Negativity bias, also called the negativity effect, is hard-wired in our brains. But that doesn’t mean we have to live with it! What is negativity bias? When things are of equal intensity, people tend to focus on the negative (thoughts, emotions, events etc.) more than neutral or positive.
Scientists believe this brain attitude stems from times when flight-or-fight literally meant run before the animal eats you. Having negative thoughts is not a pleasant mindset, nor is it something that the Lord wants for us. Luckily, we can fight negativity bias deliberately.
Neuropsychologist Rick Hansen has written extensively on this subject. He says: Use your mind to change your brain to change your mind. As Christians, we also can turn to God in this process. Mindfully and actively looking for the good can change your brain through the process known as neuroplasticity.
Dr, Hansen teaches that when we focus on the good, sets of neurons fire together. Neurons that fire together wire together, he says. So the tendency to look for the positive and feel serenity gets embedded into the brain. More information from Dr. Hansen are on his blog here and here. Another detailed explanation of the negativity bias is here.
This Christian mindfulness exercise will help:
- After morning prayer, ask the Lord to help you to notice the good and the beautiful today.
- Keep a gratitude list for the today going on a sticky note or piece of paper in the kitchen or at your desk.
- Check in with your thoughts regularly during the day. You can use an alarm on your phone if needed to help you stay mindful about what you are thinking. Are you seeing the negative? Can you see a moment of joy to focus on instead?
- Intentionally look for little things that bring you joy, connection and serenity.
- Thank God for each moment of joy as it occurs.
Other ways to counterbalance our proclivity towards negativity? Grant Brenner, MD, Adjunct Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Mt. Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center (New York), advises:
- Be mindful and recognize when negative patterns begin. Do something each and every time—even something very small—to break the pattern. (A brief prayer would work well here.)
- Notice when you talk to yourself in a negative way. Replace “Well, that was stupid” with “I wish I hadn’t done that, but I will learn from it.”
- Talk to your inner critic with compassion: “Are you ok? What’s wrong? Why are you so angry? Are you feeling hurt?” Dr. Brenner said this will seem strange at first, but interrupting yourself when you are being mean to yourself is actually following the Golden Rule.
Other Christian mindfulness exercises that can help are the loving-kindness exercise and gratitude.