Negativity is something that everyone faces in their day to day lives — but why do we let negativity hijack our minds?

As humans, we have a tendency to allow ourselves to be impacted by negative events far more than positive ones.

This is known as negativity bias — we are far more inclined to attend to unpleasant and negative information we receive than positive ones, resulting in an impact on our physical and mental state.

According to Dr Rick Hanson, millions of years worth of evolution had resulted in negativity bias being built into us, when it comes to facing threats.[1]

In the past, paying attention to bad and negative threats was literally a matter of life and death — thus we have become more attuned to danger, paying attention to bad things around us to ‘survive’.

Negative bias can come in various forms, from dwelling on unpleasant events to focusing our attention on negative information on the news.

Even when we experience multiple positive events in the day, negativity bias can cause us to focus on that one bad thing that occurred rather than the multiple other good things during the day.

So, how can we notice negativity bias and how can we overcome it?

 

How We Respond to Negativity

Through neuroscientific evidence, it has been shown that negative stimuli result in greater neural processing in the brain as compared to positive stimuli.

This means that we produce a much stronger response to negative thoughts and situations than positive ones.

Having negativity bias can have a large effect on how we feel mentally and physically — including our relationship with others, our decision-making process and how we perceive ourselves.

Having negativity bias can have an effect on our relationships, resulting in us expecting the worse in others.

This also occurs when forming first impressions of others.

An example would be negatively anticipating how your loved one would react to something you do.

This negative anticipation will result in you having your defences already on alert where just about anything can trigger you, possibly resulting in arguments and resentment.

When making decisions, we also tend to place greater weight on negative aspects rather than positive ones.

We often fear the consequences of negative outcomes than potential positive results, even though both outcomes are of equal possibility.

How Can We Recognize Negativity Bias?

Recognizing that the problem of negativity bias exists is a step towards overcoming it.

When you dwell on a negative thought, understanding that this is due to negativity bias can help you better understand your state of mind.

Here are some examples of negativity bias:

  • Dwelling on a negative thought more than positive ones
  • Responding more strongly to negative experiences better than positive ones
  • Reacting strongly to negative stimuli than positive

Only when we are able to identify these negative thoughts as they occur, we can then work towards overcoming them.

This process is also known as cognitive defusion — acknowledging that our thoughts are mere thoughts and not reality itself.

How Can We Overcome Negativity Bias?

Fortunately, we are able to overcome this negativity bias mindset by consciously

re-directing our attention to more positive thoughts, feelings and experiences.

Remember that overcoming negativity bias does not happen overnight. You will need conscious effort to acknowledge these thoughts and alter them.

One way to overcome this bias is to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.

According to Forbes[2], there are 4 steps you can take:

  1. Noticing these thoughts
  2. Acknowledge that these thoughts need to be changed
  3. Articulate what you want to be changed
  4. Choose a better behaviour

This can help you challenge these negative behaviours and replace them with more positive ones.

An example of replacing negative thoughts with positive ones is- instead of thinking that ‘I will have a hard time studying abroad, think ‘although I will be in a foreign land, and will face some challenges, I will come up with solutions each step of the way’.

If you find yourself perceiving something in a negative light, pause and look at the situation from a different and more positive perspective.

However, this does not mean wearing rose-coloured glasses. Rather, refocus on the situation to give equal weight to the positive side of things, not just the negative.

Ask yourself if negativity bias was occurring when you felt a negative emotion and how you can replace these negative thoughts with positive ones.

Being aware of your thoughts throughout the day can help you better recognize when these negative bias patterns occur. Being self-aware can help you understand yourself better, and help you strive to change them for the better.

Another way to overcome negativity bias is to practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness can help you become attuned to your own emotions.

This can be done through meditation, reflection, and other interventions.

Practising mindfulness can help you perceive your emotions and thoughts more objectively, increasing your positive judgements and optimism levels.

Regular mindfulness has other benefits too, including decreasing stress and anxiety levels, while improving immunity.

Establishing these new habits can help pull yourself out of a negative mindset.

Take time out of your day to practice these new habits — whether it be going on a walk or listening to music to get yourself in a positive mindset.

Finally, remember that no one is perfect.

To overcome this bias takes time and practice, don’t dwell on your mistakes, and let yourself keep moving forward.

Reshape how you think of yourself by considering what you have learnt from the experience and how you can respond differently in the future.

Overall Thoughts

As mentioned, we tend to remember more negative thoughts than positive ones. To overcome this negativity bias, start paying extra attention to your positive thoughts and savouring positive experiences.

When something positive happens, take time to focus on it — focus on how you feel, mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Negativity bias can have a powerful impact on your day to day life.

Acknowledging this bias and taking a conscious effort to change it can allow you to adopt a more positive outlook on life.

Overcoming negativity bias permanently is not a simple task-it takes a bit of patience and practice.

 

This does not mean eliminating negative thoughts completely but acknowledging them and handling them better so you can keep focusing more on the positive ones, you’ll see that it makes a difference in how you feel.

[1] https://www.sfsu.edu/~holistic/documents/Spring_2014/GoodvsNeg_Bias.pdf

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2016/05/09/13-coaches-explain-how-to-overcome-negative-thought-patterns/?sh=7e8f7f2335cb