One problem is never enough, is it? The universe always wants to throw multiple pieces of sh*t my way as if to test me. Or, at least, that’s how it can feel right?
The issue with this outlook is that, in many cases, it is not entirely accurate. Rather, the mind has a propensity to pay attention to and remember the bad, while overlooking or forgetting the good. This is known as negativity bias.
Rick Hanson, researcher and author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom puts it this way: the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.
So when an issue pops up in your life, you immediately store the experience. What’s more, by this point the alarm bells are ringing in the amygdala – the main part of your brain responsible for assessing what’s good and what’s bad – and you start to focus your attention on every little thing that’s going wrong at that time.
This makes it even easier to overlook the positive events in your life. And even when you do stop and appreciate something good that is happening, compared with the bad, you have to keep your focus on it for much longer – as much as 20 seconds – before it becomes a strong and permanent fixture in your memory.
So, no, it doesn’t always pour when it rains; sometimes it just rains. And sometimes it can rain and shine at the same time and create a rainbow – only, you probably wouldn’t see it because you’d be too busy feeling aggrieved by the rain.
How To See The Rainbow
As with many things involving the mind – awareness is the first step to change. Now that you know the mind is more attuned to the negative aspects of life than it is the positive, you can do something about it.
Remember, the brain is not a fixed, hard-wired machine, but rather a computer that can be programmed and re-programmed.
With this thought as our starting point, here are two things that you can do to swing the negativity bias back towards the positive to some degree:
Whenever good things do happen – no matter how big or small – you should try to dwell on them for as long as possible to embed these experiences into your mind. You should also attempt to be more aware of the little things in life; those that you may fail to notice when going about your typical daily activities.
As discussed in this article on Psychology Today, researchers have made attempts to calculate the ideal ratio of good to bad thoughts and experiences for various aspects of our lives. The number that keeps coming up is 5 to 1.
That means that you need to find 5 positive things for every negative in order to achieve a good mental balance and avoid an overly downbeat view of life.
When you are experiencing a succession of negative thoughts, or when bad things are happening and it seems like the sky is falling in, try this exercise. Simply take a pen and paper (or phone and finger if you prefer) and write down all the things you can be thankful for at the present moment.
Don’t rush – spend 5 or 10 minutes thinking if you need to. By putting your attention on the good things in your life, you can change the way you perceive the problems or challenges that you face.
While it can be very effective to perform this task at times when you feel the universe is against you, it can be equally as helpful to do this or something similar on a regular basis. Perhaps you could even try keeping a “positive diary” where you take note of at least 1 positive thing that happened each day.
While you won’t be able to swing the bias totally away from negativity, it is possible to reduce that 5:1 ratio so that it takes fewer positive points to balance out the negative thoughts and experiences.
The Conscious Rethink: with the knowledge of negativity bias safely stored in your mind and with the exercises above as part of your arsenal, you can slowly start to reshape the connections in your brain and alter your outlook on the world and of the events in your life. This is one of those instances where the more work you put in, the more you’ll be rewarded, so please put this into practice.