Negativity Bias

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."

Winston Churchill

Have you ever found yourself dwelling on a negative comment? 

Our brains have a negativity bias. This means that we are more apt to see what is wrong, rather than what is right. We are all aware of the tendency to look at the glass half empty versus the glass half full. Looking at things from a negative perspective is believed to be a result of evolution. It was adaptive to consider what was wrong, or what could be wrong.

There is a growing interest in the study of how we think and how this impacts both our mood, as well as personality traits such as willingness to learn new things or to persevere when things are challenging. People often refer to themselves as though they are definitively an optimist versus a pessimist. In reality, we can become more of an optimist if we are willing to do the work. Optimism is associated with greater emotional resilience.

No one can be optimistic all of the time. It is normal to have negative thoughts. The training of the mind entails becoming aware of our thoughts more quickly so that we can assess the helpfulness of them. At the time of writing this post, it is below zero with the wind chill factor. It is important that my mind registers this fact. That helps me make good decisions. However, if I spend time ruminating about the weather or develop stories such as, “I bet that we will have a late spring. If this keeps up, it will interfere with my ability to be outdoors, and if I can’t be outdoors, I won’t see my friends,” I will experience challenging emotions.

Mindfulness of our thoughts allows us to stop this embellishment of the reality and get back into the present. The simple truth is that when it comes to weather, there is nothing to be done except to acknowledge and make appropriate plans. Once we release ourselves from the negative self-talk, we can put our energies to things we have more control over.

When we interact with people who are frequently negative, it can be emotionally draining and may adversely impact the relationship. Pessimism also puts that individual at higher risk for depression and anxiety. There are good reasons to work at changing our thought patterns, but it takes practice and patience. The work can culminate in a happier perspective and more enjoyment in life. The REWIRE workshop, taught at Healthy Perspectives Innovative Mental Health Services, teaches the skills that allow us to have a healthier relationship with our thoughts, paving the way to be a more positive thinker and person.