What is your negativity bias and why do you have one?

Your negativity bias is an evolved function whose purpose is the keep you alive. This means you are hard-wired to notice and act on negative information more than positive information. By noticing the dangers in the environment, our ancestors were able to take action and protect themselves so that they survived. They passed this bias down to you, but unfortunately, it is not very helpful in the way we live today.


Your negativity bias in action

Take this example, you want to make a point in a meeting, you believe it will help the problems being discussed, you have found a solution and can’t believe no one else has thought of it. However, you don’t usually volunteer in meetings, you find it stressful to get your voice heard. So instead of speaking, you notice your negativity bias yelling at you, saying ‘don’t say anything, you’ll make a fool of yourself, everyone will think it’s a stupid idea, they’ll laugh at you. Is this what you want to be remembered for?’ Your negativity bias is so loud, it is screaming to keep your attention.


Why won’t your negativity bias shut up?

It won’t shut up because it believes it hasn’t done its job. Its job is to keep you safe, and you haven’t listened to it, you haven’t acted upon what it is telling you, you are still in danger. So your negativity bias needs to get louder, it needs to make sure you hear it. Your negativity bias will do anything to keep you safe, it will give you tunnel vision so you only focus on the danger. It’s no good ignoring your negativity bias as it will only get louder.


Love your negativity bias

The logical part of your brain knows you have a good point to make in the meeting, so how can you tame your negativity bias and get this point across? This can be achieved by taking time to mentally tell your negativity bias that you are safe and thank it for looking out for you. Reassure it that nothing can harm you here. Thank your negativity bias for all it is doing to keep you safe. Actually say the words ‘thank you for looking out for me, thank you for keeping me safe. I can hear you, you’re doing a great job of keeping me safe.’

Then spend a few minutes thinking about the benefits of doing what you’re doing, e.g. making the point in the meting that will help solve the problem. People will see you as a solution seeker. Even if it doesn’t solve the problem completely, it will be a novel starting point and may generate other new ideas.


A two-pronged approach

The two-pronged approach of reassuring your negativity bias and focusing your attention on positive outcomes will be more effective than just reassurance alone. This is because it will generate more positive emotions and positive emotions provide a psychological buffer protecting us from our negativity bias.


Make a plan

What will you say to your negativity bias? How will you reassure it? Make a plan, write down some phrases that you can use next time your negativity bias kicks in. Show it that you are thankful for everything it is trying to do.

Read more about Bryony Shaw and her other articles HERE


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