By Dave Smith
This week I went indoor rock climbing with a group of friends and was excited to show off my skills. Surely all the exercise I do would translate into superhuman climbing ability?
After two hours of climbing, I knew that I was far from being a rock-climbing champion...
Out of the four of us in the group, I was the weakest climber by a landslide (rock-climbing pun intended). I fell off one wall twice, while my climbing buddy scaled it with ease. I didn't even attempt another route that my friends were playing on. I knew I couldn't do it.
I thought I'd look something like Stallone here. Instead, I got a toe blister.
By the end of the night, I was very ready to be done with climbing. My fingers ached, my forearms throbbed, and my toe had developed a painful blister. I concluded,
"I don't like climbing. I am no good."
Negativity Is In Your DNA
If I bumped into you on the street and asked how your day or week is going, imagine what your likely response might be.
Does your brain immediately sift through your recent life events, plucking out those that are most exciting? Do you dive into details of that thing that brought a beaming smile to your face earlier in the day?
Or, like many of us, do you answer like this...
"Not too bad."
"I'm doing alright."
What's the deal?
Is life really so "blah" that we can't bring to mind something good that's happening in our lives at any given moment? Or, is there another reason why we tend to overlook the positives in life?
What do you say when someone asks, "How you doing?"
Research suggests that negative thinking is actually in our DNA - it's called our Negativity Bias. Historically, it was a survival mechanism that helped our ancestors be more aware of danger or harm, and enabled them to remember negative consequences that would lead to better decision-making in the future.
Not only is negativity a survival instinct, but it has been shown to be more contagious than positivity, and is amplified in our brains. This is why bad news can throw off your entire day, more so than a bit of good news can set you in a lasting positive mood.
Even our English language has a negative slant to it, with 62% of our words having a negative emotion tied to them versus only 32% that are regarded as being primarily positive.
We're just a bunch of Debbie Downers!
You Are What You Think
I see our inherent negativity on a daily basis. Carol (name changed) came to me 50 pounds overweight, suffering from fibromyalgia, carrying news from her doctor that her health markers were that of someone nearly twice her age.
Carol was pretty miserable. She complained a lot. Nothing could fix her. Everyone was against her. There was no point of trying.
But despite her bleak outlook, Carol agreed to make some changes to her diet. And you know what? She did it!
For one month she followed most of the suggestions I gave, and she lost 8 pounds. I was elated with her progress, but Carol had a different perspective:
"I've got cellulite and my ass still jiggles when I walk."
That's what she focused on. Forget that she just made some significant diet improvements and kept them up for an entire month. Ignore the fact that she had just lost 8 pounds of fat. Her "ass still jiggles" and that's all that matters.
Carol displayed an extreme version of the negativity bias, but she's not alone.
Have you ever attempted to clean up your diet, but find yourself fixated on the bite of a brownie you took at lunch, ignoring the salad you chose instead of the fries?
Or have you ever started an exercise plan but can't let go of that missed workout, even though you made it to the gym twice more than you normally would?
Maybe you only see your flabby tummy, while others envy your toned legs?
Are you fixated on that one thing that's "wrong" even though so much is right?
These instances of the negativity bias can lead you to believe that you:
- Just aren't a healthy eater.
- Aren't disciplined enough to exercise.
- Are lazy.
- Can't get in shape no matter how hard you try.
- Shouldn't bother because you know you'll give up.
- Aren't beautiful, worthy, or valuable.
These are lies at first, but they become the truth when we repeat them long enough. Over time they begin to dictate the way we live our lives.
Rewind through the conversations you've had with others, or in your own mind, during the past 24 hours. What negativity bias lies are you repeating?
Can A Positivity Bias Exist?
Knowing that you will become what you think works both ways. You can retrain your brain to focus on the positives in life, and in turn, your life will become more positive. Science shows this to be true.
But this has to be done proactively. It won't just happen.
Remember, your default, simply by being human, is to place more emphasis on the negative. You may do this to more or less of a degree than others, but we all do it. You have to work at seeing the positives.
My rock-climbing experience is a perfect example. I had moments where I concluded that I was no good, or that I'd never be able to do what others were doing. My negativity bias took over without me even realizing it.
If however, I were to approach that situation again, I could cultivate positive thoughts instead of those negative ones. I could have reminded myself that I'm just a beginner, or that I'm doing better than I did in the few times I've climbed in the past.
There were positives in that situation that I could have owned - I just needed to find them. (See #9 in the action steps below)
How To Remain Positive Despite Your Negativity Bias
You are kicking butt in life right now.
Don't believe me?
It just might take a tiny bit of effort to see how that's true. Here are a few simple action steps that will overcome your negativity bias and help you remain positive on a daily basis:
- Change how you answer the question, "How are you doing?" to include a positive.
- Ask others about positive things they see in your life.
- Commit to writing down one positive from each day.
- Keep a journal where you can reflect back on how negatives turned into positives.
- Read positive books.
- Watch less TV (negative headlines always grab the spotlight).
- Go to bed earlier.
- Write positive quotes in places where you'll see them often.
- Capture negative thoughts about yourself, and choose a positive replacement.
- Write a positive mantra or affirmation and repeat it each morning.
It's Your Turn. Start Now.
I'm glad you've read this article. Hopefully it's given you something to think about and some tools to help you build a stronger positivity bias. Want to start right now?
In the comments section below, write down one good thing that happened to you today. It can be anything you want. What is your one positive? I got the ball rolling, so now I'm interested to hear from you!