Negativity creeps up on us in an insidious way. So how do we curb it and live a healthy positivity? Here is the answer.
A few days ago I had to call one of my service providers. This was the 3rd time I had called to get a document via email that was not arriving. I was pretty tired of the constant calls and the many transfers to multiple agents. I contacted the company's customer service department, and as is often the case in this type of situation, I was put on hold. Of course I could have chosen to have them call me back, but I preferred to wait online. I was able to speak to an agent and explained my problem for the umpteenth time. He transferred me to another department, I was on hold and lost the line just as I was being answered! In fact, at that very moment I had reached for my phone which was on the table (I was on speakerphone) and I think I hung up unintentionally. "Damn touch screens!", I said to myself angrily. I was in a bad mood. I had to call back, be put on hold again and finally speak to another agent who assured me that everything would be done and that I would receive the document within the next 24 hours. I hung up hoping that this time it would be the right one. I must admit that I was irritated and that this situation was ruining my morning. I immediately realized that I was experiencing negativity bias and then made a conscious choice to not let my frustration and impatience taint the rest of my day. Without rejecting my emotions, I decided not to dwell on them for too long. I calmed myself down by focusing my attention on something else, which made me forget about this incident that had, I must admit, somewhat disturbed the course of my morning.
What is negativity bias?
You have probably already had a pleasant day and then seen it darkened by an unpleasant event that wipes out the 90% of positivity experienced during the rest of the day. For example, an argument, a depressing news in the media, an unexpected breakdown in the house or in the car that will generate expenses, the loss of an object that we love very much. Why does this single event have so much weight in the appreciation of the day, when the rest of the day went well? It is because we are more sensitive and more affected by negative situations than positive ones. This is the negativity bias.
This disposition to be more affected by negative events apparently comes from our distant ancestors who managed to survive the dangers of their environment thanks to their ability to be alert to perils. Today, society has changed and although we are no longer exposed to all these threats, the negativity bias still remains and influences us. Thus, generally speaking, it is the negative side that takes over in our feelings even if there are more positive elements or gains than negative elements or losses. For example, when we have to make a decision, the possible loss to be suffered motivates the choice more than the possible benefit to be gained. In the same way, when we have to take an action, the risk that we might run has more weight in the motivation to take or not to take the action than the advantage that this action might bring (even if the sum of the advantages exceeds the disadvantage). This also extends to the field of relationships where, for example, we remember more strongly negative interactions or impressions in our relationship with others than positive experiences or exchanges.
Why is it important to identify negativity bias?
The negativity bias influences our behaviour, our actions, our judgment, our decisions and can even affect our mental health (depression and anxiety). By being aware of this asymmetry, it becomes possible to adjust our reaction to negative contexts and thus counteract our natural propensity to respond more strongly to them than to positive contexts of equal intensity.
The benefits of identifying and correcting negativity bias are many. It allows you to:
Lighten up your life: negative emotions have their uses, but if they are maintained, they inevitably end up weighing on morale, causing fatigue and becoming a burden. It's like having a ball and chain attached to your foot. How can you function optimally if you are carrying a weight around with you?
Make life more enjoyable: No one likes to experience moments of sadness, discouragement, anger, fear or anxiety. These are healthy reactions to negative stimuli, but in the context of negativity bias, we need to identify this negative bias and mitigate its impact on us. When we know how to manage the bias, we allow positive feelings to take a little more space in our lives and we give ourselves permission to lead a smoother existence.
Have discernment in judgment and decision making: negativity bias is a distortion of information processing. It distorts reasoning and reality. Since logic is distorted, it becomes misleading, and it inevitably leads to an irrational decision or judgment. We agree that it is better to have a clear head to make a decision or to get a better impression of someone or a situation, than to rely on faulty logic.
Encourage moments of happiness: happiness as such does not last in time, i.e. it is not a permanent state. This is why I speak here of moments of happiness rather than of happiness. I am referring here to moments when we are well. If we reduce the effects of negativity, we create more satisfaction.
Increase the range of possibilities: when a decision is based on, for example, fear or any other negative reason, when the gain outweighs the discomfort, opportunities are closed. When I was a student and in my program of study I got to the internship stage, I was able to find a company that accepted me as an intern for the summer. It was an unpaid internship, but I was happy that I was able to get a place somewhere. When I was looking for an internship, I signed up for a program that allowed young people from all over Canada to get work experience outside their home province. I signed up just for the sake of it because I didn't think it would work out. To my surprise, I got a job in my field through this program and I was faced with a dilemma: to stay where I was or to go to a city where I didn't know anyone, where I had to find a place to live and where I had to speak English (I'm a french speaker and my english wasn't really good). There was a good incentive though, the job was paid. After much reflection, I packed my bags, left Quebec City for Ottawa, spent two extraordinary months there, improved my English, discovered Ontario, and the best part was that I fell in love with Ottawa and chose to move there 3 years later!
Essential habits to adopt for more positivity
People who manage to mitigate the impact of negativity bias in their lives have developed coping mechanisms. So what are the habits of these positive people that we need to adopt to overcome negativity bias? Positive people or people who are working on their positivity do the following:
They spend more time thinking about positive things than negative things
The math is quite simple. Since the magnitude of bad experiences on individuals is far greater than the magnitude of good experiences, we can attack the problem by frequently immersing ourselves in positive thoughts. Whether it's keeping a gratitude journal, reading a positive thought each day, celebrating the little things in life, remembering a funny fact, or being able to laugh at yourself with kindness, there needs to be a strategy that can be applied on a daily basis to give more room for positive emotions.
They forget negative experiences rather than dwell on them
Positive people don't often have dark thoughts because they don't focus on the negatives of their experiences and, more importantly, they don't dwell on them. It's important not to let all those unpleasant thoughts take over and invade our daily lives. If you find yourself ruminating, turn your attention to something that will occupy your mind positively. Be kind to yourself.
They pay less attention to the negative and reframe the situation
I once heard a coach respond to the famous lament, "Why is this happening to me?" by saying, "Things don't happen to you, they happen for you. What you do with what happens to you is up to you and you can turn it to your advantage so that it works for you". A great example of reframing and growth mindset! Going back to my story earlier, I used my negative experience with the call center to illustrate my point about negativity bias and to make an emotional connection with you, my readers, in order to get my point across. In the end, I made this experience useful.
They take the time to appreciate the good times
By focusing on the situations that arouse pleasant emotions in us and by regularly nourishing ourselves with them, we tip the balance towards positivity. This approach helps to counteract the negativity to which we are exposed and to restore the imbalance caused by our reactivity to the negative.
They find ways to refocus
This can be accomplished through various means such as meditation, mindfulness or any other practice that promotes mental relaxation, a pleasant activity that absorbs attention, or playing sports. Any constructive action that can help you realign yourself with your well-being is worth considering.
They opt for positive thinking
Of course, there will always be upsetting situations and it's not a matter of ignoring them completely as if you were living in a wonderland. Rather, it is about boosting your optimism by developing a mindset that focuses on the bright side of things. It's possible to be aware of the downsides of life, experience the emotions that come with them, and still be able to experience life positively. We can't expect to be happy all the time, that would be utopian, but we can work on generating positive vibes and doing our best to get up from the down times.
"Just one small positive thought in the morning can change your whole day"
I hope all of this helps you spot the negativity bias, correct it and live more positively. I'm quite curious to know what habits you would be willing to adopt right now? Share it in the comments.
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(Ma qualité de vie means My quality of life in French.)
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