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Negativity bias

How we get in our own way (and what we can do about it)

Saboteurs and Superheroes:

It seems that we all have a tendency towards the negative. This is not to say we are 'negative'.... just an acknowledgement that our survivor instinct leads us to look out for risk.

In psychology, this leads to an identifiable pattern of thinking referred to as 'negativity bias'. This is why negative comments made to us tend to 'stick' around longer and affect us more strongly than positive ones, and why we can find ourselves dwelling on them more than affirming comments and positive acknowledgement.

The challenge really comes when this almost instinctive way of looking at things doesn’t serve us (sometimes situations just do not really present a genuine risk), and the magnifying effect of our survivor brain has a disproportionate impact.

The good news is that by building our ability to change perspective (‘optimism’ too has a powerful ability to build our resilience and deal with challenging situations) and to build specific strategies that help us view the potential gifts and opportunities in situations (rather than the perceived threats) we can lead and live more effectively and happily.

A leadership and life coach can scaffold and facilitate various techniques that enable you to shift your thinking towards the positive.

  • Example 1: Acknowledging - Positive psychology demonstrates that giving time to consider positive acknowledgement is important. In fact, it seems that there is a magic ratio of positive to negative (so strong is the negativity bias) of 3 positive to 1 negative (thoughts).

  • Example 2: Neuroplasticity - using visualisation techniques can both dampen the perceived negative (as well amplify the possible benefits and opportunities) associations with an event, action or decision. Our brain’s ability to create new neural pathways (options) because of neuroplasticity means that we can effectively add to the brain’s architecture.

This article on the BBC unpacks it in more detail:

  • Example 3: Self-distancing - research has shown the positive impact of mentally ‘stepping away’ from the strong emotions associate with some situations. This, combined with creating personas (both those associated with negative traits and thoughts, as well as those associated with positive ones) enables us to distil and crystallise the feelings, emotions, thoughts and behaviours that are impacting on us.

This article on the BBC unpacks it in more detail:

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