Are You Biased to Negativity?

Sha Hafez
Are You Biased to Negativity?

Yes you are, that's for sure! And quite frankly, we all are.

“Easier said than done” is what might go on our minds when we hear all that talk about positivity, perspectives, and the same old half full cup!

It’s totally normal to feel that way. Most of these things might simply seem to be unattainable in life, and no matter how hard we try to stay positive, we end up feeling like we're being set up to fail!

A Bias Toward Negativity

Through absolutely no fault of our own, the human brain is much more biased toward the negative side of life. A pool of literature in psychology confirms that human beings recall, notice, and respond more to negative information and stimuli than to positive ones.

Negativity bias is one of the cognitive biases. These are mental shortcuts the brain takes to make sense of the world and determine a reaction to it quickly. In other words, our brains are super lazy by nature; they like to cut the extra work, and rely on the same paths (predictable patterns of thoughts and behavior) than to process and analyze new information properly.

Negatively speaking, being negative means less work for our brains.

Negativity bias explains a lot about us: why people are more affected by negative experiences encountered in the past, why we give more weight to negative qualities in others than we give to their good ones, why negative advertising and hateful political campaigns grab more attention. Where did we get this bias from?

Let's Talk Evolution!

This bias can be traced back to the old times, when our primate ancestors learned to survive by paying full attention to possible threats and expecting the worst all the time.

The brain developed skills that guaranteed we would not miss any imminent danger. It still works the same way as if we are surrounded by the possibility of getting eaten 24/7. Unfortunately, today this bias sabotages our mental wellbeing.

So how could a negativity bias affect our lives?

This bias affects us on a daily basis, in tens of ways and degrees that differ from one and another, but the most common three are:

1. Unhappiness

A frequent focus on: threats, dangers, fears, limits, conflicts, sad memories, missed opportunities, bad scenarios of the future and so on, will result in stress and unhappiness as a normal consequence.

This can simply ruin our lives and turn it into a non-stop nightmare.

2. Loss Aversion

Have you ever noticed how people generally tend to hate losing more than they like winning?

Psychologists explain that negativity bias often makes people handle equal gains and losses differently. For example, most people find that losing $100 is more upsetting than finding a $100 makes them happy.

3. Risk Aversion

We vary in our willingness to take risks, but studies have shown that most people by and large are more likely to make decisions based not on achieving something good, but on avoiding something bad.

Given the fact that we are more sensitive to bad outcomes than the good ones, we develop a natural risk aversion, which is the reluctance of a person to take a decision that includes a risk of some kind and has a big payoff, in favor of a decision that is safe with less or no payoff.

What Can We do Against This?

We can resist the natural tendency to lean on the negative side of everything through a few simple things:

1. Bring Negative Thoughts to Consciousness

This will reduce their influence, as awareness is the number-one tool to any change. It has the ability to defuse negative thoughts and stop them from gaining momentum.

2. Think Positive and Happy Thoughts

Every thought releases certain brain chemicals, as we all know.

Thus, the mere act of thinking happy and joyful thoughts decreases the stress hormone, cortisol, and produces serotonin -- one of the hormones that activates happiness.

3. Keep a Record of Positive Events

Write down happy moments, take photographs, and most of all, share them. Make a habit of noticing the small pleasures and little victories every day that we usually overlook.

4. Create a Distraction

When faced with negativity, sometimes the best thing to do is to go focus on something else.

New researches argues that humans cannot actually multitask, it’s a common misbelief that we can, and what actually happens is that we switch our focus on and off between tasks. So when we try to escape a negative thought by getting ourselves busy with a complicated task of some sort, a Sudoku or crossword puzzle would do the trick, the mind is forced to redirect our attention.

5. Meditation and Mindfulness

We cannot stress enough how mindful meditation techniques do wonders in reducing mental chaos and keeping the mind calm.

If you haven't tried meditation, just take 10 minutes to sit quietly and focus on the in and out of the breath. After just 10 minutes you'll feel so much better and more positive!

6. Use Mantras

Mantras are a word, series of words, or phrases that hold meaning and are ideally repeated out loud. Practicing a mantra creates affirmation inside us that goes deep into our subconscious, helping to turn our negative thoughts, habits, and patterns into positive ones.

For instance, a very simple mantra, such as “stay positive,” has tremendous power in both achieving calmness and getting rid of negativity.

We are indeed complicated creatures. We have been on a long evolutionary journey which has left us with biases and instincts that sometimes work against us. A negativity bias may cause problems, but much of this bias can often be eliminated by us.

Yes! We can create new habits, develop mental skills, and start behavioral practices that will make our days not just simpler, but also better and happier. All we have to do is work a little harder on protecting and enhancing our wellbeing.

Have you tried any of these practices to get rid of negativity? How did they work for you? Share with the rest of the community in the comments below!