Whenever we think about something, whatever we think about, we tend to focus on the negative thing about it. This is the negativity bias.
“We are addicted to our thoughts. We cannot change anything if we cannot change our thinking.”
It’s a product of evolution that protects us from danger, which, I’m sure is useful to us modern humans still. However, I think it does more harm than good. Lying awake at night thinking about that embarrassing thing you did years ago is not very good for you, is it? Yet it can seem impossible to stop doing it.
It can be hard not to look back and cringe at mistakes we made in the past. But that’s not all that the negativity bias is all about.
It’s also how we perceive in the here and now. Our brains are hardwired to notice
- the bad news, not the good news
- the insult, not the compliment
- the fly, not the flower
Not only do we notice the negative over the positive, we tend to exaggerate the negative so that we distort our reality completely. There’s actually an amazing Ted Talk about this that I would recommend to everyone.
So what can we do differently? How do we consciously change our thinking?
Be actively present
Look around you more often to register what is actually happening. Question your assumptions. Recognize your self-consciousness, your fear of the unknown, take a deep breath and just be.
If you practice being present, you will get better at just about anything. You will also feel happier and more confident.
Write in a journal
Do this as often as possible. Write down the negative things to process them and get over them, but write down the positive stuff, too. This is can make a shift in focus happen. If you don’t like writing, you can always write simple lists.
It doesn’t have to be super complicated. Even the small things that make you feel good are worth writing down, like when a stranger smiles at you or when the sun is shining.
Remember what is important
The Universe is a vast place, we are tiny and life is short. Need I say more? Keeping a healthy perspective on how insignificant our lives are is just the thing that can help us achieve big things.
Whatever it is that feels terrible now, probably won’t in just a few month’s time. In fact, very few things are truly important in life.
When we become aware of the negativity bias and how it affects us, the world around us changes.
Suddenly, we realize that maybe we weren’t rejected because we weren’t good enough, but because the other person was not the right fit for us.
We realize that others barely remember the mistakes that we cannot forget.
We understand that life’s too short to lose any sleep over what we cannot change.