Although scientists attribute human survival to our inherent negativity bias, it seems that our mental health depends on our personal ability to choose to be positive and turn that frown upside down when things get out of control.
The Negativity Bias
According to the National Library of Medicine from the National Institute of Health,1 people are born with an inherent “negativity bias.”2 This lays the foundation for how people think and process information. Because of negativity bias, our brains are more stimulated by negative information than by positive information. As a result, our minds naturally tend to focus on negative stimuli and commit it to memory. This has been important throughout the history of mankind for survival because it helps us identify problems and avoid or fix them.
We Can Train Our Emotions and Thoughts
Although we all want to be happy and successful, many people struggle to feel positive. That’s because they don’t know how to control their emotions when things are out of control. Despite the negativity bias that we are born with, people can control their own thoughts. Our subconscious attitudes, such as skepticism, acceptance, happiness, despair, etc., are trained into our minds by years of experience. Your brain will remember your emotions and thoughts over time as you have various experiences. This means that you have the power to proactively change the way you think and feel by responding positively to life’s experiences!
Example of Proactively Changing Your Thoughts and Emotions
Imagine that someone crashes into your car and it is not your fault. You might naturally feel anger, blame, and resentment. On the other hand, you could make this a better memory by focusing on the attitude of “it could have been worse, at least no one got hurt.” Your perspective on this car crash doesn’t change what happened. However, training your mind to focus on the positive will help make positivity a natural habit that influences your emotions to be positive as well!
Of course, it is easier said than done, but here are three tips to help you gain control over your thoughts and emotions to lead a more positive life.
3 Tips to Lead a Positive Life
As you begin to use these three tips to be more positive, start with identifying negative emotions and situations in your life that you want to change. For example, if you have road rage, harmful relationships, addictions, etc., then focus on one of these negative things first. These three tips come from Psychology Today:3
1.) Select the Situation
Avoid circumstances that trigger unwanted emotions. This includes avoiding acquaintances that bother you. If you can, find ways to avoid bumping into them.
Example: If you know that you have road rage or get frustrated when you’re in a hurry, then don’t wait until the last minute. Leave the house or office 10 minutes earlier so that it’s not a problem if traffic is slow.
Example: Your coworker’s significant other is a headache to be around. When you find out that they are visiting your coworker for lunch break, make alternative plans so you don’t have to be near the same space as them.
2.)Shift Your Attentional Focus
Shift your attention away from people or situations that make you feel envious, angry, or belittled. Focus instead on what you’re doing right and how to improve yourself.
Example: At the gym, you see the regulars who lift more weights and exercise better than you do. Instead of getting discouraged by comparing yourself, focus on your own workout. Pump yourself up for a fitness challenge that will help you improve yourself.
3.) Cognitive Reappraisal
Replace the thoughts that lead to unhappiness with thoughts that instead lead to joy or at least contentment.
Example: Let’s say you get anxiety as you wonder what other’s think about you. Remind yourself that other people don’t usually notice as much as you think. Even if you mess up, other people might not even notice, or if they do, they might not care.
Although the idea of “retraining” your brain to think more positively can sound daunting, it doesn’t have to be difficult. When something arises that causes you to stress or unwanted emotions, stop, take a deep breath, and think about what you have learned today. If you need to, shift your attentional focus or do a cognitive reappraisal. Little moments where you consistently choose positivity instead of negativity will leave a lasting, positive impact on your mind!
Watch for PART 2 of this series about how to overcome self-defeating expectations and lies!
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1 Vaish, A., Grossmann, T., & Woodward, A. (2008). Not all emotions are created equal: The negativity bias in social-emotional development. Psychological Bulletin, 134(3), 383-403. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.134.3.383
2 Trait negativity bias – Oxford Reference. (2018). Oxfordreference.com. Retrieved 1 November 2018, from http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803105302879
3 5 Ways to Get Your Unwanted Emotions Under Control. (2018). Psychology Today. Retrieved 3 November 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201502/5-ways-get-your-unwanted-emotions-under-control