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Overcoming the negativity bias: how to maintain a positive mindset in challenging times

Updated: Jun 30


“Negativity Bias” refers to our tendency to “attend to, learn from, and use negative information far more than positive information, since negative events elicit more rapid and more prominent responses than non-negative events”.


When everything seems to be going well in our lives, it is easy to maintain a positive mindset. The real test comes when times take a challenging turn. These are periods when we face negative events, thoughts and disappointment.


During these times, our brain becomes adopts a narrow view that focuses on the negatives. This depressing cycle of negativity and concerns can feel overwhelming and insurmountable.


So why is this? The negativity bias explained


Our ancestors were faced with situations where their brains had to focus on the negative in order to survive. Imagine you are walking in a forest and you come face-to-face with a wolf. Your brain would go into flight or fight mode and you would be focused entirely on the wolf and how to stay alive. This bias is with us today, the problem is the fears aren’t real dangers anymore. This evolutionary theory explains something we are all affected by, still - the negativity bias.

Thankfully, this does not have to be the case. If we recognise the negativity bias, and actively adopt a positive mindset we can prevent our brain from going into this “narrow mode”.


Here are three steps we can take to challenge our brain’s natural tendency of focusing on the negative to improve our mood.


Three ways to challenge our negativity bias


1. Use the three positives to outweigh one negative rule


Our brain is a muscle, and our perception and mindset can change with conscious practice. Research shows we should maintain a ratio of three positives to outweigh the impact of every negative event.


If we direct our attention towards positive events and feelings we experience every day, we condition our brain to unconsciously focus on the positives. In order to do this, we can write three positives at the end of each day or share three positives in the moment to overcome a negative event.


2. Write down your challenge


Sometimes we simply don't know where to begin. By starting to write the challenge down we activate problem-solving systems in our brain that help us slow down and often come up with a solution.


Writing is also a powerful stress reliever, because by writing something down, especially if it is actively worrying us, we signal to our brain that we are dealing with the problem.


3. Break tasks down


Breaking tasks down helps us to see large challenges as more achievable. Every time we tick something off our to-do list we will get a small dopamine hit that will boost your mood.


Next time you have a big task, break it down into small actions. You will be far more likely to get started and then complete the task, leading to that dopamine hit to improve your mood.

It appears that not all emotions are created equal. We can’t eliminate negative thoughts and emotions, but by becoming more aware of them, we can effectively handle and challenge them throughout the day.


Get in touch with the team at Higson to discuss more proactive ways we can improve our mindset and increase productivity.


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