Fact: We’re biologically programmed to have a negativity bias. And sometimes we get dragged down by it. This episode is about understanding where negativity comes from and improving your quality of life. I’ll also be diving into a few simple practices that will help you uproot the weeds of negativity in your life.
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Fact: We’re biologically programmed to have a negativity bias.
Sometimes we get dragged down by it. Maybe people say to you, “Don’t be so negative!”or “Come on, cheer up!”
But this isn’t about pleasing people…this is about understanding where negativity comes from and improving your quality of life.
My client Ramona was super smart, thoughtful and intelligent. But I always felt like there was a wall between us. If I said, “Ramona, the sky is blue” she’d say, “Oh, not really, it’s more like gray.” If I said, “Ramona, what’s your favorite kind of exercise” she’d say, “Eh, I really never exercise, I can’t, I don’t have enough time.”
Do you know glass-half-empty people like this? Or do you ever feel this way?
Good news. Negativity is normal.
If you think about it, there’s great value in thinking about what DOESN’T work.
If you were a cave woman collecting berries and one particular berry had clearly poisoned someone…you would want to remember that. And you’d remember that the river over there is too deep and someone almost drowned it in. Right?
It’s really important for survival that our nervous system developed to always be on the lookout for danger. We learned to focus on what doesn’t work because it kept us alive.
The same principle makes sense in modern times.
If we grew up in an explosive household, our nervous system learns how to not set our parents off. If we’re in a toxic relationship, we learn to walk on eggshells and avoid danger.
It’s part of being human and it’s useful…until it’s not.
We could be on vacation, on a beach somewhere with a cute waiter bringing us margaritas, and yet we still find something to worry or complain about. The negativity bias can really detract from our quality of life.
The connection between chronic stress and negativity
Living in a burnt out, chronically stressed and depleted state, we are more prone to having a negativity bias. Our nervous system is trying to serve us by being on edge – hypervigilant and on the lookout for inevitable danger.
By the way, if this negativity bias thing feels like you AT ALL I want to encourage you to take the free quiz on my website to see how close to burnout you really are. I think you’ll find it really useful. We tend to believe that negativity is just part of our personality. But it’s a symptom of an overactive stress response. And you may find that with a few shifts…we can regulate that stress response and you’re a lot more sunshine-y than you feel right now.
Like Ramona. As I continued to work with Ramona, she softened. She stopped seeing me as a threat. I don’t think she consciously ever saw me that way but, subconsciously we sometimes view outsiders as a threat.
And within a few weeks, I noticed Ramona opening up to suggestions and possibilities. Everything didn’t end with “no, I can’t.” Instead it was like “ok, let me try” or “here’s what’s working.” That is a beautiful, beautiful shift.
How the media creates negativity
Let’s talk about social media and how it makes us feel like something is…wrong.
“OMG look at all these beautiful people doing wonderful things and I’m just at home in my pajamas”…that creates an “I’m not enough” feeling.
What about airbrushed covers of magazines?
We immediately think about how OUR thighs don’t look like that and we feel “something is wrong. Something is wrong with me.”
Even the most balanced, happy person is sort of bathing in a soup every day, designed to make us feel less-than. Talk about disempowering.
Consider even the Disney movies we watched as little girls. We’re wanting to be the princess, waiting for our prince to rescue us. So our whole lives, something is missing if that prince is missing. Something is wrong if we’re not princess-like and being swept off our feet.
The media plays a huge role in creating negativity bias in our lives, and a whole host of stressors on our system.
Experiment with your body
Let’s do a little experiment. It will only take a minute.
The first thought I want you to bring to mind and repeat to yourself is this:
“Everything I really need, I already have. Everything I really need, I already have.”
Just feel that. Breathe into those words. Everything I really need, I already have.
How does that feel in your body, to hear those words? I feel a wholeness. I feel about 3” taller. I feel empowered. Calm. Ease.
And now we’ll contrast with a different thought:
“Something’s missing. Something’s wrong. Something’s missing. Something’s wrong.”
How does that feel in your body? In mine, I feel hollow. Dark. Scattered. You might want to curl up in a ball. It’s a state of dis-ease.
It gets more interesting…
When we think or believe that something is missing or something is wrong…we tend to translate it 1 of 3 ways:
- I’m the problem. In which case we shrink, we have no confidence, we give up on ourselves.
- Or, we translate those negative feelings into, “You’re the problem” and this is where we complain about others, we fight, we work out our stuff on other people because we’re hurting inside. Know anyone like that?
- And finally, sometimes we translate those dark feelings into “Problem? What’s problem?? There’s no problem!” And turn it into a big ol’ case of denial where we ignore how we feel entirely, pretend it doesn’t exist, and wear rose colored glasses while our bodies hold onto that hollow feeling and maybe we use chocolate or wine or sex or shopping or something else to fill the void but, my god, on the outside we are just GREAT.
Our very normal, human negativity bias can overrun us…not just because we’re having negative thoughts all day, but because we don’t want to feel the pain. We find some really interesting ways to hide from it. And the negativity builds and builds, creating toxic relationships, bad habits, and in the end…more stress.
Are you following all this?
It’s time to dig up those weeds before they choke us, so we can feel more empowered and stand tall.
Here are some thought practices that will help you rewire your brain to unravel negative thought patterns:
1. The first, we’ve already done. This is a practice you can employ in the moment, when you’re feeling stressed. Or, I recommend practicing this thought on a daily basis as a sort of mantra for yourself, maybe first thing in the morning:
“Everything I really need, I already have. Everything I really need, I already have.”
2. I want you to think of something that brought a sweet smile to your face in the last 24 hours. Even something small or simple. Like, I’m thinking about having dinner with my Uncle Joey who said something funny and it just made me smile inside.
Feel the feeling that you had when it happened. That warmth, that smile, that ease. And sit with that, soaking in it like a hot tub of good feeling. So often we bathe in our battles…this is the opposite. It should feel like the sun in shining on your face. Pause and breathe into that feeling for a few breaths. Maybe more. Let that good feeling flood your body.
It really does take practice to let ourselves feel good. Sound ridiculous? Try it. Try giving yourself this gift.
3. Finally, know that sometimes you are going to hurt. You are going to be pissed off. You are going to suffer. It’s part of being human and I do not subscribe to the notion of just acting positive for the sake of acting positive. Remember — that can actually be a toxic coping technique. So instead, when you feel like garbage…
Feel it. You can say, “Hey, I’m mad. I’m angry. I’m hurt. I am suffering.” Name it and allow it.
And then, try reframing that suffering. It can still exist, but instead of being the victim (and sometimes we ARE the victim, to be clear) but instead of just sitting in that role, consider…
Why is this happening for me?
Not TO me. FOR me.
You might be like, shut up Michelle, there’s no way on earth that this terrible situation is happening FOR me. Yet, if you think back on all the terrible things you’ve survived up until this point (and you have survived by the way, you have made it through 100% of those things) you know you’re pretty strong. I bet you can look back and see how those events shaped you, your life, and even if they sucked, they taught you something or they brought you where you are today. In essence, there was a gift buried inside the junk.
Find that now, in your suffering. Can you imagine even a small slice of it that’s happening FOR you? To make you stronger, smarter, to encourage a much-needed change or action?
If you can start witnessing your own negativity bias, that’s a good start. Don’t judge it. Tell yourself, thank you, thank you, brain, for trying to protect me. Good job. Actually we can relax right now.
And then, if you can incorporate one or more of those thought practices, your brain really WILL change. You’ll forge new neural pathways and kill off some of that toxic negativity that’s been dragging you down. You’ll feel 3” taller.
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