Say you turn up to the office, feeling fresh and with a new haircut. You think you look good and everyone is complimenting and showering you with positive remarks.
But one person makes a sarcastic comment and actually, they preferred your old hair cut. Despite all the positivity, you can’t help but stew over that one criticism.
So, why does the brain dwell on that one negative remark, choosing to ignore all the positivity?
Based on several research papers such as Not All Emotions Are Created Equal, our brains’ penchant for focusing on the negative is known as a “negativity bias.” Essentially, this means that our brains are wired to forget the positive and concentrate on the negative.
Moreover, researchers, such as Vaish et al. argue that negative bias is present in early development and carries into adulthood. Demonstrating how from an early age our brains default is to obsess over the negative.
As real as negative bias is, it’s not always helpful to have a glass-half-empty perspective on life. Further research suggests negative bias may lead to more knee-jerk reactions when negative emotions are encountered. Watters and Williams of Negative Biases and Risk for Depression, note that a higher reactivity to negative emotion is linked with symptoms of depression.
But how do you rewire your brain to be more positive?
Neurons that fire together, wire together.Eric Langshur and Nate Klemp, PhD
We know that neuroplasticity takes place in the brain which means the brain can change over time. Notice-Shift-Rewire is a mindfulness practice which has been floating around for some time now. The core aim of the practice is to help you form a habit of detouring yourself away from negative thoughts and building a way of dealing with these thoughts whenever they arise.
Langshur and Klemp, writers of Start Here: Master the Lifelong Habit of Wellbeing note “when we learn to direct our attention, we improve our wellbeing”, suggesting this will help to fend off our predisposition towards negative bias.
This is how it works
Step 1: Notice
The first step is to Notice when and where your mind begins to wander? Try to understand where you’re focusing your attention and time.
Step 2: Shift
The next step is to Shift this attention away from whatever it is your thoughts are centred around and bring yourself into the present moment. Perhaps direct your focus to your breathing or the sounds around you.
Step 3: Rewire
The last and final step is to Rewire. Langshur and Klemp suggest you spend 15-30 seconds to savour this new experience and reinforce the change you just made, helping to “encode a heightened experience of wellbeing deep into your brain and nervous system.”
Like most skills, this requires practice to develop and perfect. However, this practice isn’t designed to eradicate all negative thought – they will still occur. It merely focuses and provides a framework or a set of tools to deal with unwanted thoughts in a healthy manner, leading you to feel more grateful and positive.
So next time someone doesn’t appreciate your new haircut or says something negative that you can’t stop thinking about, try Notice-Shift-Rewire and see how that makes you feel!
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