Negativity bias is a common, soul-stealing lens that many of us have viewed the world through at one point or another in our lives. We’ve been on a global news marathon and find ourselves reading the horror stories flashing across the screen, or we dwell on negative things that have happened to us or those close to us. We sometimes even wrap ourselves in a blanket of negativity and melancholy, finding a strange comfort in misery.
Having a negativity bias means we have an inclination to give more energy to negative events and use this biased information to provide the framework for everything else in our lives. Negativity bias directly influences how we approach conflict, solve problems, conduct ourselves in relationships, and can actually hinder our abilities to experience happiness or joy.
The behavioral effects of negativity bias can have a profound impact on our relationships, both personal and professional. We often take things more personally, and focus on the criticism rather than the compliments. We are naturally more emotionally affected by negativity than positivity; in fact, the good things that happen to us are usually overshadowed by the bad.
Ultimately, negativity bias prevents us from being successful in all aspects of our lives. It creates a false inner dialogue that tells us we’re not good enough, there’s no point in striving to be better, and nothing good will happen.
So how do we avoid falling into this trap? How do we extract positive lessons from traumatic or difficult events? How do we adjust the lens through which we look at life?
We practice. And we start with a new internal conversation.
Now is the time to start taking stock of all of the thoughts that run through your head on a daily basis -- from the moment you wake up to the moment your head hits the pillow at the end of the day. It’s helpful to have a journal nearby to write these thoughts down. Sometimes it takes seeing them in print to show you just how often you have them.
Make note of negative events, how you reacted to them, and what actions you took. Then, think about the impact of your reactions. Did it help you move through the negative event? What coping mechanisms do you employ when these negative things happen to you?
Having a clear picture of how you move through your negativity bias, beginning to end, will help you learn how to stop it before it starts.
Stopping the Negative Self-Talk
With negativity bias, it’s only natural to be grappling with negative self-talk. I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, and I can’t do the things. This is completely untrue, but even in rational moments when you know you’re perfectly capable of achieving whatever you want, your negativity bias tells you otherwise, and thus the cycle continues. So here are a few things to do to combat that:
Write Down Your Achievements
They don’t have to be grand! It could be something as small as finishing a project early or on time. Or maybe you’ve ticked everything off on your list today. Or maybe you followed your exercise regime for the week. Or maybe you flossed your teeth today. It all counts, even if it’s something you think you’re “supposed” to do--it counts because you followed through and did it!
Note Any Compliments You Receive
Did your boss thank you for a job well done? Maybe a friend said you looked great today. Maybe a client was impressed with something you did for them and called or emailed to show their gratitude. Don’t let these moments slide by, this is the GOOD stuff – Make note of it so you can look at it later when those negative thoughts creep in.
Surround Yourself With a Positive Community
You know that old adage “Misery loves company”? Well, the same is true for positive people. Positive people attract positivity, which is precisely what you need a healthy dose of! It could be a support group, a social media group that thrives on happiness and celebrating achievements, or just a group of really awesome friends who make it their business to be each other's cheerleaders. Find a group of humans who are going to hold you accountable for reducing all of that negative self-talk and won’t judge you for making the transition to being nicer to yourself.
Practice Mindfulness Through Breathing and Meditation
Practicing mindfulness puts you in tune with your body, your brain, and all of those emotions that ebb and flow during those waking hours. You are trying to interrupt the cycle of negativity and reprogram your brain to embrace the good. Meditating is a great way to create space in your head for quiet contemplation. It gives you the opportunity to reflect on your thoughts and feelings without distraction. Mindfulness slows down the inner dialogue, gives you more time to analyze negative thoughts, and can allow you to make more conscious decisions about being negative.
Talk to a Professional
Some individuals who suffer from negativity bias and this myth of inability are suffering from other psychological challenges like anxiety, depression, or unhealed trauma, all of which can add an extra layer of complexity when sorting through your emotions. Chemical imbalances or trauma are not something that can just be meditated away. In these cases, you may need someone to help you navigate this unchartered territory.
Negativity is like an onion. The layers can feel endless, but there is always a center, and a professional can help you find it. Be it a therapist or a qualified coach, you deserve to heal!
Negativity bias is not a permanent state of being. There are ways to be rid of it, but it will require dedication, self-reflection, and a desire to be honest with yourself. You can do absolutely anything, and the sooner you can start seeing the good and positive within yourself as well as the various environments you move through, the lighter and more at peace with yourself you will become.
Kristie Santana is a certified life coach and founder of the National Coach Academy. Her most recent passion project is co-founding Life Coach Path, a New York based organization whose mission is to help students pursue their passion for coaching and find certification.