Shed negativity bias; it’s OK to be OK | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Shed negativity bias; it’s OK to be OK

BySonali Gupta
Apr 16, 2024 09:52 AM IST

The good news is that human beings have great capacity to change and we can lower the inherent negativity bias and increase our capacity for savoring the good. To recognise that and become aware of our brain’s capacity for bias is the first step

A 37-year-old male client, just back from a 2-week trip, tells me, “The holiday felt perfect, my wife and I didn’t fight, our hotel was excellent, we ate really good food and got the chance to relax. On the way back though our flight was delayed by a few hours, and it immediately spoilt my mood. It’s as if I forgot all the good that had happened on the trip. Why do I choose to focus on the bad stuff while the good memories and experiences don’t stick?”

The laughter of children, participating in other people’s joys, or gratitude for what life has offered us can all improve our mental wellbeing. An attitude of mindfulness whether it’s through meditation, mindful walks or mindful attentive presence can play a big role in how we feel, and it allows us to feel centered and anchored
The laughter of children, participating in other people’s joys, or gratitude for what life has offered us can all improve our mental wellbeing. An attitude of mindfulness whether it’s through meditation, mindful walks or mindful attentive presence can play a big role in how we feel, and it allows us to feel centered and anchored

Different versions of the same question often make it to therapy sessions. The reason we find it difficult to stay focused on positive events is that we are wired for negativity bias. In simple words, negativity bias is a cognitive bias whereby we are more likely to not just register but also to keep thinking about and replaying our negative experiences far more than we do the positive ones. As Rick Hanson, author and psychotherapist, says, “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones.” This is true for every aspect of our life be it relationships, friendships, our work achievements or how we view the world. This shows up in our tendency for doom scrolling and our patterns on social media where one negative comment is likely to impact us far more than all the words of encouragement we received on a post or a story.

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From an evolutionary perspective, our tendency to be hypervigilant and focused on negative events or scenarios evolved from possible imminent danger. However, it’s important to remember that this response was important for our ancestors given that there were continuous threats to their physical safety and ignoring those cues could prove fatal. We may be living in far safer environs today but this response remains deeply encoded in our beings. The uncertainty in the world after the pandemic has only exacerbated our threat perception.

The good news is that human beings have great capacity to change and we can lower the inherent negativity bias and increase our capacity for savoring the good. To recognise that and become aware of our brain’s capacity for bias is the first step. The more we recognise this, the more we can choose to pause and distance ourselves from a gloomier view.

Increased exposure to technology means we spend large amounts of time in our head, focusing on everything that could possibly go wrong. A simple act of heading out for a walk without screens can remind us how nature resolves things and how there is a space for all beings, right from the smallest of birds to the big ferocious animals. To be in natural sunlight and focusing on micro interactions with others can help us take a break from this spiral of negativity bias. Another technique that really works is consciously going back and remembering positive experiences- whether the ones that happened in our past or focusing on the good that we are surrounded with. The laughter of children, participating in other people’s joys, or gratitude for what life has offered us can all improve our mental wellbeing. An attitude of mindfulness whether it’s through meditation, mindful walks or mindful attentive presence can play a big role in how we feel, and it allows us to feel centered and anchored. It evokes a sense of trust in our own capacities and the ability to feel safe in our own body and environment. This, in turn, reduces anxiety and hypervigilance.

Finally, we need to recognise that our negativity bias is a way of exerting control, and avoid uncertainty. But isn’t adulthood a recognition of the fact that we can try and work towards stability but we don’t have complete control over how life unfolds? We need to remember that in hard times we found not just ways to cope but also a tribe that helped us deal with tough times.

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