My dog does not beat itself up over past mistakes. Your cat does not replay (constantly) negative experiences. We humans do. All. the. time.
In his book Resilient
, Dr. Rick Hanson reminds us why we have a bias towards negativity. For evolutionary reasons, our brains naturally and routinely:
*Scan for bad news out in the world and inside the body and mind
*Focus tightly on it, losing sight of the big picture
*Overreact to it
*Fast-track the experience into emotional, somatic, and social memory
*Become sensitized through repeated doses of the stress hormone cortisol, so it becomes even more reactive to negative experiences-which bathe the brain in even more cortisol, creating a vicious cycle.
The negativity bias made sense for survival over millions of years of evolution, but today it’s a kind of universal learning disability in a brain designed for peak performance under Stone Age conditions. All this negativity is exacerbated by our capacity to remember and rehash past experiences. Doctors often tell me that they have forgotten most of their good patient experiences, but the particularly difficult or painful ones are always right there, easy to recall. Our brains are like Velcro for bad experiences, and the media and culture are not helping.
We overcome the negativity bias by doing a few simple things: noticing when we are in one of those negative thought loops; letting it go in one way or another; and then paying more attention to what is good around us. There is at least as much good as bad around you all the time-can you see it?
This is such an intriguing article, I’d love to hear what you think about our “conditioning” to negative thinking these days. Please leave a comment below!