“Why are you being so negative?” If you’re like most people, I’m sure you’ve been asked this rhetorical question more than a few times in your life. And, like most people, I’m sure you were stumped by it. Most of us do go through times when we are negative, don’t know why, and don’t know how to get out of our negativity. Well now there is an answer to that baffling question, and our negativity is normal. Our brain’s wired to pay closer attention to negativity, as it serves a protective factor. Problems arise when this negative bias goes haywire.
Negative thinking occurs naturally and frequently. Negativity bias is a psychological phenomenon in which we have greater recall of unpleasant memories compared with positive ones. It is the brain’s natural “yeah, but…” mechanism designed to help us avoid danger and harm. With the negative expectations we are more likely to avoid harmful past experiences, making us more mentally prepared for things that could pose threats to our physical safety. This logic probably evolved to help protect us from harm and avoid danger. Our brain’s have survival techniques that make it hard for us to not notice potential problems and take steps to avoid them.
Findings in a 2001 study published in the Review of General Psychology entitled “Bad is Stronger than Good,” concluded that we not only anticipate negative events, but our imaginations tend to catastrophize the future, and anticipate the worst outcomes. The good news is that this protects us and prepares us for the “what if’s” that could result. The bad news is that we become victims of all kinds of stressful events that couldn’t possibly happen, reacting emotionally in anticipation. This negativity bias also prevents us from trying new things and taking on novel challenges. Our negativity bias would have protected us as a species during the caveman days, but it is not usually suited to 21st century life.
The negativity bias gets in the way of modern life most often with relationships. Couples that have good relationships are those that have been able to balance the positive and negative feelings that they have for their partners. Couples stay together for the long haul are those that are able to strike a balance between negativity, arguments, and disagreement, with positivity such as demonstrations of love, affection, and caring. If one or both of a couple are biased towards negativity the relationship is probably not going to last.
Negativity bias also rears its ugly head when it prevents us from taking an opportunity that might enhance our finances or careers. If you’ve been slogging away at an unfulfilling job for years, you probably have thought of changing jobs at one point or another. You probably came up with some idea of a disaster that would occur if you were to attempt a new career. You probably stayed in the unfulfilling job and rationalized with a “devil you know is better than the devil you don’t” attitude. Don’t feel bad, you’re not alone, we all do it.
Like most hardwired behaviors, negativity bias can malfunction. We sometimes are negative and don’t know why. Negativity can happen for no logical reason at times. Sometimes “Why are you so negative?” can only be truthfully answered with “I don’t know.” There are some ways we can cope with this random negativity. Some steps to take are:
1. Recognize the negativity for what it is, a random attack of negativity bias. Don’t make more of it than you have to. If you can’t identify a cause for the negative emotion move on. If you look for one, your brain will definitely find one.
2. Change your focus. What am I thinking and saying to myself right now? How does my thinking impact what I am feeling? You can change your focus by asking yourself questions designed to create curiosity, allowing you to take a big step back and see the bigger picture.
3. Change your physiological state. Move, exercise. go for a brisk walk, breathe! Do something to get out of your head and into your body.
4. Choose your thoughts by thinking of something positive that you are grateful for, looking forward to, or happy about. While this is simple advice, it can work wonders.
5. Lighten up! Don’t be so hard on yourself or attempt to over think the situation. If the answer to the question, “why are you so negative?” is “I don’t know,” then move on, get over it. If you keep looking for something negative you find it. When you’re in a hole, stop shoveling!
Hopefully you found some sound advice of how to cope with this age old question. All that’s required to get out of a random, negative funk is self-awareness and a few go to strategies that can change your mood. No biggie, it’s just part of being human.
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