Have you ever had a day that seemed like everything was going wrong? It usually starts with an unfortunate event. Maybe you were on your way to work and got cut off by another driver. Or perhaps you spilled coffee on your favorite outfit. Another scenario that we have all been through is, you get all the way to work and then realize you forgot something important at home. These types of experiences can be very frustrating and tend to negatively affect the entire outcome of our day if we dwell on them.
But why does this happen? How can one momentary negative experience impact the entirety of our day? This behavior is actually related to the biological makeup of our brains. Studies show that negative events have a greater impact on our brains than positive ones. Psychologists refer to these phenomena as the “negativity bias”. In essence, our brain is a sticky surface for bad experiences, while good experiences tend to slide right off. If ninety percent of our day is filled with good experiences, chances are we are going to dwell on the 10 percent that we consider to be bad. We can have a great night of sleep, a warm cup of coffee, a nice shower, and then that one bad comment from a coworker sticks out like a sore thumb.
According to Verywellmind.com, our ancestors needed the negativity bias for survival. Dwelling on negative experiences helped our ancestors avoid life threatening situations. It helped them learn what situations to avoid, by drilling it into their brains, “THIS IS NOT SAFE!” The negativity bias made sense for survival reasons over millions of years of human evolution. Today however, it seems more like a detriment to modern day living.
So how do we overcome dwelling on negative episodes if our brains are hardwired into doing so? The first step is recognizing that the negative experience is happening and mindfully consider how you feel about it. Be present with the experience and understand your feelings without reacting and then prepare to let it go. Reactive thoughts and emotions tend to make the negative occurrence last longer within your mind, so it is best not to react to negative stimuli. Instead, take a deep breath, exhale, and to try to calm yourself down. Give yourself a few moments and when you are ready, let the experience go. Try to think about the positive things that happened to you during the day. Perhaps you had a good breakfast or a laugh you had with a friend. Use those memories to replace the negative event.
Finally, create a feel-good moment for yourself after your negative experience. Positive occurrences after an upsetting ordeal can help you move on and let go. Plan a fun event for yourself, listen to upbeat music, or watch your favorite funny movie. The ultimate goal is to get past the small negatives that the day can bring and turn things around with positive incidents. With time, you can rewire your brain to let go of negative experiences more quickly if you practice this in your daily life.
Our minds are like gardens. Tend to it by pulling the weeds and planting flowers in their place.