It’s easy to get caught up in focusing on the negative side of things. We often focus on what is lacking instead of the good things we have. We stew on our problems instead of what is going well and we fixate on our flaws and weaknesses instead of our strengths. That’s generally the way the human brain is wired. Why? Because we have a ‘negativity bias’. So, if you feel like you have a lot of negative thoughts, don’t worry — that’s all totally normal.
But just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it’s helpful and healthy. We don’t want to stew in a pool of negative thoughts that drag us down and hold us back. That’s why this episode of Mentally Stronger is all about tackling negative thoughts in the simplest ways possible.
Join me as I take us back to the roots of this negative thought reflex and share three practical and simple hacks that will keep negativity at bay.
To find out more, keep reading or tune in to the podcast episode below.
Why do we have negative thoughts?
While we often think there is something wrong with us when we have negative thoughts, it is nothing out of the ordinary. In fact the human mind has a built-in negativity bias.
To explore this idea a bit further, let’s go back to in history.
For most of human history, humans lived as hunter gatherers, or what we often call cavemen and women. Cavemen and cavewomen faced a very different reality than the one we’re accustomed to. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle was riddled with danger, difficulty and uncertainties. On a daily basis they had to deal with predators, warring tribes and other dangers from the natural environment.
Because of this, the human mind evolved to highlight negative experiences and commit them to memory to help them anticipate dangers and survive.
Though we no longer live in a world with constant threats and dangers, our brains still operate in the same way. As such, this negativity bias still makes us dwell on everything that’s wrong instead of looking at what’s going right.
The negativity bias in action today means that we
- Stew on our problems and what is wrong way more than dwelling on what is going right in our lives.
- Recall insults better than compliments
- Remember painful or negative experiences better than positive ones
- Think about negative things more frequently than positive things
- React to and are more impacted by negative events than to equally positive ones
In the long run, this bias toward the negative makes us develop a tendency to be pessimistic, continuously stressed, anxious, or even depressed.
Needless to say, it’s not an ideal way to approach life and can sap our mental strength.
So, how can we overcome the negativity bias and correct this error in perception?
Here are three simple hacks to help you do just that.
Three hacks to help you tackle negativity
1. Write down three things you’re grateful for each day
Don’t underestimate the simple power of taking a little time each day to focus on gratitude. It’s a proven practice that has a huge impact on your mental state.
How do you start? Simply pen down three simple things that you’re grateful for every day. They don’t have to be big things. They can be as small as feeling grateful for your health, the food in the cupboards or the sun rising each day.
This can be especially helpful to do just before bed time if you have had a stressful day. Why? If you’ve had a tough day and your mind is spinning and racing (which can inhibit a good nights sleep), then gratitude practice can calm your mind again. It helps to settle and soothe your mind before shutting down for the day.
2. Question and challenge your thoughts
Secondly, when you find your mind dwelling on the negative over and over, try questioning the thoughts and challenging them and offering yourself a more balanced perspective.
That doesn’t mean denying that unpleasant things may be happening, such as a criticism at work, but also offering yourself a reminder that there were also compliments too. Don’t allow yourself to only focus on the negative.
Bottom line, don’t allow yourself to solely focus on the negative. See the bigger picture.
3. Enjoy the simple pleasures of life
There’s no doubt about it. Life has its lows as well as its highs. But in the midst of it all, taking out time to soak in the good in your life goes a long way.
So as your going about your life on a daily basis, deliberately pay attention to, and soak in the simple pleasures around you.
It could be the warmth and cosiness of your bed when you wake up in the morning. In that moment you can simply revel in the pleasantness of that experience. Just taking 20-30 seconds to enjoy how good that feels, how comfortable you are.
Maybe later there is a lovely piece of music playing in the background. Here again, you can pause for 20-30 seconds and just listen, let the enjoyment of it wash through you.
Other things you can enjoy are things like the feeling of warm sunlight on your skin. The pleasant taste of your tea or coffee. The soft feeling of your breathing. The site of the ocean or trees.
Deliberately seek out, and allow yourself to soak in, the good all around you. As you stay with pleasant experiences for 20 seconds or you are laying down new neural pathways in the brain to help you balance the negativity bias.
These three practices can correct the negativity bias, bring balance to your mind and give you greater clarity, enjoyment and contentment into your life.
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