The negative bias we have as human beings is an evolutionary function we developed thousand of years ago to help us survive in the wild. Our ancestors became acutely attuned to pick up on and react to all the possible threats around them to keep themselves safe.
As modern day humans, this negative bias still reigns and leads us to put a much stronger emphasis on the negative rather than the positive. We remember offensive comments over compliments, we dwell on traumatic events over pleasant experiences, we get stuck on preparing for worst case scenarios and we assume negative outcomes over positive ones.
This crucial survival mechanism has today turned into a self protection one that often – ironically – hinders and harms us from the inside. We become the threat to ourselves.
This propensity to over index on the negative can lead us into a cycle of rumination and anxiety. This is when it ceases to be a helpful tool and becomes a harmful one.
So, how can you combat your negative bias in a way that allows you to stay appropriately vigilant but not lead you into rumination and anxiety?
First is a practice of awareness. You need to be aware that this cycle of negative bias, rumination and anxiety is occurring for you to have the power to change it. Try to build a regular practice of self observation. Simply notice what you are feeling, thinking and doing in response to your feelings and thoughts in the moment. The more light you can shine on our thoughts, emotions and default behaviors, the less power they have over you and the more able you are to change the cycle.
Secondly try to neutralize the negative bias by focusing on a positive bias. Even if it feels unnatural or uncomfortable, try describing what the opposite perspective would be to the negative view that you are holding in your mind. This is like replacing a limiting belief with an empowering belief. It gives a different message to our brain that, with repetition, can shift negative thought patterns into positive or neutral ones.
And thirdly, reframe the mechanism from one of self protection to one of self-support. More often than not, you don’t need to protect yourself from the world, you need to support yourself in it. Support implies you are being strategic about your growth whereas protection implies you need to shield yourself from growth. Simply asking yourself what support you need to fulfill a goal or intention can help move you from thought to action. And with action comes experience and with experience comes confidence. And confidence is an excellent equalizer of negative bias.