For many of us, our default is to focus on problems. Even when we receive a flood of accolades, a single negative comment can become the one source of feedback that we fixate upon. Researchers refer to this phenomenon as negativity bias.
While being hyper-attuned to threats (focusing on the negative) once played a critical role in human survival, in today’s world, we’re much better off downplaying or giving short shrift to our negativity bias. Placing too much attention on negative experiences or possible outcomes can keep us from taking healthy risks and living life to the fullest; as was the case with one of my life coaching clients who found herself professionally paralyzed due to fixating on the possibility that making a wrong decision could leave her homeless and penniless.
Together, we challenged this thought through a mindful inquiry method in which we investigated any truth behind her fear-based apprehension. Challenging negative and fear-based thoughts is essential if we wish to not live our lives in a state of negativity paralysis or trepidation.
How to Stop Your Negativity Bias in Its Tracks:
1. Extinguish overblown negative thoughts or beliefs. Many of us wrestle with self-defeating thoughts like we aren’t good enough or smart enough. These thoughts usually stem from a distorted perception of ourselves because of something someone may have said or because we compare ourselves to others that we perceive as smarter or more accomplished. You can redirect these thoughts by recalling your accomplishments and the positive feedback you’ve received from others. Choose to believe in your worthiness.
2. Discern the difference between constructive and destructive thoughts. When negative thoughts pop into your head, it’s important to ask yourself: “Do I like this thought?” If the message that it’s telling you is destructive, you don’t have to listen. Confronting your negative thoughts will make them lose their power over you.
3. Play to win rather than not to lose. When you envision how to carry out a goal or a lofty pursuit, push aside all the negative “what ifs” and turn your focus toward all the good things you expect to happen. Notice how your positivity helps allow you to make your intentions materialize.
4. Use setbacks as a chance to reset. Our emphasis on negativity stems from our fear of failure. But failures or mistakes can provide insights into new tactics to explore or better directions to take. Mindfully reset your compass using all that you’ve learned from the mistake.
5. Redirect your attention. When you catch yourself obsessively mulling over a negative comment or event, consciously take your mind to a memory that brings you joy or a prospect that stirs up excitement. Understand that you are the one doing the doubting, so you can decide to no longer dwell on the negative.
If we don’t control our negatively oriented thoughts, we short-change ourselves. By directing our focus from the negative to the promising positive, we become the master of our internal dialogue and can manifest the mindset that supports us and our purpose. Otherwise, we live our lives at the mercy of thoughts that aren’t true.