Negativity Bias: Your Brain Just Loves a Negative Story

Welcome back to my “Secret Life of Your Brain: A Mindful Approach to Cognitive Biases” series, also known as…


Thanks so much for joining me on this mind adventure!

Seriously, I can’t stress this enough, if we just understand a little about our brain, why it’s doing what it’s doing, we will come to realize that it does some pretty amazing things AND some annoying things that can cause loads of distress at times. But it is all in the spirit of keeping you alive!

Today, I will be chattering a little about one of our brain’s secret weapons for survival. Yes, our brain’s survival strategies may sometimes be 40,000 years out of date, and in need of a software upgrade, but when we understand what it is, we can work with it.

So, what is this you speak of? The Negativity Bias!! “Most of us naturally pay more attention to, and react more strongly, to negative events than positive events in our lives, a phenomenon called the negativity bias. This is due to our early evolutionary history, where being vigilant counted heavily for our survival”. Source

Message from Your Brain:

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Hi You! Your beautiful brain here. I am just trying to protect you the best way I know how. I evolved this way to keep you alive. I know, I know, I may be a little out of date with all of these cognitive biases, but I am super adaptable, so please override some of my biases and use that adaptation factor as your superpower! When I send you messages like ”Dont do that again!” [maybe sprinkling a little ‘shame’ on that message] please know you have the power to respond, “seriously that hurts! and it’s not helpful in this modern world!…I’m going to do this instead”.

So, yes, this is true…

But don’t worry!

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No need to be sad! There are things you can do! 🙂

This is true too!

Mindfulness Helps us Decrease our Negativity Bias

“Mindfulness” a.k.a “Meta Cognition” is the ability to think about our own thinking. When we become aware of our thought processes, emotional reactions, and then develop an understanding of the patterns behind them, we have the power to use the brain’s amazing adaptive powers. We can interrupt the mindless process (cognitive biases) and sneak in a little modern software upgrade. A mindfulness practice helps you to develop your non-judgemental awareness skills as you discover you signature way of being. I think it is so cool that a brain can think about itself ;).

Check out this article for some pretty cool ways to do a brain software upgrade with mindfulness: Refill The Half-Empty Glass: Practices For Overcoming Negativity Bias

Change comes with the “doing” part.

Want to know another thing your brain loves?

It loves to learn! …by building new neural pathways.

Whatever our brain spends time on (thinking), is what builds neural pathways (wires in). Guess what? You strengthen those pathways by thinking and thinking and thinking, which is like flexing your biceps. FACT: we have to work harder to wire in some happy, so, let’s take charge, lean into our lives, be the main character of our story and get us some happy!

I can hear you saying..Why? Ugh, So much effort!

Well, this beautiful quote below tells us why we want to wire in the reality of our lives, not just the negative stuff. We want to make sure the right information is available when we make sense of our life and what has happened to us.

Negativity Bias Hacks

So now that I have you! Try some of these negativity bias busting hacks:

  • Notice: Start with just paying attention and noticing your negative self-dialogue. Once we can see it, we have a choice. We can let the negative run rampant in our minds or we can do a bunch of cool negativity bias brain hacks. I choose option #2, I am so done with rabbit hole #1.
  • Cultivate a gentle, curious and patient attitude with yourself. This is the mindfulness skill called “non-judgemental awareness”. Yup! It is a hard one, but such a worthwhile skill to hone.
  • Interrupt Your Brain: “Ahem Brain, you need to stop, this thinking pattern is not helpful right now”. Gently recognize what is happening when negative patterns start to get activated and practice doing something different to interrupt the pattern. If you are like me, you tend to overanalyze, or ruminate, about the tiniest things, find a hobby or habit that you can refocus your mind on. Check out this! It doesn’t just work for PTSD it is magical for rumination patterns too! TETRIS Study
  • Flip the Script: “Priming Effect” try talking to yourself as you would a friend, this can help to approach your mean inner voice with kindness… It’s kind of like The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” except it involves treating yourself with the same kindness and compassion that you treat the people you love.

Don’ t Let your Fear of Emotions Stop You

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”  – Jack Canfield

Learning to “Take in the Good”
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What our brain spends time on is what wires in.

…so let’s adjust our life lens!

Dr. Heather Drummond

Psychologist * Passionate Advocate for Human Flourishing * Human Muddling Through

Take time to join me on this #MyBeautifulMessyLife journey over the next few months!

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