So many times when we are anxious and nervous about any event in life we tend to look at things that can go wrong and not what can go right. The built-in fear of what if or as neuroscientists put it—the negativity bias takes over our thought process that we tend to ignore what is right and what can happen right.
In today’s world where a majority of people are hung on likes and dislikes about their social media posts, it is the number of negative comments or thumbs down that counts with most rather than double the number of thumbs-ups and positive comments. People tend to ruminate and agonize over that one person who called you a bad name or disliked your creative effort.
Scientists say that our nervous system is wired to negativity. They say it takes over three positive experiences to offset one negative experience. According to Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a positivity researcher at the University of North Carolina, “for every heart-wrenching negative emotional experience you endure, you need to experience at least three heartfelt positive emotional experiences that uplift you.” She calls it the 3-to-1 ratio.
It is the collaborative relationship between your survival mode and your thriving mode.
"Positivity doesn't mean we should follow the axioms Grin and bear it" or "Don't worry, be happy,” Fredrickson says. “Those are simply superficial wishes. Positivity runs deeper. It consists of the whole range of positive emotions—from appreciation to love, from amusement to joy, from hope to gratitude, and then some.”
Ways to get rid of negativity bias
A little experiment has been done about all the big negative things that have happened in the world.
And most people could recall those events as related to where they were and what they were doing at that exact point.
I remember exactly what I was doing on 9/11. My father could recount to the exact second when he came to know that John F Kennedy had died. Humans tend to remember the saddest, the most threatening and the most disgusting incidents rather than the mundane everyday things or what makes you smile.
Once you realize how this negativity bias manifests, you can work towards improving your reactions to your work life. Here are a few ways you can do it.
Rewrite the negative narrative
Take the pandemic. Nobody can deny its devastating effect but look at the way it has slowed down the rat race and provided an alternative way to survive. Flexibility is accepted as the norm rather than an exception.
Apply the same principle to a dreaded task or taking the plunge into unknown territory—a job switch, a career switch, or even a hobby.
Treat it as an adventure, new learning, discarding of a heavy burden.
Treat adversity as an opportunity
A negativity bias will lead you to look at all the problems. But instead, flip the story and look at the solutions to the problem. This is not to say avoid the problem, it is a new way to deal with it. Do not look at the downside but focus on the upside of that downside.
Covid-19 is bad, but it brought forward how humankind was causing nature and climate change. It was nature’s way of putting a stop to blind exploitation. People need to come together to find a solution to a world problem.
Once you are forced to face problems, you might give in to negativity for a few hours or days, but then one is forced to look at opportunities. Take it as a challenge. Learn new skills, work that much harder, be more diligent and push those creative juices. A negative feedback can be a learning experience to turn it into producing something better and performing above par in your work life.
In other words, get out of your comfort zone or groove. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. A negative bias is when you keep on saying “what is the use, nothing will come out of it.”
Missed chances in work and life will leave you attached to your desk and cubicle with very little chances of moving up the ladder. Volunteer your time and talent. Be proactive.
Negative bias comes naturally. To stay positive and upbeat takes practice. It is again the half-full glass or half-empty glass syndrome.
Affirm positive feedback. Pat yourself on the back for good work done, Talk tall and walk tall. If you do not appreciate your work first, and if you wait for validation from others, it might not come.