6 Ways to Avoid Focusing on the Negative Things
When you spend more time focusing on the negative comment rather than all the positive things that also took place.
Have you ever experienced a relatively good interaction only to walk away and have one negative comment continue to play in your mind?
……this is what happened to Mia after a review with her manager.
Even though Mia had some anxiety about how the conversation would flow at her yearly review, she realised it was more excitement than worry. She had only received glowing comments throughout the last 12 months.
And as she expected, the review went exceptionally well.
There was praise for her initiative and competency in work completed to date, and she felt proud of her achievements.
As she was just about to leave, her manager offered her a suggestion on working better with a new colleague who had moved to her team.
Two days earlier, Mia had to talk with Ben about prioritising tasks to meet project deadlines.
This is what Leah was referring to, Mia thought.
Had he complained about her and her management style?
Even though it was a passing suggestion by Leah, Mia couldn’t stop thinking about it.
That evening as she recalled the meeting with her partner, she found it difficult to remember all the positive comments discussed.
Instead, her mind continued to return to the final suggestions.
What was happening, she thought?
Why we have a tendency to focus on the negatives.
As humans, we have been hardwired to pay more attention to the negative experiences in our surroundings, more so than the positive.
This is what psychologists refer to as negativity bias.
And while it’s an evolutionary way of keeping us alive by alerting us to any potential danger in our environment, it can cause us to focus on the bad things going on in our lives with little or no attention to the good stuff.
How does focusing on the negative work?
Negative emotions are processed by the amygdala, the almond-shaped region in your brain. Safety is your biggest concern, and two-thirds of this incredible structure is designed to look for any potential threat. When negative experiences are detected in your environment, they are rapidly stored in memory.
This is unlike positive events and experiences, which require greater effort to be transferred from short term to long term memory.
As Rick Hanson describes it in his book Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom – “the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for the positive.”
Just because focusing on the negative is the human default setting, it doesn't mean that you can't override it.
How do you stop focusing on the negative comments?
1. Keep your awareness open... by recognising and acknowledging when the negative patterns are activated
It’s about being mindful of when your brain keeps returning to that one negative thing.
In Mia’s case, she might say, “here I go again, focusing on the last comment.”
2. Note what you are telling yourself about the experience
Listen for the negative self-dialogue and substitute kinder ways to speak to yourself.
Mia could say to herself – “the review was so positive, I will take Leah’s comments and improve my conversations style with Ben” or “I’m still learning I will remember this for future encounters.”
3. Adjust your Focus.
The human mind has evolved to be sensitive to the negative, but you can compensate by adjusting your focus and considering the positive.
Mia, could look through the written review and recall all the good things Leah had said about her.
She could make a list and keep it on her desk to go through regularly. (which leads to the next point)
4. Take time to Savour the positive experience.
While negative experiences get stored in memory rapidly, we need to make a conscious effort to hold the positive experiences in our awareness for about 10 seconds to be stored in memory.
One way to do this is to savour these positive experiences by recalling and replaying the event or occasion in your mind a couple of times.
Be present, feel the sensations in your body and commit those beautiful feelings to memory.
5. Get into the habit of celebrating all the small victories.
All too often we tend to brush past the small wins, but we want to rewire the brain to experience more of these good feelings.
So really acknowledge them, letting them sink in when they happen.
Write them down and keep them somewhere you can access them quickly and easily. Look over them often.
It’s perfect when you need an instant boost of positivity.
6. Create a daily practice of being grateful.
Keeping a journal and writing down what you are thankful for helps to rewire your brain to look for the good.
Good things happen all the time, and many go unnoticed, so it’s essential to acknowledge these regularly.
Then when something negative does happen, you can put it into perspective.
While it’s our genetic makeup to remember the negative, we don’t have to dwell there.
We can detect and rewire our brains not to overestimate the threats but instead to look for the positive and keep our brains balanced with both good and not so good things.