We have written about this before, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth repeating. And repeating again. Because I find myself restating it over and over to clients (and over and over to myself as well).

Our brains have evolved to be like Teflon for the good things and Velcro for the bad things. And our brains have evolved so that we forget that our brains have evolved this way. This is called “negativity bias.”

In many ways, this evolution was helpful and necessary. It is hard to stay alive if there is a saber tooth tiger behind the tree. We need to be aware of any danger so that we can protect ourselves from danger. We need to remember the things that hurt us or scared us or threatened us, so that we do our best not to let those happen again.

But, in many ways, this evolution now mostly hurts us. There aren’t saber tooth tigers behind any trees, and, in fact, most of us aren’t in actual danger most of the time. But our negativity bias fixates our minds on the negative things that have happened around and to us. We may experience numerous good events in a day, but only focus on the one bad thing that occurred. We may ruminate over small mistakes we’ve made or negative comments from others.

As leaders, we may question our ability to lead; we may lose sight of the positive contributions from others on our team; we may forget to celebrate – or even notice – small steps and wins along the way.

And none of this feels good. Focusing on the bad just doesn’t feel good, and that in and of itself is a reason to figure out what you can possibly do to lessen your negativity bias.

We are obviously painfully aware that there is much that is currently wrong and bad in our world and our nation. Learning to focus on and hold onto the good does not negate that truth and does not require us to put our heads in the sand and ignore that truth. Learning to notice and build upon the good can bolster our commitment to bringing positive change and  can give us more strength to fight the fights that need to be fought and to show up as our best selves and lead as our best selves, especially in the midst of the current state of affairs in our country. That, in and of itself, is a reason to figure out what you can do to lessen your negativity bias.

So, what can you do to lessen it?

  • Be aware – there is a reason people say, “awareness is the first step.” Now that you are even more aware of your negativity bias, see how much you can notice it. Check in with yourself during the day and pay attention to the thoughts that may be running through your mind. Simply noticing the thoughts will give you the mental space to try and lessen the thoughts or redirect your focus.
  • Be mindful – Thoughtful Leadership requires you to be present and intentional (and authentic). All three of these are components of mindfulness, and all three can help you pivot your thoughts to more positive subjects. Notice the good around you; intentionally notice the good around you. Pay attention to it and keep bringing your brain back to it when it slips away.
  • Be appreciative – our minds will notice and stay with the negative, but there is – almost always – positive around and within us, if we’ll only notice it. By looking for – and actively appreciating – the good, we train our minds to let in the good. Maybe it’s the smell of your morning coffee or sunshine hitting the leaves. Maybe it’s a text from your BFF or a smile of thanks from a colleague. Maybe it’s active awareness of the many people in your life and the joy and fun that is yours to delight in and to share. Notice what’s good, and when your brain slips to the bad, notice the good.

Our brains have evolved to hold onto the bad and let go of the good, but we can retrain ourselves to focus more on the positive – and bring more positive to our work, leadership, and life.

How have you managed to move past your negativity bias, and how has it helped you?
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If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

For support in letting in more good, contact Lisa at lkohn@chatsworthconsulting.com.

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