3 Simple and Effective Steps to Help You Overwrite Negativity Bias

Have you ever wondered why we are so quick to believe a negative story about someone? Why fears creep in and consolidate so easily? Why do we tend to remember the hurtful things people have said or done to us? Why are we so easily affected by rejection, insults or bad news? And not only are we easily influenced by negative words and actions but the memory of those keeps drilling into our minds for decades. The answer is straightforward. Ugliness and nastiness have a more significant impact on our brains. Our brain is negativity bias. It has higher sensitivity to unpleasant things. So if you ever worry that you are easily stressed and fearful, and tend to hear the negative words louder than the positive ones, don’t beat yourself up for it. There is nothing wrong with you. Everybody is like that. We are all hardwired to be negativity bias.

 So the big questions are, why are we designed to function that way and should we simply embrace it or is there a way to change it?

 1. Knowledge is the first step towards changing the status quo. Educate yourself about it. Know what is going on and why.

So here is, in a nutshell, the science behind the human tendency to better see, hear and remember negative words and actions.

 It’s crazy, but research shows that negative stimuli produce more neural activity than equally intense positive ones do. They are also perceived more easily and quickly. For example, people in studies can identify angry faces faster than happy ones, even if they are shown these images so quickly that they cannot have any conscious recognition of them. In other experiments people were shown pictures known to arouse positive feelings (say, a big house by the beach, or a happy child), and pictures certain to stir up negative feelings (the violence of war or a dead dog) and also pictures known to produce neutral feelings (a plate, a hairdryer). The electrical activity in the brain's cerebral cortex that reflects the magnitude of information processing was recorded during the tests. The recordings showed that the brain reacts more strongly to negative stimuli. There is a more significant surge in electrical activity. Thus, our attitudes are more heavily influenced by the downbeat news than good news.

Our capacity to give priority to negative input so heavily is there for a good reason - to keep us out of harm’s way. Our survival has always depended on our skills to avoid or overcome danger. And that’s what the brain’s alarm system does - it helps us notice danger, and we respond to it by either fighting, fleeing or freezing.

The alarm bell of our brain — the amygdala (we’ve got two of these little almond-shaped regions, one on either side of the brain) — uses about two-thirds of its neurons to look for the bad news: it’s primed to go negative. Once it sounds the alarm, adverse events and experiences get quickly stored in our memory — in contrast to positive activities and experiences, which usually need to be held in awareness for a dozen or more seconds to transfer from short-term memory buffers to long-term storage.


 2. Awareness is the second step. The knowledge of how negativity bias works and why it is part of our programing makes you aware. You become conscious about it and start recognising the symptoms and the signs. You start catching yourself, and others in being “negativity bias.” And this is the very moment when you have to take action and “heck the system.” Don’t let those moments of awareness and discernment fade away without you taking any action. Capture them and emplify them with maximum consiousness and the intetion to act. Become action bias. 

 If you don’t use your brain, the brain will use you.


 3. Savour the experience is the third and most crucial step. The one which will cost you most effort too. But if you want to start changing things and seeing tangible results, that’s the one to really focus on. Be fully present in the positive experiences. Be generous towards yourself and give yourself ample time (at least twenty to thirty seconds) to enjoy that moment all the way. By elongating your positive sensations, you allow more neurons to fire and wire together in response to the stimulus. This solidifies the experience in your memory.

We are predisposed to responding, collecting, clinging to the negative words and actions, but we can counteract that by intentionally developing a more diverse and profoundly rooted storage of positive memories. As we fill our mind with more positive experiences, through savouring, we become more accustomed to external positive stimuli.  

Work also on developing the habit of reminding yourself of your past successes, no matter how big or small those successes were. If you don’t, the mind will simply do what it's designed to do and remind you of your failures. Just remind yourself how wonderful it fell and what the positive ripple effect of your success was. Relive those successes! Leverage the emotions they stir up and use that as the fuel for your actions. You'll be amazed at how empowering that is!


A positive mindset is a skill you develop through practice!

Now that you know about the what, why and how you can start working on developing the skill of being more positive minded. And remember, just like with any other skill, the more you practise, the more skilful you’ll become. And the more skilled you become, the more motivated and enthusiastic you’ll be to keep practising. And before you know it, positivity bias will be your new status quo.


Maria Angelova