a few breaths in order to store the positive experience in my head. This is an idea posited by Rick Hanson in a TedTalk. When you relive a positive experience in your mind for even a few seconds, it rewires your brain towards the positive. Be sure to be storing the positive experiences.
- Score. I struggle with this one. I even have Positivity as one of my top 5 from StrengthsFinders. According to John Gottman, there needs to be at least a 3 to 1 ratio and, ideally, a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative feedback you give the people in your life. So try and keep score. Are you telling your kids everything they did wrong and how bad their grades are or looking at what went right? Like, “Hey, thanks for getting up on time” or “Thanks for putting your books away.” We all want praise. It makes us feel better and with us all being hardwired for negativity, remembering that the one criticism you give will likely live on and all the positivity will float away. Keep score of your sincere positive feedback.
- Visualize. As Marelisa Fabrega wrote for Daring to Live Fully, “Whenever something negative happens to you—for example, someone says something mean to you—visualize a drop of black ink falling into a large container of clear water. Although at first the ink is very black, it quickly mixes with the rest of the water until it’s gone, and all you can see is the clear water again.” I really like the image of the negativity diluting into clear sparkling water.
- Reframe. Coaching is all about reframing. Coaching is so beneficial because the coach isn’t connected to the outcome. They bring a different perspective and put a different frame around it. My daughter and I just attended a lovely 6-course dinner. One of the courses was not very good. All of the rest were stunning. I started getting wrapped up in the one bad course and started to regret the entire evening. Luckily, my daughter was able to reframe it for me. “Hey, so one course wasn’t so great, but the rest was terrific and it was a magical evening.” It was. A perfect sunset. Lovely wine. Delicious food. Great conversation. Reframe towards the positive.
- Realistic optimism. As Tony Schwarz wrote for the New York Times, “The notion is not to become an uncritical Pollyanna – but instead to practice “realistic optimism.” That means telling yourself the most hopeful and empowering story possible about any given situation without denying or minimizing the facts.” Thus, you aren’t in denial but you can create a story that has a more positive outcome.
Either way you flow through your day, your positivity or negativity are contagious. Try and spread the positive stuff and ignite others.