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Don’t Let the Negativity Bias Run Your Life

By Noelle Nelson March 29, 2024 Mindset

A friend, your spouse or a co-worker, compliments you. “That’s nice,” you think. By the next hour, day or week you’ve forgotten about it. A friend, your spouse or a co-worker criticizes something about you. “Ouch,” you think. And for the next hour, day, week or even months, you ruminate over it, dwell on it, imagine what else they might find objectionable about you, and generally obsess.

Our Negativity Bias

You’ve fallen victim to the negativity bias – a very understandable tendency we have to focus on negative comments and events far more than we do on positive ones. It’s part of how we ensure our survival. After all, if we don’t seek to avoid or prevent bad things from happening to us, our survival is indeed threatened. That’s fine and normal, except for when it interferes with our ability to enjoy happy and successful lives (which is most of the time).

I Can Versus I Can’t

We tell ourselves “I can’t” as in “I can’t have that, be that, or do that. I’m too old, too weak, too poor, too fat, too thin, too dumb, too untalented, too klutzy…” The list is long. We find umpteen reasons why we can’t be/do/have something when all it would take is a shift from “I can’t” to “I can” to help us line up umpteen reasons why we can.

Take Pat Conner, for example. At 91, she is officially the oldest active player in the “Granny Basketball League.” This is wonderful, indeed, yet Pat, who loved and played basketball all her life, found herself at 84 not only unable to play the sport, but not even able to get herself out of bed. She was unable to un-curl her hands from their claw-like position or lift her arms above her shoulders. Pat could have stopped right there, with a loud “I can’t!” and foresworn basketball forever.

“I can’t,” however, is not in Pat’s nature. With her husband’s help and support, Pat found a physician who diagnosed her condition as osteoarthritis, and with “I can” as her mantra, she was restored to health and activity with appropriate medication and physical therapy. Her fierce desire to return to basketball fueled her “I can” which led to her being able, just a short time later, to run and dribble and shoot baskets.

Now, at 91, Pat has a wonderful time playing in a league that boasts 450 players and 42 teams across 10 states. Only individuals 50 and older are eligible. Pat often plays alongside her 64-year-old daughter, Debbie, and sometimes her 59-year-old daughter, Becky. Pat intends to be on the court, dribbling and shooting, at 100.

You Can Embrace the “I Can” Mindset

You may read this and think “How lovely for her,” and hit delete. That would be a mistake. Pat is no Wonder Woman. She’s just a shining example of what a simple shift of focus can accomplish. It doesn’t matter whether you’re 6, 60 or 106, abled or differently abled, when you start to look at life through the lens of “I can,” everything changes.

You begin to see possibilities and different ways of going about what you long for. This world is so vast, so rich in opportunities, most unimagined but a decade ago, that there is always a way to achieve, in some form, that which you desire. It may not take the exact form you envisioned; it often doesn’t. But one way or another, with “I can” as your mantra, you can still accomplish your heart’s desire.

Use the negativity bias as intended: a survival tool. Yes, get out of the way of a moving car and take those precautions you know to be sensible. But don’t let the negativity bias run your life. Say “I can” far more often than “I can’t” and watch your life get ever happier and happier.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

When do you most find yourself thinking “I can’t”? What example can you give in your life that shows that the “I can” attitude works?

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A really optimistic article.
What we need more is the armour against negativity that surrounds us… I find the declining quality of every day life in Europe extremely overwhelming… We need to fight against this…


The Author

Dr. Noelle Nelson is a psychologist, consultant and speaker. She is passionate about personal growth and happiness. She’s authored over a dozen books including The Longevity Secret: How to Live Happy, Healthy & Vibrant Into Your 70s, 80s, 90s and Beyond and Phoenix Rising: Surviving Catastrophic Loss: Fires, Floods, Hurricanes and Tornadoes. Visit her at

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