Why Are You Hardwired for Negative Thinking?

Have you ever had one of those days where everything seems to go wrong? You spill your coffee, you get stuck in traffic, you miss your morning meeting, you get bad news, the list goes on and on. If you are like most people, I am sure you have experienced several of these days. But looking back on days like this, did you ever wonder if they were really that bad or were you just honing in on the couple bad moments throughout that day and failing to see the positive ones. 

The truth is, all of us are actually hard-wired to focus on the negative because of what is called negative bias. Negative bias explains our tendency to register negative stimuli more readily than positive stimuli and in addition dwell more on these negative events.

For example, think back to the last job interview or performance review you received. You probably received several positive pieces of feedback, but odds are the one thing that stuck with you is where they said “you need to improve on [fill in the blank].” You focus in on one piece of negative feedback instead of remembering all the positive feedback as well. 

I recently had a moment where I had a great day - accomplished everything I needed to at work, had great conversations with friends, went for a walk a lunch. But on my way home from work, I received a negative email. And instead of focusing on all the great parts of the day, I was angry from ONE email. 

One more example comes from studies done by John Cacioppo, Ph.D., then at Ohio State University, now at the University of Chicago. He showed people pictures known to arouse positive feelings (a Ferrari, or a pizza), those certain to stir up negative feelings (a mutilated face or dead cat) and those known to produce neutral feelings (a plate, a hair dryer). Throughout all the pictures, he recorded electrical activity in the brain's cerebral cortex that reflects the magnitude of information processing taking place. The result showed that the brain reacts more strongly to stimuli that it sees as negative. The negative pictures garnered a greater surge in electrical activity showing how our outlook is more heavily influenced by negative stimuli.

So if this is the case and we are hard-wired to see negative, what can you do to overcome this? Below are 3 simple tips to use throughout your day:

  1. Don’t Ignore the Negative Just Stop Judging It - Practice turning down the volume on negative thoughts and emotions by observing them without judgment and then letting them go. When you practice this regularly, you learn to face emotional challenges and manage a potentially stressful event with a more productive response, and encourage more positive feelings, like empathy and forgiveness, to take their place. Understanding and accepting your emotions—especially those unpleasant ones that many of us try to ignore—can make a huge difference in your ability to manage stress and balance your moods.
  2. Become more aware of positive stimuli -  Negativity bias shows that you are more prone to focus on the negative so it will take some effort to focus more on the positive. Next time you feel like you are being swept up into a bad day or series of negative events, stop and take 2 minutes to reflect on something good that happened like a relaxing morning, a great cup of coffee, a kind text from a friend. And if you cannot think of anything then do something good for someone else and text a loved one a kind message. 
  3. Slow down and be present - Take time enjoy joyful moments when they occur. Don’t rush through them. At RESSET, we call these your RESSET moments - any moment where you are able to reduce internal and external stimuli and be fully present. Check out our instagram for some of our favorite RESSET moments - a beautiful sunrise, a stunning view, an intimate moment with friends or family. 
  4. Add more positive moments to your day - While our brains may be wired to focus on the negative, that doesn’t mean you have no power over your emotions. In fact, your senses are actually a powerful tool that can help you overcome stressful or negative events. Think of a time where you heard a song you loved or smelt your favorite flower, chances are both these triggers instantly made you feel happy or at peace. Try using your senses to bring about more positive moments - a favorite song, picture of a relaxing vacation, a smell that reminds you of home. And if you want help tapping into your senses, try our RESSET Cards, each card is designed to show you how to use a sense to bring about joy and happiness.

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