If you’ve made a change—say, a new haircut—and you get five compliments about it and one negative comment, what are you likely to focus on and remember? That’s right, you’re likely to be focused on the negative comment. You might not even remember the four compliments. Why is this?
This phenomenon of focusing on negative, unpleasant, and undesirable things including events, news, and outcomes is called the negativity bias. Our brains pay preferential attention to negative information and negative events. Our brains also form memories of negative occurrences far, far more easily than positive memories are made.
Why would our brains do this? What value could there be in focusing on the negative and overlooking the positive? Quite simply, which is more likely to hurt or kill you: something positive or something negative? Our brains evolved to be exquisite danger detectors and to remember potential dangers so they can be avoided in the future.
You can consciously choose to focus on the positive to counter the built-in negativity bias. This short blog post by psychologist Rick Hanson who has spent his career on this issue will give you a powerful yet simple and doable plan for how to start experiencing the good things in your life more strongly. Right now, due to the pandemic, we are surrounded by the negative and potential threats such as the loss of a job due to a struggling economy. These stresses have taken a toll on the mental health of many of us. Intentionally increasing the prominence of what is good in our lives is one key way to bolster mental health and make each day a little easier to get through.
I work with people all across Kansas and Missouri using telehealth (video sessions). If you are considering therapy, let’s meet for a free 30-minute consultation to see if we might be a good match. Call or text me at (816) 226-4678.