The Negativity Bias

Neuroscience coined the term “negativity bias” to describe the innate human tendency to focus on the ‘bad’/less satisfactory aspects of our experience. Whilst we can place our head in our hands at this knowledge, it is an important part of our evolution. Being aware of ‘threats’ has enabled us to survive as a species. It is a protective mechanism. This motivated our ancestors to brave the elements to source food and build shelter. It provided a ‘boost’ of adrenaline to help them flee or hide from wild animals. 

Whilst the threats of the modern world are often different to that faced by prehistoric man, our nervous systems respond in the same way. ‘Threats’ can be anything from the ongoing uncertainty of current times, to running late for an appointment or experiencing a fear of public speaking when making that important work presentation.

Our whole being responds to what our limbic system deems a threat. 

It is an embodied experience. 

When our stress response is activated, certain patterns are expressed in the body. We may experience physical contraction or say an increase in heart rate. Stress hormones are released. Our mental focus narrows. We can find ourselves increasingly preoccupied with thoughts of things we deem negative. This can lead to rumination and/or hyper vigilance – the feeling of always being on ‘high alert’. 

Knowing about the negativity bias can be a helpful first step in working with this aspect of our design as human beings. 

If you find yourself caught up in negative thoughts, here are some pointers that you may find helpful:

  • Can you pause and connect to how your body feels? Take this gently. You may wish to solely notice how your feet feel against the ground. Feel free to stay here. If it feels ok to you, you may then wish to expand your awareness into feeling your whole body. 
  • How is it to place your hands on say your belly and chest and acknowledge that your body is seeking to protect you in this moment? Can you be gentle with yourself here? Are you able speak to yourself as you would a loved one? 
  • Provided it is not overwhelming, can you stay with the sensations in the body, rather than your thoughts? Can you soften into sensation? 
  • Perhaps you can thank your body for its care? Are you then able to reassure your being that you are safe, here in this moment? You are not in immediate danger. Your feet are supported by the ground. Can you notice how this shift feels for you? What does your body do? 
  • As you go about your day, can you take time to actively open up your attention to the positive aspects of your experience? This may be small things you may have once ignored or thought mundane. It could be savouring the taste of that first sip of tea or coffee in the morning. Recognising joy as you see a loved one smile or noticing the beauty of nature as you go about a routine journey. As you pay attention, can you notice how this feels in your body? Does anywhere soften? How does it impact your breathing, thoughts and energy levels? What do you notice? 

Working with the negativity bias in this way, helps us to rewire our neural circuits. We build a habit of noticing pleasant things and more easily returning to a felt sense of safety in the body. Over time this helps us cultivate a greater sense of joy and ease in our day to day. We may find it easier to return to a felt state of equilibrium after our stress response is activated. 

If you would like to explore how to work with your nervous system and habits in greater detail, I currently have availability for 1:1 embodied coaching clients. In this work, everything is tailored to you as an individual. I will share helpful, scientifically endorsed information about the design of the nervous system. We then take time to deepen your awareness around existing patterns before looking at how you can embody new options. This is powerful work that helps you develop range and new ways in how to think, feel, relate and be. I help you build a toolkit of practices that support you in your day to day life. 

If you would like to find out more, I offer a complimentary/no obligation 20 min consultation call to help clarify if this work may be a good fit for you. Coaching sessions are currently hosted online over Zoom, with both daytime and evening appointments available. Contact me on to book your consultation call, or find out more. 

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