Negativity Bias

3 min readBadlandsDo you ever wonder why we focus on the negative?  You can be having a great day, the best day ever, then one negative thing happens.  Do we think about the 497 things that went right that day, or the ONE thing that went wrong?  I know I would think about the one thing that went wrong – why did that happen, what could I have done differently, if only …

I used to think it was just me, but apparently we, as a species, are wired that way.  According to Rick Hanson in his book Just one thing: developing a Buddha brain one simple practice at a time, “Scientists believe that your brain has a built-in negativity bias … because, as our ancestors dodged sticks and chased carrots over millions of years of evolution, the sticks had the greater urgency and impact on survival.”

I love his example:  “Consider these two mistakes:

  1. You think there’s a tiger in the bushes, but actually there isn’t one.
  2. You think there’s no tiger in the bushes, but actually one is about to pounce.

Most of us make the first mistake much more often than the second one … Evolution has given us an anxious brain.  In order to survive and pass on genes, it’s better to make the first mistake a thousand times rather than make the second mistake even once; the cost of the first mistake is fear for no reason, but the cost of the second mistake could be death.”

So how do we keep our brains away from negativity when there is no actual danger?  According to Hanson:

  1. You can compensate for the brain’s negativity bias “by actively looking for good news – especially the little things you are glad about.  You will feel happier, more at peace with the world, more open to others, and more willing to stretch for your dreams.”
  2.  “Take a close look at this moment.  When we go into the future, we worry and plan.  When we go into the past, we resent and regret.  Threads of fear are woven into the mental tapestries of past and future.  Look again at the thin slice of time that is the present.  In this moment: Are you basically okay?  Is breathing okay?  Is the heart beating?  Is the mind working? … Several times a day, notice that you’re basically all right. … In this moment I am all right.”

So now we can stop beating ourselves up for focusing on the negative and know that it’s just our nature.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m pretty sure that’s just a chipmunk rustling in the bushes, but I better go check just in case …

About Lisa Ivaldi

Lisa loves sharing information that will have a positive impact. is a personal growth blog that uses personal stories and expert theories to share ideas and perspectives. Sometimes looking at things slightly differently can make a huge difference.
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