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Ben Martin

About the author : Ben Martin is a research and business development associate at Thera Rising Intenational. He also delivers seminars and oversees digital development.

Brain Bytes: Beating the Negativity Bias

December 14, 2016   Conflict IQ

Last time, we discussed how powerful and pervasive the negativity bias can be. At its root is the pesky fact that the mind is much better at perceiving patterns in negative experiences than positive ones.

Today, we’re going to talk about how, with a little mindfulness, we can beat the bias. We touched on this before, but it’s so important that we wanted to take a moment to go further in-depth on the topic.

If you’ll think back to Brain Bytes number one, we talked about how to curb the Negativity Bias with an exercise called “taking in the good.” It sounds simple, and maybe even a little “out there,” but there’s a strong scientific underpinning to it. Here’s what you do:

  • Become mindful of something good in your life. It could be a pleasant physical feeling, or something you’re proud of, or something you’ve recently experienced or are looking forward to (seeing your family, a good meal, etc.).
  • Concentrate on the sensation for a short time – around 10 to 30 seconds. Experience how it affects your mind and your body. This helps the sensation stay with you longer.

Done? Congratulations! You’ve just taken the first, and perhaps most important, step towards beating the negativity bias!

But how can such a simple exercise counter something as powerful as the negativity bias? In a word, focus. Our anxious “lizard brain” is always on the lookout for everything that could possibly go wrong. That can be helpful (if you’re a caveman, for example) but that kind of focus is counterproductive and actually harmful to most of us today – causing stress that can build into serious chronic illness and anxiety.

But we can beat the bias by focusing on the good things in our lives. Every time we do this, we’re “petting the lizard.” It takes time and practice, but it’s the best way to reinforce those healthy mental pathways.

It’s important not to take shortcuts when taking in the good. Don’t just remember “I had a good time at the movies yesterday.” To build that neural pathway, you need to let yourself drop back into the moment and relive it a little. In the words of Rick Hanson, “We are not iPods. We’re VCRs.” What he means is that we it doesn’t work to just queue up the memory like dropping a song onto your iPod. We need to “play the whole song back” to record it to the brain.

We have plenty of opportunities to stress ourselves out over the holidays. Hosting, cooking, and shopping, obligations to family and friends, hazardous roads…. But the holidays can be a time of grounding and reconnecting, too. So over the next few weeks, look for those moments of comfort. Take note of them, and once or twice a day, spend half a minute playing it back and taking in the good.

Ben MartinBen Martin specializes in research and business development at Thera Rising. When he’s not out delivering seminars, he oversees client outreach and digital development.

LinkedIn: Ben Martin

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