Do you feel like you’re in a rut? When you talk to friends, do you notice yourself focusing on the things that are tough, unfair, or wrong in life? Have you been called a Debbie Downer? You’re not alone. Most people tend to focus on the negative. In fact, when left to our own devices, the human brain is actually hardwired to bias towards negativity.
This is a pretty well-documented phenomenon with plenty of situational examples. For instance, one study showed that a fear of punishment was more effective in getting children to follow the rules than a desire for rewards.
Another showed that we view a loss of resources, such as money, as more important than a gain of resources. For example, losing $100 seems like a much bigger deal to most people than gaining $100. Negativity exerts a stronger pull.
It makes sense. Our ancestors wouldn’t have survived the millennia if they were hardwired for positivity.
Rather than avoiding the jungle at night out of fear and caution, a positivity-oriented human would have wandered in and been eaten by a panther. By focusing heavily on the negative dangers surrounding them, our ancestors were mostly able to avoid unnecessary harm. That’s why humans are still around today.
But we live in a vastly different world than our ancestors, one in which we are less concerned with the dangers posed by nature and more concerned with dangers posed by the mind–depression, stress, anxiety, self-loathing.
Without imminent physical dangers, our tendency to focus on the negative no longer serves us. It just causes us to swirl around the mental toilet bowl, thinking horrible thoughts but never getting the relief of a flush. This chronic stress is tremendously unhealthy, and it’s making us sick.
That’s why it is so essential to practice positive thinking. Before you roll your eyes, positive thinking is more than being annoyingly optimistic and upbeat. It’s more than just plastering a smile on your face and lifting your arms into a power position. It’s about enjoying your life and appreciating the world around you.
How to Practice Positivity & Fight Your Negative Hard-Wiring
While focusing on the negative has its place, so does a positive outlook. Overcome your negativity bias with these daily positivity practices.
Start journaling every single day–but not ordinary journaling. While your traditional journal is often a place where you beat the drum of your own trials, tribulations, and sufferings, your positivity journal should be something entirely different.
This journal should be the place where you sit down for five minutes and jot down all the things in your life that make you happy and grateful. Even a rainy day has its bright sides. Perhaps you get to snuggle with a puppy every morning. Maybe you got complimented at work and you’ve completed everything on your to-do list early. Or maybe you made some really good hot chocolate–what’s better than that?
You can even use these pages to go the extra mile and practice listing all of the ways a somewhat negative person or event has impacted you in a positive light. For example, instead of complaining about an ex, list the wonderful things that you learned from that past relationship and congratulate yourself on all the ways you’ve grown since.
This journal should be a daily practice in shifting your perspective, and you’ll be surprised at how effective it is. As little as five minutes of positivity practice a day can significantly improve your feelings of self-worth and life satisfaction.
I know you’re sick of hearing this, but meditation seriously works.
Research has shown that people who meditate daily have a more positive outlook on life than those who do not. Spend some intimate time with yourself, and the world may start appearing a little rosier.
Letting Yourself Have Fun
And I don’t mean just going out for a drink with your friends. I mean real fun. Do something you haven’t allowed yourself to do since you were a child.
We prioritize time for business meetings, family commitments, and friend catch-up sessions. Why don’t we prioritize time for our own happiness? That is literally your purpose in life–to be truly happy. It makes acknowledging the positive a lot easier.
You can change your brain for the better. All it takes is a little consistent practice. Work will always be there. Your darker thoughts will always be there. Now is the time to love yourself, have a bit of fun and be grateful that you no longer have to worry about panthers chasing you through a jungle.
We’ve got it pretty good.
Images via Thinkstock.
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