I have a confession. I’ve been teaching and practicing positivity for fifteen years but sometimes I feel like a grumpy fart has taken residence in my head. You know that grouch in your head that’s always griping about something? And so this week I want to get to the bottom of why our minds spend so much time on the bottom. Why are we so negative?
We are the descendants of cave men who had two primary objectives: 1) Get lunch. 2) Avoid being lunch. Fail at number 2 and you’d never get to indulge in number 1 again. Back then when we were almost in constant danger there was a good reason to focus more on threats than opportunities, more on the negative than the positive. But does what applied to our cavemen ancestors really apply to us?
Professor John Cacioppo showed people either positive images such as a magnificent sunset and negative images such as a mutilated body. He found there was much more electrical activity in the brain in response to the negative than the positive. In the news they say: “If it bleeds it leads.” Good news doesn’t sell like bad, that’s because the brain just doesn’t get as aroused by it.
Other researchers have found that a negative step back in achieving a goal is more than twice as powerful in reducing our happiness as a positive step forward is in increasing it.
Seems we’re also much better at expressing negativity. There are about double the amount of negative emotional words in the dictionary as there are positive. And if you’re wondering why it’s often easier to remember a negative than a positive experience, that’s because negative experiences are quicker to transfer to long-term memory.
This negativity bias may have been helpful to our cavemen ancestors whose survival depended on their rapid ability to detect and react to threat. It’s less helpful to you and me who live in the most unprecedented comfort and safety in the history of the world. In the absence of real threats, the negativity bias makes us prone to anxiety, stress and depression. It reduces our ability to see opportunities and fulfill our potential. It helped our ancestors survive but it doesn’t help us to thrive.
What can we do about it?
1) Don’t deny the negative but don’t dwell on it. If something is wrong look for solutions. Ask yourself: “What can I do about it?”
2) Negativity is contagious. If you find yourself with someone who is constantly complaining, don’t walk away, run! Better still, tell them about this research.
3) Wallow in the positive. When something good happens, think about it, talk about it, give gratitude for it. Savor, amplify, marinate in good feelings.
I’ve also found that the moment he starts grumbling it helps to identify the Grumpy Fart, point him out. That reminds me that I am not him. Now let’s just hope he figures that out and decides to move out and get a place of his own.
Don’t be like the old man who on his deathbed said: “My life was filled with trouble, most of which never happened.” Counteract your natural negativity bias by creating your own positivity bias!
Now experiment on yourself!
Justin Cohen is a professional speaker and author of four books & seven audiobooks. As a leading authority on human potential, with a postgraduate degree in Psychology, Justin Cohen speaks and trains internationally in the fields of motivation, sales, service and leadership. He has presented in nearly twenty countries, and in virtually every industry to an average of 10 000 people annually. Justin is a Certified Speaking Professional and a Southern African Speaker Hall of Fame inductee. For more go to: