Here is how to overcome it.
Imagine the situation when you need to recall the some experience from yesterday. What come up in your mind first? For the majority of people, these are negative moments. The reason is simple – the joyful experience typically happen many times each day. A coffee with a friend, a smile from a stranger or the exact kind of weather for your favorite coat – these events don’t stay for long in the memory, and are easily washed out from our brain. At the same time, all the stressful and worrying parts provoke strong reactions and leave sort of footprints in neural system.
This is how your brain works and it is not your fault. It’s the result of million years of evolution of the nervous system. Our ancestors developed this bias as a means of survival, which pointed out the meaningful things that had to be avoided.
As a result, our brain naturally scans for bad news, focuses on the negative side, overreacts and quickly stores the negative experience.
But good news is that you can actually outsmart your brain’s “habit” to be negative. Try to implement these steps in your daily life and you will see the changes in your well-being and mood.
1. Try to stay cold while observing negative experiences
Suppressing or resisting unpleasant, stressful experiences just makes them worse. Instead, let them be while you observe them mindfully, with acceptance and self-compassion. Label them softly to yourself, such as “feeling hurt” or “wanting revenge.” This will help calm down the amygdala, which is like the alarm bell of the brain, and stop reinforcing negative experiences. Breathe so that your exhalations are as long as or longer than your inhalations, which will naturally increase the activity of the calming and centering parasympathetic branch of your nervous system. Recall times you felt determined and capable, and focus on the sense of strength and endurance.
2. Shift focus on little joyful facts every day
Since the negativity bias narrows the field of attention, we need to make a habit of widening awareness to recognize more of the beneficial things in our lives. We’re actually surrounded by good facts: Someone was friendly, a light switch worked, a child laughed, a flower bloomed. Even in the hardest moments, there are still hopeful, beautiful, interesting, useful things—if only the good intentions and virtues inside one’s own mind. In fact, the positive emotions that come with recognizing what is good help us face, cope with, and recover from adversity, loss, and trauma.
3. Live the nice experience the fullest
When you are experiencing something pleasant, for example feeling gratitude of being cared about, etc. try to stay with this feeling for a breath or two or even longer, feel it physically in your body, think of what benefit this experience has for you particularly. Practicing this approach, you will build a stronger mind and more compassionate attitude in a while.
There is a nice quote in science: neurons that fire together, wire together. The longer and more intensely they fire together, the more they’ll tend to wire together. This means that you can weave psychological resources such as grit, gratitude, compassion, and confidence into the fabric of your own nervous system many times a day.
As the proverb puts it: If you take care of the minutes, the years will take care of themselves. Each day, we have many opportunities to take in the good that is authentically available in the next minute—minute after minute after minute—and hardwire it into ourselves. At a time when so many people feel understandably helpless in the face of large and unnerving social forces, simply knowing that you do indeed have this power is itself a corrective to the brain’s negativity bias. And it’s a wonderful tool for growing resilient well-being.