Yesterday, when I picked my 4-year old up from nursery, she wanted to go and play in the park. I said no as we had a dentist appointment which triggered a minor tantrum.
As little one whimpered and complained, her best friend turned around and said: “You are being very silly!”
The moment she said it, I could see little one’s heart break. She collapsed on the floor, burst in tears and wept inconsolably until we got home and bribed her with a gingerbread man.
We went on to have a lovely afternoon. Lots of fun and games, stickers, compliments and laughter at the dentist and loads of cuddles.
When I tucked her in at night and asked whether she had a good day, she replied: “No! Celeste said I was silly!”
And it made me wonder. Why can a whole day of positives not outweigh one negative? Why do we focus on the negatives so much?
Our brain evolved to ensure our ancestors’ survival. Hence, it invented 3 cunning tactics to keep them safe:
These 3 mechansims are still operational today. And negativity bias, as a way to learn from horrible experiences, is as active now as it was in the Stone Age. In fact, research has shown that our brain responds with more vigorous activity to negative stimuli than to positive ones.
But nowadays, we are far less likely to be devoured by a wild beast, tumble down a steep cliff or succumb to poisonous berries than our early ancestors did. But while our surroundings and circumstances have changed dramatically, our brain hasn’t.
So, instead of preventing physical danger, it obsesses about intangible threats to our wellbeing and our ego. It occupies itself with other people’s opinions about us, dwells on our mistakes and shortcomings. And it frets about distant, improbable menaces we see on the news.
It zooms into every tiny criticism, clings to signs of disapproval and gorges on tales of catastrophe, disaster and tragedy.
All the while fuelling our anxiety and destroying our self-worth. But, if it is our nature to get hung up on the negatives, what can we do about it?
Our brains might be honing in on the negative. But we don’t need to resign ourselves to a life of doom, gloom and self-flagellation. We can counteract our natural negativity instincts in many ways:
So, next time you feel negativity overpowering you, remember that you now have the tools to respond differently. You have power over your actions. And reactions. You have a choice!
Choose positivity! Because you deserve it!
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