Human brains are hard-wired in primitive ways and have just one goal – survival. They achieve the goal of keeping us alive in three primary ways: by prompting us to stay safe, seek pleasure, and be efficient.
Before humans were established as the top of the food chain, this made a lot of sense. Brains were focused on preventing the possible tiger/bear attack, eating in abundance because food might later be scarce, and never burning more calories than absolutely necessary.
Despite that we are not likely to be attacked by a tiger today, our version 1.0 brains are always on the lookout, constantly analyzing situations and quickly categorizing that which is safe or dangerous. So, it’s no surprise that brains are good at finding the negative.
Back in the day, the brain had to quickly and efficiently determine whether there was a rock or a snake in the grass. Assuming it was a snake was the better, safer option.
Those with brains most successful at spotting danger lived to reproduce, so we are the proud owners of brains that have outstanding ability to spot anything negative, which could very likely mean danger.
Now add life’s curveballs of loss, loneliness, uncertainty or illness, and you’ve got a brain operating on overdrive, convinced that danger is everywhere, constantly seeking and readily finding the negative.
This is called negativity bias, and it is nothing more than our primitive brains doing their best to keep us alive.
Luckily, we have other parts of the brain more in tune with life in modern times. The prefrontal cortex, sometimes called the higher brain, can recognize the primitive brain’s focus on the negative, understand why it is happening, and then intentionally change the channel.
We can acknowledge the valiant efforts of the primitive brain and then demand equal airtime for what is right, what is working, what is positive.
First, eavesdrop on the chatter happening in your brain and jot down those thoughts. Notice that each thought can be categorized into one of the three main tasks that keep us alive: safety, pleasure and efficiency. (Incidentally, our thoughts run on repeat partly due to efficiency.) If many of your thoughts seem negative, know that this is your primitive brain doing its job.
Next, it’s time to activate your prefrontal cortex. Ask yourself, what else is true? What is right in your world? What is certain? What is abundant? In what ways are you safe?
Third, notice how it feels to use your prefrontal cortex to change the channel. Make a daily effort to give equal airtime to prefrontal cortex thinking.
Once we recognize our natural bias toward negativity and understand why we tend to focus on it, we realize how much control we have. Our thoughts are not always true or useful, but they are always 100% optional.
Our primitive brains will always attempt to do their jobs. We can acknowledge those efforts and then activate our ability to direct our thinking, to think thoughts that are true and serve us well.
So today, direct your brain to change the channel. Where are there glimmers of goodness, even in this chapter of life? If you ask your brain to look, it will find them.
Have you noticed a negativity bias in your thinking? How have you “changed the channel” to focus on the positive? What daily habits help you to focus on positivity?