Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the brain’s negativity bias. I am now into my third read of Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson. After the first read, I tried an experiment. I challenged myself to catch those times I quickly shirked a compliment or barnacled myself to a negative thought and ran with it. Easy concept but in reality took a lot of persistence and determination and a sort of being okay with feeling squirmy and out of my element.
Growing up, I was often reminded by my mom that the price I paid for change was anxiety. It was that sense of not knowing and feeling like I wanted to slip back into that familiar brain groove that felt oh so natural and comfortable, but was holding me back from being my best self.
As Rick Hanson says, the brain is teflon for positives and velcro for negatives. We are still hardwired this way even though we no longer have to be vigilant to the lurking tiger, to that danger that might wipe us out. Although we still need to be cautious, like looking for a rock before we dive into a lake or checking for cars before crossing the street, we tend to lean to the hyper-cautious side of things.
I still catch myself ruminating about what is not or what is lacking—that one student who seemed not into my yoga class, rather than acknowledging how engaged the rest of the class were in the practice. Or, that horrible tendency to compare–she seems to be able to run her private practice, raise her kids, get to the gym, blog and socialize. Why can’t I do all that?? Comparisons are odious, they truly are, and will drag you down every time!
It’s inevitable– you’re going to notice the negatives, but it’s so important to let the positives soak in. And, it’s not enough just to observe the positive; the key is to really sit with it, physically experience what the positive feels like in your body. Most of us walk around in our heads a lot of the time. See if you can take a moment to allow the compliment to be absorbed. If someone tells you they love your skirt, instead dismissing, “Oh but it’s so old” or saying a quick thanks and moving on; take a few seconds and just delight in it. When you work hard at something, allow for the pride – stop and really appreciate your work.
I am getting good at noticing my negativity bias when it arises, and, with practice, even better at delighting in the positive and letting it in. Like everyone else, I am a work in progress.
As Hanson points out, saying yes to the positive in life really does change the pathways in our brains and opens the way for more happiness in our lives. So why not try your own experiment, move towards the light and allow those positives sink in!