The negativity bias is the idea that as humans we tend to focus predominantly on the negative, potentially risky elements of life. This is somewhat beneficial in the sense that it keeps us away from danger. Our ability to avoid risk keeps us alive. For some however the bias is in unnecessary overdrive. This can impact mood, thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Examples of the negativity bias in action include the following:
· Over-attending to bad news in the media to the point where it lowers mood
· Consistently highlighting flaws in self and others (either out loud or through self-talk)
· Comparing self to others in a self-deprecating way
· Replaying perceived negative social interactions mentally
· Ignoring strengths and highlighting weaknesses
· Disregarding successes and emphasising failures
There are numerous ways the negativity bias might manifest. Below are five tips for working with it. It’s important to work with it as opposed to against it. Working against it would be working against yourself. These tips are intended to help you work gently towards a more self-loving, less negative way of being. If you feel you need more intense support in this work it’s always a good idea to seek counselling.
1) Pay attention to the way yourself and others speak. Listening and becoming mindful enables us to gently correct or reframe unhelpful thinking. It can be useful to work with a friend on this or just let them know what you’re learning. That way you can open up a supportive dialogue and creative conversation around healthier ways of being. When you notice the negativity bias being particularly vocal in the absence of genuine risk or danger simply notice and accept it (e.g. that’s just the negativity bias, it’s something humans do). It can then be helpful to look for something positive, soothing or calming to focus on. This might be a person, happy thought or memory, object, photo, flower, going for a walk, meditating etc. Writing things down is also a really powerful way of creating new ways of thinking and being.
2) Write some good stuff down. Writing is an incredibly powerful tool and one of the most self-loving habits we can create. Journaling is a wonderful way of connecting with yourself. It can also harness gratitude and appreciation. The following prompts might be useful in relation to the negativity bias: What’s good about my life? What do I have to be grateful for? You could also write a gratitude list or simply free write. A good old list of reasons to be cheerful is also an amazing place to start.
3) The power of music is unspeakable for many and once you know how to use it to your advantage you will have a loyal friend for life. In relation to reframing the negativity bias it might be helpful to make a daily habit of listening to music which makes you feel good, whatever genre that might be. My Positivity Bias playlist can be found on Spotify if you’d like some inspiration. Music is so subjective though, it would be great if you could make your own based on your taste.
4) Affirmations. Many cringe at the thought of affirmations, but they can be tailored to include language which feels completely natural to you. The following examples are all different but ultimately say similar things. Perhaps pick one a repeat it to yourself daily for the next week, or feel free to make up your own. You can write it on your mirror, put it in your purse/wallet, set a reminder on your phone, tattoo it on your knuckle, whatever floats your boat (just don’t knock it until you’ve tried it):
I see the good around me
I naturally feel happiness
I am joyful
I am happy
I feel light and free
I am happy to be alive
I release tension and negativity
I love life
I am blessed
5) Educate yourself. If the idea of a negativity bias is one which strongly resonates with you it’s almost certainly worthy of further study or reading. This might include searching for articles about the negativity bias, watching TED Talks, YouTube videos or maybe you’ll want to talk it through with a friend.