BrainFIT News

The Neuroscience of Negativity

It is human nature to automatically label something as bad, negative or destructive. To do so is a form of self-protection. One could say it is our brain’s job for self-preservation. When we automatically apply a negative label to daily interactions, occurrences, memories or thoughts we are, in a sense, attaching a mental warning sign to the stated event. Unfortunately, this signage can get in the way of our success and ultimate performance –and the stronger our negative emotion we attach to the impression, the more we remember it. Thus, without knowing it, we maybe are proceeding with necessary caution or alarm. Plus, the longer we dwell on our negative emotions and ruminate, the barometer of worry, fears, and doubt rises.

Furthermore, by unconsciously focusing on our negative interpretations, we tend to dismiss the hundreds (if not thousands) positive experiences, thoughts, and interactions throughout our day. It is here, in these moments, that we find the solution for our propensity to linger in negativity. Through a mindful choice, we become aware of the positives, to accept and to embrace pleasant life events. By understanding that often our first response is a negative bias, taking a moment to explore the positive alternatives to something that at first, we might perceive as negative can alter your performance exponentially.

Research of Professor Barbara Fredrickson shows, that positive emotions broaden our thought and enable new behavior to cope with negative emotions and in turn, increases our mental health. Positive emotions are not solely side effects. Positivity turns on the motivation center in our brain. It also allows us to embark on new adventures and to engage in more rewarding social relationships. Although positive emotions come and go, giving something positive more meaning, we create lasting neural pathways in our brain leading to upward spirals of our health.

The Choice is Ours to Make

On the contrary, ruminating on negative emotions lead to a slippery slope of being on the alert for danger, defensive behavior, fear of failure, anxiety, and pessimism. This downward spiral exhausts energy resources and has a negative effect on our well-being. Fredrickson and her team believe that the upward and downward spirals cannot exist side-by-side in the brain. We therefore basically have a choice to have either a positivity bias or a negativity bias. Their research suggests that the upward cycle counteracts the downward cycle. Based on Fredrickson’s and Gotman’s earlier work, they suggest that 5 positive thoughts nullify 1 negative thought.

So, how do we get rid of our negativity bias?

To wipe out our negative thought pattern, we will need to become fully aware of all of our senses of the positive emotions that happen to us. Neuroscience has proven the theory of neural plasticity, which means that we can train our brain and learn something new. However, just like with anything new, for example, learning how to cook or learning how to play golf, you will need to practice many times over.

Step 1:

Start to write down all of your positive thoughts, feelings, sensations, emotions, and accomplishments daily. I suggest that you do this at least once a day for the next 10 days at the end of your day. The great thing about writing your thoughts down is that it will help your brain to memorize it better. Repetition is the secret ingredient.

Step 2:

Consciously read your list and see where your intuition takes you. Add any new positive emotions that came up to your current list. Now, be grateful for one or more –or all –of these positive emotions that you have written down. Saturate and savor your mind with these pleasant experiences one-by-one.

Step 3:

Use all of your senses and allow yourself to feel the positive attributes that you have written down. Close your eyes and imagine the victory again. Taste the nutrisous healthy food again. Listen to the wonderful music again, smell those roses in your garden again, whilst you scan your Positivity List.

Step 4:

To boost your positivity and moral you can finish this exercise by saying the following affirmation out loud three times (or come up with your own