Did you know that we humans have a built-in tendency to focus on the negative? Psychologists call this the ‘negativity bias’, and they think it developed as a survival trait. After all, those who didn’t notice the sabre-toothed tiger behind the bush while focusing on the beauty of the sunset probably didn’t survive very long!
But what our negativity bias means is that we don’t pay enough attention to the good things in our life, and our view on life is often skewed by that. We look for potential problems, try to fix issues and notice when things don’t go our way, but overlook potential opportunities, building on successes and good things that happen to us.
Looking on the bright side doesn’t just make us feel better, it’s also associated with more effective coping, better physical health, living longer, increased social networks and closer relationships. Note that being optimistic and looking on the bright side is not the same as pretending that everything is perfect all the time, which can set us up for disaster just as surely as pessimistic catastrophising. As famed psychologist Martin Seligman says, we need to cultivate “optimism with its eyes open”.
Here are three easy ways we can start counteracting our negativity bias and looking more on the bright side:
- Keep a gratitude diary. Write down 3 good things that happened to you or that you’re grateful for, and how you contributed to them. Be specific. For example, “There was a beautiful sunset today and I took 2 minutes to stop and notice it” or “My daughter beamed at me when I said I’d play with her” or “When I smiled at the woman crossing the road outside the supermarket, she smiled back and it made me feel more cheerful”.
- Savour the little things. Take time to be mindful and savour little things that make you feel good. For example, really focus on your morning cup of coffee, the wind in the trees, the sun on your face, a smile from a colleagues, the song on the radio that lifts your spirits.
- Generate unforeseen positives. When you experience a setback, reflect not only on how you can contain the negatives of the situation, but also what currently unseen positives you can generate. What could be beneficial about this? What are you being forced to consider than you would not have contemplated before?
In our webinar on 29th September we’ll discuss more about this and other secrets to gaining competitive edge while mastering your potential for happiness and success.
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