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Journey to the Bright Side

When I give a keynote and notice someone in the audience with an unhappy look on their face, I have a subconscious reaction to mentally zoom in on that person and worry about what I am doing wrong that is making this person so miserable.

Why do I focus on that one sour-puss face in the audience instead of the 200 happy ones?

In as similar vein, why do insults stick with us longer than compliments?

Why does the song “Don’t worry – Be Happy” exist but the song “Worry More – Be Miserable” doesn’t?

It is because we have mastered the art of negativity, but staying positive often takes deliberate and frequent reminders. The purpose of this post is to be one of those reminders.

Gloom, despair and agony on me

We are hard-wired to focus on the negative. Our primitive brain has the monumental task of keeping us safe from threats. In order to help us avoid future negative experiences, it keeps a database of our past negative experiences and gives prominence to those so we can easily recall them when faced with similar situations.

You ate lasagna once and it made you sick, so even though you've had delicious lasagna many times since then without incident, every time you see it on the menu the first thing that pops into your head is the time it made your stomach turn.

Also, studies show that our brains respond faster and more strongly to negative situations, angry faces and threats, than to non-threatening situations, smiling faces and compliments.

This is called negativity bias, which is a double-edged sword. It’s good for us because it helps keep us safe. But it’s bad for us because automatically being a Negative Nellie or Gloomy Gus in the face of uncertainty makes us stressed, depressed, and a miserable mess.

Therefore, I won’t dwell on negativity but since awareness is important, check out this article for more information on how and why negativity developed as our default mode.

This impulse to focus on the negative is also the basis of several mental performance insights I’ve discussed, including suspicion, FoMO and The Anti-boss.

Getting those good vibrations

Good news! We are not helpless in the face of the lizard brain’s negative bias. We have the big, smart, human neocortex brain to lead us to the endorphin producing land of good vibes. Yay for us!

Following are some ways to maximize your ability to overcome the negativity bias.

#1 Awareness is bliss

Since we subconsciously lean toward feeling threatened and victimized, note those times in your life when you are feeling, well, threatened or victimized. Then ask yourself if it is true. Are you really being threatened? Are you actually a victim? Or are you overplaying your fear?

#2 Monitor inputs

Through analysis of the big data they collect on us, media companies and politicians know that we pay much more attention to negative items than positive ones. Therefore, they foist as much alarming and fear-producing content on us as they can.

Again, instead of letting your lizard brain run with that and make us worried and afraid, we should pause and ponder. Is it worth getting your tail in a twist over? Is it even true?

Take a look at this article that highlights how the world is trending in a very positive direction.

#3 Good for you

Take a moment to consider and appreciate the good things in the people around you. Your boss may seem like he is overbearing, but notice how he really does care about your success. Thank him for it! Your kids drive you crazy when they whine about every little thing, but you also know they are kind-hearted and thoughtful. Let them know how much you appreciate it!

Gratitude and appreciation can go a long way towards dampening those negative nuggets.

#4 Smile and laugh and dance and sing!

We can take an active role in putting ourselves in a good mood. I recently created a playlist of songs where the only criteria was that hearing them makes me feel good. I’m up to about 200 songs so far.

Whenever I want a positive anchor or just want to overcome a lousy mood, I pull it up in shuffle mode and let a fun tune surprise me, wash over me and re-coat my brain.

If none of those strategies work for you and you still are experiencing a negative outlook, pull up the post you are reading now and look at the picture of my kids. Doesn't that make you smile? It works for me every time!

Think well, be well.

- Steve Haffner

Want to learn more about improving your thinking and decision making?


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