Published Categorized as activities, brain wiring, emotional literacy, low mood

It’s quite well understood that our brains have a negativity bias. We evolved it to survive. In our hunter-gathering days, for which have been stuck at in evolutionary terms, it was really important that we noticed the snake, the poisonous plant or the precarious rock so we were extremely careful to avoid them next time. These negative and risky dangers needed to imprint on our brains ‘loudly’.

Negativity bias is why, in a bombardment of praise, we hone in and super-focus on the one piece of criticism, even if it’s minor. It’s why we can catastrophise: assume everything that could go wrong, will go wrong and it’s why we can find ourselves ruminating about something ‘bad’ to the point of torturing ourselves. Sadly, the brain that was wired to keep us safe when dangers were more commonly life-threatening, doesn’t always serve us well. Our brain can’t tell the difference between stress, the feeling of social unease, difficult possibilities, judgement of mistakes and relationship risk – real or perceived, from dangers that pose a risk our physical safety.

So what’s the antidote to negativity bias? Well aside from being aware of the brain’s tendency to focus on the negative (and giving it a good talking to when it gets up to its tricks) an antidote is gratitude! It’s one of those things we all know is good for us (like walking outside, meditating, eating well etc) but something we are often not quite convinced enough to practice.

And there are actually many things to be grateful for. And it’s worth listing them as you always feel better (or great) after doing so!

They can be:

  • Small pleasures: e.g. a sweet treat
  • Small frequent things: e.g. like a hot drink
  • Something you’re looking forward to: e.g. a holiday, spring
  • Something that you have in your life that you love: e.g. a pet, a musical instrument
  • Your friends and family: those you value and love and what you love about them
  • The things you love doing: reading, watching TV, cooking etc.
  • The plans you make: e.g. social gatherings, going out.
  • Your ability to make choices: e.g. what to eat, how to spend your evening,
  • The positive effect you have on other people: e.g. kindness
  • Things that are universally pleasing: the sun, the sky, trees, the seasons etc.
  • The complexity of being you!
  • etc.

Go on! Get listing! or perhaps – draw them in a heart and put it on the fridge!

P.S. I love a piece of research I read about (somewhere) years ago that said that when people put photos of happy occasions and people they loved, in places that meant they would regularly see them, it had a beneficial impact on mood and happiness. What’s more, the impact lasted (which implies some more positively wired neurons in the brain that were reinforced again and again each time the pictures were looked at). N.B. I guess because of another thing the brain does: habituation: where it stops noticing things that we see or hear over and over again, we’d have to place the pictures in really noticeable places – like on top of out mug or over the loo roll!