Following on from my blog about the Negativity Bias here are some strategies for dealing with the Negativity Bias, so that you can immediately start improving your quality of life.
One. Simply recognising that a problem exists is a good step toward solving it. Knowing that you have a negativity bias will help you to recognise when you are dwelling on the negative aspects of a situation due to this bias. If that’s the case, just tell yourself:
“There’s no tiger hiding behind the bush. I don’t need to think about this in order to stay safe.”
Allow your mind to observe the initial thought without judgement and to then repeat the statement to reassure yourself it’s ok.
Two. Rick Hanson is a neuropsychologist and author of “Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom”. He argues that our brains are like Velcro for negative experiences, and like Teflon for positive ones.
Hanson explains that negative events and experiences get quickly stored in memory. In contrast, positive events and experiences need to be held in awareness for a dozen or more seconds to transfer from your short-term to your long-term memory.
Therefore, when something positive happens to you, you should make it a point to take a moment to savour the experience. Replay it in your mind a few times so that the memory of the positive experience gets archived in your long-term memory. In addition, Hansen recommends that you absorb the positive experience like gentle rain falling on your skin.
A good example is thinking about where you were when 9/11 happened. Most of us will easily recall where we were or what we were doing, and yet if we were asked the same question for another day that September, we would struggle to remember any details at all. Memories are re-enforced in our brain when there is a strong emotional attachment with it – so by really focusing on how something positive makes you feel and by anchoring that feeling with a scent, sound etc. will help to re-enforce it. Using an essential oil or a specific song can really help to do this.
Three. Keep a ratio of 5 to 1 in your dealings with others. Because of the negativity bias, other people will be more affected by the negative things you say or do to them than the positive ones. If you have to tell your child off, criticise an employee, or argue with your partner, you need to say or do five positive things to balance a healthy relationship with them.
Four. Scatter simple pleasures throughout your day. Although most people tend to hold out for the big events—such as a holiday, a birthday treat, or a large purchase—large infrequent events will not be able to balance out your brain’s tilt toward negativity. It’s far more beneficial to our relationship with happiness, gratitude etc. to not pin these emotions on the thought of a future event – otherwise we subconsciously tell ourselves that we won’t feel happy etc. until that event happens.
A better strategy is to schedule lots of simple pleasures throughout your day. For example, have a cup of your favourite coffee in a quiet spot at home, or outside each morning; take fifteen minutes a day to read a novel you find engaging; buy fresh flowers for your desk; and spend some time in a green area each day.
These small doses of positivity throughout the day will help your brain counteract its natural negativity.
Five. Gretchen Rubin—owner of “The Happiness Project”–recommends that you create an “area of refuge” in your brain. That is, have a list of positive things ready—such as good memories, inspiring quotes, or lines from poems—that you can think of whenever you find your mind wandering to a negative memory.
What things would you store? I would definitely use affirmations and remind myself of beautiful walks in the sunshine along the coast here in Somerset or Cornwall.
Six. Keep a gratitude journal. Taking a few minutes each night to think about and write down all the good things that happened to you throughout the day will help keep your brain attuned to all the good things in your life. By focusing on the good you will gradually be rewiring your brain for happiness.
Seven. Keep a “awesome or kudos file”. Every time that you get an email from someone thanking you for something that you did, or from your boss praising you for a job well done, print it out and place it in your awesome file. Keep anything that testifies how talented and wonderful you are in your file.
Then, when negative thoughts are keeping you down, take out your trusty awesome file so that you can be reminded of all the good that you do.
Written by Amanda Forster-Searle
Mental Health & Wellness Mentor