Growing Pains

An Alien To The Status Quo

The Fallacy Of The Negativity Bias

The Fallacy Of The Negativity Bias

Have you ever been having a good day, and everything is going okay? The math seems to be mathing. And then, someone says something negative about your shirt, and suddenly, the sun is a little less bright, and you’re focusing on trying to hide your shirt. The same shirt you deemed suitable when you woke up in the morning.

Why is it that we focus a lot on a negative thing that some random person that we may not have any relation to has said instead of the positive things that have been said over and over again by the people we know and love?

We have all heard the phrase, think positively. And as I am sure we all know, this is far easier said than done. Unfortunately, our brains are wired to focus more on the negative as opposed to the positive. Psychologists have called it Negativity bias.

According to, negativity bias is our tendency to register negative stimuli more readily and dwell on these events. This term can explain why I still remember a boda boda guy calling me fat ‘bombola’ in 2015. Or that guy that I had a crush on who called me ugly, making me believe that I am indeed ugly and affecting my self esteem for years. I barely dwell on the fact that my niece thinks I hung the moon.

The sting of rebuke is far more powerful than the joy we receive from praise. It also explains why wrong impressions are challenging to overcome and why traumas have such persisting effects. In almost every conversation or interaction we have with people, we tend to notice negative things and remember them more vividly.

This tendency towards the negative leads us to pay much more attention to the bad situations, things, and words that happen, making them appear much more important than they should be. We are prone to making decisions based on negative data more than positive information. Psychologist and author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Rick Hanson says, “our brains are wired to scout for the bad stuff and fixate on the threat.”

But how do we get from letting the negativity run our lives to thinking more positively? Well, as it is with all innate biases, it turns out that knowledge of our brains’ tendency towards negativity might just be the first step on the journey to thinking more positively. The difficulty is not that we have negative thoughts; that is normal. However, the problem is that we believe these thoughts to be true.

When it comes to thinking more positively, we have to rewire our brains and intentionally focus on the positive purposefully. Our default setting is letting the negativity around us influence our very lives and get us down, but the impact of positivity is something that can be felt down to our toes. Except, again, this is easier said than done. And hearing someone say that all we have to do is think positively can be annoying. 

So, I understand how it may sound when I say all we have to do is think positively. But we need to find ways to actively alter how we view the world to live more simply. Positive thinking helps with stress management and can even improve your health. 

Here are ways you can start to think positively.

  1. One of the things that we tend to do is negative self-talk. When our self-talk is focused on negative thoughts, our self-esteem suffers. We need to start noticing when we have these thoughts and then actively work to change them to break the pattern. Pause. Assess. Find and think about one thing that you are thankful for, even in that negative space and then feed off of that. You will find yourself starting to have a more positive outlook. 
  2. Be open to humor. Give yourself permission to smile or laugh, especially during difficult times. Seek humor every day. When you can laugh at the absurdities of life, you tend to feel less stressed.
  3. Follow a healthy lifestyle. Exercise, eat right. Get enough sleep. And learn techniques that can help you manage stress.
  4. Surround yourself with positive people. 
  5. Learning to think positively is like strengthening a muscle; the more you use it, the stronger it will become. 
  6. Practice Gratitude. Consider getting a gratitude jar where you can write things you are grateful for daily and place them in the jar. Research has found that writing down grateful thoughts can improve both your sense of optimism and your overall well-being. This simple activity can help shift your focus to a more optimistic mindset.

Like Steve Maraboli writes, “Be cautious with what you feed your mind and soul. Fuel yourself with positivity and let that fuel propel you into positive action.”

Actively learning how to think positively is essential for a long life. Positive thinking is an act of self-care.

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