Gratitude vs the negitivity bias

My young adult daughter and I just had our coffee date, we were talking about her Dad being pushed into college by his mother when he was her age.  I was feeling what I call “that good mama feeling”; connected, proud of her, content with my values and choices.  Then she said “oh is that why you never pushed me?” “humm, that may have  influenced me some” I said.  Upon my further questioning she gently said “yeah, you could have done more by me”.  It’s true; there were times in her teen years that more advocacy or more motivation from me could have been beneficial and she believes it as well.

Now one week later my mind keeps returning again to how I didn’t perform so well.  Ever notice how your thoughts can go rushing past what was good and right to look at the big glaring mistake throbbing for attention.  I’m sure you’ve had a few of these experiences.  An evaluation at work which is full of compliments and good marks will be marred with one criticism that gobbles up all your attention and drowns out everything else.  Psychologists give this phenomenon a name “the negativity bias”, the way we alert to and fix on what is wrong.  We have evolution to thank for this; paying attention to danger, to potential problems is the survival smart thing to do.  Pollyanna will be mauled and eaten by that predator she doesn’t notice a blissfully beautiful natural scene.  If we go back and look at survival necessity it makes good biological sense to pay extra attention to the negative, we are better safe than sorry.  Neuro scientists are saying negative input carries ten times the weight of positive.  That’s a big physiological load to counter.

But in today’s world, is running fast or mobilizing to fight, the strategy that will keep me safe?  Do I really need an off handed remark to keep me on my toes?  I didn’t have a full fight or flee response, the modulation of my cortex told my lower brain to back off cause there is no real danger here in this moment.  The rumination, coming back again and again to examine if I should change my behavior in some way; is repetition that increases the stress hormones, and makes me less effective in the present moment.

Okay so now what can I do?  My brain will alert as it should, but paying attention to the alert can give me a momentary pause, to clear a little space in my brainbody.  A space to ask “Am I really feeling distressed and terrible about what a loser I am or is there some negative information that just captured my mind?”  Name it and let yourself know that if that negative comment had been a wild hungry beast you would have taken action and saved yourself.  Yes, there’s no wild hungry beast and now you may have some stress hormones in your bloodstream.  Remember it’s going to take ten times the number of positives to counterbalance this negative one.  While you’ve got your attention, try naming some of those positives. Even some of the obvious ones can help get you started; I’m not mangled or dead, I can think and notice things, I’m warm enough or well fed or…… Gratitude practices, taking a few moments, every day to name that which is good and feeling the gratitude, have been shown to lower blood pressure and restore equilibrium.

My daughter is talking to me in an intimate meaningful way.  We have the resources to go out together and have a cup of coffee.  I have a car that gets us places safely.  I’m going home to a comfortable/safe place.  My whole family is pretty healthy.  I have a beautiful natural environment around my house.  I have meaningful work.  I have people I like to dance with.  There are still some trillum on my street. It’s spring andtrillum the new hens are being to lay beautiful rich yolked eggs.  I am thinking of a particular friend who has loved and supported me for 40 years.  Well that’s one more than ten, having some gratitude in the bank is a good thing.


About karenkirsch

I am a Registered Somatic Movement Therapist and Laban Movement Analyst. I have a Masters degree in Somatic Psychology with training in Interpersonal Neurobiology, Body Mind Centering, Dance Therapy and other mind/body disciplines. My passion is to help people integrate sensate understanding into the practice of daily living and encourage gentle exploration grounded in sound anatomical and neurological principles.
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