The human brain is a marvel of complexity, capable of processing an astonishing amount of information every second. But, it comes with its quirks and peculiarities, one of which is the brain’s innate negativity bias.
This bias is a cognitive phenomenon where the brain tends to give more weight to negative experiences, emotions, and information compared to positive ones. While this bias served an essential evolutionary purpose, in today’s world, it often works against us.
In this article, we’ll delve into what the negativity bias is, how it is currently affecting your freedom (which limits how much you love your life), and offer some actionable steps to break free.
The Negativity Bias: What Is It?
The negativity bias is a psychological and neurological phenomenon that makes our brains more sensitive to negative information.
It’s rooted in our evolutionary history, where survival often depended on being hyper-aware of potential threats. As a result, our brains developed a keen sensitivity to negative stimuli.
This bias manifests in various ways, all of which affect your freedom:
- Stronger Negative Reactions: We often react more strongly to negative events or feedback than to positive ones. For example, a single criticism can outweigh numerous compliments.
- Memory Enhancement: Negative experiences tend to be etched in our memory more vividly and for longer periods than positive ones. This phenomenon, known as the “negative vividness effect,” explains why we remember past failures with more clarity than successes.
- Anxiety and Stress: The negativity bias can contribute to higher levels of anxiety and stress as our minds fixate on potential threats and worst-case scenarios.
How the Negativity Bias (NB) May Be Limiting Your Freedom
Understanding how the negativity bias affects our lives is crucial for personal growth and emotional well-being. Here are a few ways it impacts us:
- Pessimism: Your NB often fuels a pessimistic outlook, leading to a skewed perception of reality, where negative events seem more frequent and overwhelming than they are. When you indulge in this outlook, often unknowingly, you aren’t free to experience all the amazingness life has to offer. When you are in this outlook, you aren’t even able to see what else is available or what options you have, leaving you shackled with fewer or no choices.
- Relationships: Your NB can strain relationships as you focus more on perceived slights, offenses, and unwanted character traits rather than appreciating the positive aspects of your connections and the people you’re with. When your brain is focused on everything that isn’t as you wish it was, you aren’t free to enjoy the good things about that person or that relationship. You also aren’t free to create the kind of relationships you actually desire.
- Procrastination: Fear of negative outcomes can lead to procrastination, making it challenging to set and achieve goals. This limits what dreams you are free to go after and bring to life. You are always free, but with your negativity bias, you limit yourself – you literally put yourself in bondage.
- Worry and Anxiety: Constant negative rumination can amplify stress and anxiety, impacting mental health and overall quality of life. When you feel anxious, stressed, or worried, it’s much harder to be who you want to be and do what you want to do. Sometimes, it’s downright impossible. When you aren’t aware of this bias, you may not realize your limitations are self-imposed — that you are taking away your own freedom.
Breaking Free from Your Negativity Bias
Breaking free from your negativity bias isn’t something you do once and never have to do again. It’s something we do over and over again. However, the more you practice these steps, the less frequently it will be a problem and the easier it will be to break free.
- Develop Awareness: As we learned from GI Joe, “Knowing is half the battle.” Once you know this bias exists, and how it shows up for you personally, you can do something about it. Start paying attention to how and when your brain automatically leans toward negativity. Just notice. Watch your thoughts appear without believing them. By acknowledging negative thoughts without judgment, you give yourself the freedom to choose what you want to do with them.
- Get Curious: When negative thoughts arise, get curious about them. Where did this come from? Is it actually true? How is it not true? How is the opposite true? What else is true? Is this really what you want to believe? How might someone else see this? What kind of experience do you want to be having? What would you have to believe to create that experience for yourself?
- Create Safety: Your brain focuses on the negative in an attempt to keep you safe. But thinking negatively about everything doesn’t actually keep you safe. When you notice negative thoughts, remind your brain that you’re safe—that you don’t actually need to go down this road of negative thinking to be safe.
- Cultivate Positivity: Make a conscious effort to notice and appreciate positive moments in your life. Keep a gratitude journal where you regularly write down things you’re thankful for. This practice can help rewire your brain to focus more on the positive.
- Engage in Positive Activities: Make an effort to engage in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment. Surrounding yourself with positivity can counterbalance the effects of the negativity bias.
- Hire a Coach: If the negativity bias is affecting your mental health, and you aren’t making the progress you’d like by following these steps on your own, consider hiring a coach (I would obviously be a good choice 😉). A good coach can provide tools and strategies to help you manage negative thought patterns and develop a healthier mindset.
Questions To Consider
- Where do you notice your own negativity bias showing up in your life?
- What might you say to your brain when it offers an opinion from your negativity bias?
- What is something you’re willing to commit to right now to give yourself freedom from your negativity bias?
The brain’s negativity bias is a deeply ingrained aspect of our psychology, but it’s not an insurmountable obstacle.
By understanding the bias, recognizing its impact on our lives, and implementing proactive steps to counteract it, we can free ourselves from the undue influence of negativity and lead more balanced, positive, and fulfilling lives.
Embracing these strategies can help us cultivate a more optimistic perspective and break free from the shackles of pessimism.
Live free. Love life.