Why is it so Easy to Think Negatively?

Contemporary neuroscientists now believe that our brain has a built in negativity bias. This is because biologically speaking in the thousands of years we spent as primitive tribesmen and women it was actually more useful survival-wise to be able to spot threats and dangers quickly than it was to be loving and relaxed. When you have a genuine threat from predators and aggressive humans from the next tribe, it really paid to be paranoid and think about the worst case scenario!
However, fast forward to 2011, and we have undergone 2-300 years of very fast cultural, social and industrial evolution, and now find ourself in a situation where we are actually physically SAFE most of the time. Unfortunately our biological brain has not evolved as fast as our environment, and so we still find our brain primed to seek out threats, spot the negatives in life, and remain generally neurotic.
Because our brain has not adjusted fully, but retains its built in survival negativity bias, we find that in our everyday life it is much easier to think negatively than  positively. As neuroscientist Rick Hansen (author of “Buddhas Brain”) puts it “Our mind is Velcro for negativity and teflon for positivity”, negativity sticks with no effort, whilst positivity has to be drummed in with effort!!

So, what to do?
The first take away from this understanding is that in order to enjoy a positive mind and perspective we should expect to have to exert effort everyday to think positive and let go of the negative.
The second take away is that we should realize that our mind will naturally exaggerate threats and negativity, so we need to be prepared for this, and make sure we do not give our power away to these over-reactions!

A Daily Practice
Here is one of the things I do each day to keep my mind oriented positively, and I do it religiously each day if I feel negative in any way. It is really very simple, but in the context of the above neuro-psychology you can see how important it is. All I do is write a list of reasons to feel good, positive, fortunate and so on. I write at least three things that I feel good about, but if I have time I write more. To show you exactly what I mean here is my list of three or more things that I feel good about right now:

– I feel good about the soul portrait artwork that I am doing for a client right now, and feel fortunate to be able to do art as a part of my living.
– I’m very excited about a new neighborhood that we may be moving to in the future, it has many of the characteristics that I am looking for!
– I’m enjoying the book I am reading right now “The Marriage of Sense and Soul” by Ken Wilber (recommended by the way!)
– Its good to have the wife around after her absence on a trip for a couple of weeks!

As you can see there is nothing unusual about the above list, but every time I do it what I am training and re-wiring my brain to pick up on the positive and use it as the basis for the way I feel about my life.

© Toby Ouvry 2011, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website www.tobyouvry.com

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