You don’t have to look too far into the world of emotional health and well-being to learn that having a positive mindset and an optimistic outlook are crucial to achieving sustained happiness. You’re probably thinking, “But I’m plenty happy, thank you very much.”
Not to rain on your parade here, but the problem is—most of us think we’re really positive, when in actuality, we’re not! In fact, research proves that negative events have a greater impact on our brains than positive ones, so we have a natural pull to negativity. Psychologists have a name for this tendency in all human beings— “The Negative Bias.” This propensity for pessimism and mistrust means criticisms often have a greater impact than compliments & positivity. Meanwhile, bad news draws more attention and is regarded as more truthful than good news.
So what causes our natural inclination to being such Debbie Downers or Negative Neils???
Scientists believe this tendency towards paying more attention to the bad and overlooking the good dates back to our evolution. Early in human history, paying attention to bad, dangerous, and negative threats in the world was literally a matter of life and death. In other words, those who were more attuned to danger and paid heed to the bad things around them were more likely to survive. Flash forward to our current post-modern world, and our evolutionary magnetism to negativity is actually what creates all sorts of roadblocks to our well-being.
Consider—you have a wonderful day at work or with your family, but then one negative event happens, someone makes a nasty comment, or criticizes you, and you find yourself stewing over those words the rest of the day. You are very likely to classify the day as a total bust just because of a single problem. While all of us struggle with this pull to negativity on some level, many of us sadly have the knee-jerk reaction to surrender to it—leading to a serious imbalance in our mindset and lifestyle. Living in a world full of so much bad news, criticism, and negativity has the potential to damage our most important relationships with our spouse, children, extended family as well as impeding good decision-making. That’s why we need to stop this negativity bias in its tracks. Let’s put your perceived positivity to the test.
Answer the following questions to see where you land.
- Do you frequently follow up with phrases like, “Yeah, but…” when someone shares good news or when you’ve had a positive thought?
- Does receiving compliments make you feel uncomfortable?
- Is your internal dialog mainly negative? Do you name-call in your head, whether it’s directed at yourself or those you interact with?
- Do you “live for” bad news? Do you spend time each day tuning into shows, websites, or news sources which promote conflict and negativity? Is it tough to go without?
- Is your knee-jerk reaction to complain?
- Do you focus a lot on the past, particularly past grievances?
- Do you find yourself rarely getting excited or enthusiastic, unless it’s about gossip?
If you answered yes to many of the above questions, you’re channeling too much Debbie Downer / Negative Neil. No worries. Step away from the ledge! There’s no need to go to the dark place…
Being aware of this propensity is a big step in the right direction towards having a more positive outlook. Once we’re aware we can make better choices and be more intentional in our responses. If we know our knee-jerk reactions tend to be somewhat negative, we can take the time to rethink a situation through a lens of positivity, compassion, and hope.
Here are some quick tips to help you be more intentional about looking on the bright side:
- Always start with gratitude. Research shows that how we begin our day and individual interactions dictates how the day and the interactions will end. So start “outta the gate” from a place of abundant gratitude and it will inevitably lead to more positivity. This also naturally cuts down on the tendency to complain.
- Seek quiet and stillness throughout your day. When our brains take on the mode I affectionately call “monkey mind,” we are rushing from one thought to the next with little or no intentionality. “Monkey mind” feeds on negativity! But if we make a point to slow down without devices and lean into 10 to 15 minutes of intentional quiet in our daily routines we can more easily stamp out automatic negative reactions. By taking in deep, fully oxygenated breaths, we allow ourselves to respond thoughtfully rather than merely reacting in the moment. This leads to more positive thoughts and frames future interactions. So, take a screen-free breather frequently in your day, even if it’s just 3 minutes every couple hours—it will help.
- Rewrite your story with affirmations. The negative stories we tell ourselves over and over and over again replay in our minds like a bad 80’s sitcom rerun on an endless loop. If there’s an area in your life which causes a natural negative impulse, come up with a positive statement that re-frames, or rewrites that negativity story. For instance—"Oh joy! The holidays are coming… can’t wait for all the family drama, NOT!” Instead, begin affirming to yourself with a spoken and written statement that re-frames that negative outlook. “I”m looking forward to the holidays! I am in control of how I will respond to any and all situations.” By Christmas, this positive outlook will be a breeze!
We’ve all been in phases of our lives when negativity seems to be driving us. Well, it’s time to take back the steering wheel! Offer yourself grace and kindness as you navigate a wonderful new adventure towards the bright side—rainbows and unicorns not included. ;)
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