How to Stop Being So Negative {Bias Day 4}

What is the negativity bias?

The negativity bias is our tendency to focus more on our negative experiences than on our positive or neutral experiences.

Here’s an example of the negativity bias.

You’re at your favorite restaurant. The appetizer is wonderful, the main dish is fantastic, but the dessert tastes strange. What do tell your friends the most about the meal? The lousy dessert.

Or say your spouse cleans the kitchen after dinner, sweeps the floor, and loads the dishwasher. But they put the silverware in the dishwasher upside down. That’s the thing that will stick in your mind.

Or you’ve been close with a co-worker for years. Until they say one negative thing about you. You’re willing to forfeit the friendship over it. 

Why are we so negative anyway?

It starts as a brain thing. We’re hardwired to stay safe by focusing on things that go wrong rather than on things that go right. Our minds give more weight naturally to negative experiences than positive experiences.

One study suggests that one angry face will stand out in a crowd of happy faces, but one happy face won’t stand out in a crowd of angry faces. Our brains detect threat quicker than comfort. 

(Interestingly though, men and women often respond differently. For example, when we hear a negative comment about us, men are more apt to externalize it with anger, whereas women tend to internalize it as sadness or depression. Maybe that’s a cultural thing?)

Why is the negativity bias a bad thing?

Here’s an obvious reason: Nobody enjoys being around a totally negative person. We avoid them if possible.

But if it’s me that is the negative person, I’m sacrificing my quality of life if I focus on the negative all the time. Negativity causes us to spiral down into pessimism and fail to notice the good things happening all around us. We can lose perspective on what’s truly a problem and what’s just an inconvenience.

How do we stop being negative?

Here are some ways to counter the negativity bias in ourselves.

  1. Catch your self-talk.
    How do you talk about your experiences? Put more effort into valuing the positive aspects of your life to break the pattern of negativity.
  2. Challenge your negative filter. 
    Are things really that bad? Could your judgment be clouded by other things? 
  3. Give yourself hope.
    Talk to yourself like you would talk to your best friend, with compassion and care and hope.
  4. Keep a gratitude list.
    It sounds cliché, but find things to be grateful for. Keep a gratitude journal or start a habit of thanking God for your blessings when you wake up and before you go to sleep.
  5. Use the 5:1 rule.
    If you’re being negative toward others, remember John Gottman’s 5:1 rule:

For every negative encounter, balance it with five positive ones.

This doesn’t mean you ignore problems. Do address negative things. Don’t gloss over them. But don’t notice ONLY the negative. Give your life balance.

How to stop being so negative

How did Jesus handle negative people?

Jesus had negative voices constantly yelling at him when he was here. His own people, the Pharisees and scribes, were the loudest critics.

He never seemed surprised by the negativity though. He knew his enemies would push back against his new commandment of love. Yet he still listened to them, prayed for them, ate with them, talked with them.

He didn’t let others’ negativity affect his positive mission. He kept moving forward with his plan to love all people in words and deeds, and to tell us to do the same.

As we strive to love all people—even the negative ones—may we remember to not take their negativity personal. And when WE are the negative ones? Let’s remember to pray for ourselves too, to follow in Jesus’s footsteps, and to be hopeful, joyful, bringers of light, even when it’s dark.

Have you caught yourself being negative lately? How do you combat it? Please share in the comments.

You are on Day #4 of the series: “How to Uncover Hidden Biases.”

Uncover Hidden Biases

Previous: Competency Bias {Bias Day 3}
“Why We Fail to Recognize Our Our Incompetence”

Next: Our Biases and Politics {Bias Day 5}
“Blinded by Politics? Uncover Your Biases”

10 thoughts on “How to Stop Being So Negative {Bias Day 4}

  1. Anita Ojeda

    Once again, Lisa, this is soooo good! I ama 85% upbeat person, but lack of sleep will really bring out my negativity. I also got bought I had pretty decent self-talk—until I realized it was at the expense of other people ?. I am training myself to have positive inner thoughts about others—Not compare myself to others in my head.

  2. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    I’ve been attacked by hummingbirds
    three times, in years gone by,
    and now I view the little turds
    with a jaundiced eye.
    I overlook the ones who flit
    around, give no offense,
    but won’t forgive, no, not a bit,
    and when I see ’em I get tense
    expecting sharp and jabbing beak
    to again impale my throat,
    and thus I find that which I seek,
    to cast an angry vote
    and somehow feel a glow of pride
    in being oh-so-justified.

  3. Beth Steffaniak

    Love this, Lisa! It is something I have to work at every day or I easily slip into negativity and discouragement. I don’t think of myself as a pessimist but more of a realist. But moving toward the problem constantly keeps me focused on the negative. I’m trying to pray more about any complaints I have rather than focusing on them with others. It’s been very helpful in kicking the negativity habit! Thanks for your wise and encouraging words here today! Pinning!

  4. CraftAtticResources

    I stopped to read your post because letting go of the negative has been a goal this past year and one I’ve found needs continuous work but the relief and the reward has been worth it.

    At the heart of it for me is learning to forgive and move on reminding myself that I bear the burden for carrying the negativity. Most of the negative feelings I carry rarely impact the people I’m feeling frustrated about in the long run. The person who annoyed you that morning likely doesn’t care because they have no idea who you are yet here I am spending precious limited moments of my life dwelling on them and I’m learning to let it go.

  5. Martha Jane Orlando

    This really made me reflect on my own attitudes, Lisa. I’m not a negative person, but that doesn’t mean negative thoughts never arise. I’ll be especially conscious of those moments when they do appear, and redirect my attitude.

  6. Theresa Boedeker

    I am naturally optimistic. And when I hear people be negative, I often find the positive in the situation and will present it to them. (This may not always be helpful because I might not be affirming their feelings or helping them be heard. And so I am working on this. Really listening to see if their is something deeper behind their negative comments.) But often it helps them see at least one positive thing about their situation. My trouble comes when those closest to me are negative. I tend to rush to solve the problem, which is really theirs to solve, or I take it personally. This is something I have been trying to remind myself of for the past year or so. To not take it personally. Their negativity is not mine to solve or hold onto for them. My assignment: “As we strive to love all people—even the negative ones—may we remember to not take their negativity personal

  7. Richella J Parham

    This is such an insightful post! And an insightful series, for that matter. I write some in Mythical Me: Finding Freedom from Constant Comparison about how I’ve especially applied a negativity bias to the way I see myself. A negativity bias can really skew the way we see the world! Thanks for the helpful tips.

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