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How to Train your Brain to Seek Positivity

Articles titled ‘How to be Happy’ will be full of the wonders of practicing gratitude. But what’s the deal? Why do we consciously have to focus on what we appreciate? 

There’s a reason we have a name for negative Nancy but not a name for positive Penelope. The problem is, we’re wired to be negative. We can’t help but think, act, and be negative like Nancy because our brain is primed to perceive threats and be pessimistic about opportunities. 

Our negative human nature is due to the negativity bias.

How people create meaning from external circumstances is governed by the negativity bias. It turns out, people interpret information and perceive circumstances in a negative frame of mind more often than a positive one. People are more inclined to focus on threats, what’s missing, and what could go wrong. Evolutionarily, it has served us to be hyper-aware of threats, and we’re great at it. A team of researchers even found that fearful faces were consistently detected faster than neutral or happy faces. Unfortunately, the negativity bias accentuates failures and obstacles, while diverting our attention away from opportunities. There’s no wonder anxiety and depression are so prevalent because the negativity bias highlights negative emotions including shame, anger, doubt, anxiety and depression.

Despite the contradiction, negativity is beneficial since negative experiences can be good. 

Behaviour resulting from negative states can and often do bring positive outcomes. As egotistical humans, we sometimes need to learn through experience rather than being told what’s right and wrong. The good thing is, when things go wrong, we can learn what to do right. The first time a child touches a stove they learn the hard way what not to do. 

Reflection on failures or other negative experiences can result in growth. The realization of acting wrongfully out of anger can ironically develop compassion, Loss can develop love. Anxiety does protect us from potential and often very real threats and we need fear to make decisions. 

Train your Brain to Seek Positivity

The first step to managing the negativity bias is to accept that it exists. When you’re in a negative state, be aware of how the negativity bias is affecting your reaction or emotional state and consciously redirect your negative reactions and thoughts. 

Most importantly, take control of your daily emotional state. In the morning, start your day with gratitude and train your brain to appreciate what you already have. Then, prime your brain in an optimistic mindset by reflecting on what you are looking forward to. Reflect on how great it would be if x, y or z happened and prime your mind for potential opportunities. Throughout your day, practice gratitude for all the little things. 

In the evening, end your day with gratitude for anything that happened and for all that you have. Train your brain to focus on what was great, on all the positive events. Reflection on how things could have gone better will help you to focus on growth instead of ruminating over failure. 

With consistency, your brain will begin to focus on the good things, you will be inclined to consider the opportunities rather than only the threats. The negativity bias will still be present; however, you can reduce your susceptibility to its reign over you by suffocating with positivity.