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To Overcome Negativity Bias, Try Positivity

Posted January 10, 2019 • Change,Conflict Mastery,Mindfulness • by Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler, Ph.D.

I’ve gotten some lovely responses to the new year’s greeting I sent out a couple of days ago. One of them, from my friend Laura Compagni-Sabella, is particularly moving.

Laura wrote:

“In the real world, I find that for every act of hate, there are thousands of acts of love. For every act of suspicion, there are a thousand acts of trust. For every act of discrimination, there are thousands of people of different identities working together and taking care of each other and pulling each other through the muck of everyday life…The term ‘micro-cooperations’ is useful in helping us to focus more intensely on all the moments of our day/life when someone helped us along, rather than those hopefully less frequent moments, perhaps, when someone set us back or created a barrier that we had to get around.”

Through extensive studies, psychology researchers have found that we humans share a naturalĀ negativity bias, which prompts us to focus on the negative rather than the positive. Researchers have suggested that this negativity bias has helped us evolve as a species: by focusing on potentially threatening stimuli around us and responding to it, our bias has kept us safe and alive.

However, this bias has also made it far too easy to remain, even to stew, in the negative, especially when we’re in a conflict situation that may naturally stir up all kinds of challenging thoughts and emotions.

To successfully deal with this, it helps to recognize our natural negativity bias, and challenge ourselves to redirect our focus on the good that is also happening all around us.

It can help to act as if you are taking off one set of glasses (the negativity-biased ones) and putting on another set of glasses (positivity-biased ones). You can always switch back anytime you choose (and rest assured, you will naturally switch back even without your consent!).

Give those positive glasses a try sometime. See how what you notice impacts how you feel, and how you act towards yourself and others. The results may surprise you.