The Negativity Bias
What is the negativity bias and how is it affecting us at work?
It’s likely that in school, we were all taught that your brain develops until your early 20s and at around the age of 25 your brain just stops growing. From 25 onward, you slowly start to lose brain cells and it’s all downhill from there. This is actually not true.
Over the last 40 years, we’ve discovered that the brain has the ability to grow new neurons, to learn and to restructure for our entire lifetime. This is neuroplasticity: the brain is in fact, not hardwired, but able to change and develop well into our later years. ‘Neuro’ comes from the word neuron (aka brain cell) and ‘plasticity’ comes from plastic, meaning ‘changeable, malleable, modifiable’.
What prompts our brains to change? Research shows that our brains change in response to thought, experience and mental activity: so pretty much everything! In fact, our brains are changing at every moment of the day. Every single experience and thought that we have changes the structure and functions of our brain.
Let us think of this concept in terms of work. Within the work ecosystem you are being reshaped with every one of your interactions, positive or negative. The type of work you are choosing to do and the amount of variety you have within your work tasks is reshaping your brain. The quality of relationships you have with your work colleagues and managers is rewiring your brain.
You have the choice of reshaping who you are at every moment. Thanks to our knowledge of neuroplasticity, we know that it is possible to become more creative, more innovative, reduce our self doubt, become more positive.. the list goes on. Turns out, you can teach an old dog new tricks after all
So, how can we use neuroscience to counteract this negativity bias?
The first step to reducing anxieties and ruminations is becoming aware of your negativity bias. Don’t berate yourself for thinking negatively – this will only keep you in a negative mindset.
Becoming aware of your natural tendency towards negativity comes from being more mindful about your experiences, your behaviours and your thoughts. Research shows that mindfulness not only heightens our awareness of negative and self-limiting thoughts but actually decreases frequency of these thoughts. Becoming aware of this ‘negativity’ allows us to separate ourselves from the thought or behaviour, creating space between us, and the negativity.
Mindfulness doesn’t just mean sitting cross legged, meditating and focusing on deep breathing with incense burning somewhere in the background. You can bring mindfulness into anything, whether it be mindfully walking to work, mindfully observing your daily commute, mindfully eating, mindfully cleaning the dishes.
Mindfulness is all about being present in the moment and simply noticing what’s going on in your environment along with the thoughts and emotions that may come and go. By doing this you create some space between you and ‘the thought’. The more space you can create, the less these thoughts and feelings will affect you.
Bring a little bit of mindfulness into your day, every day. Spend 5 minutes of your morning commute observing the train or bus carriage. What do you see? Feel? Hear? Taste? Notice the thoughts that come and go. Notice how your body feels, is it tense? Relaxed?
By incorporating just 10 short minutes of mindfulness into your daily routine, you will begin to rewire your brain away from the negativity bias. If you have trouble deciding how to start, there are plenty of great apps out there to help you. We recommend downloading Smiling Mind (developed by psychologists and based on research).
How can I start my journey today?
At Altitude Minds, we use neuroscience to help our clients rewire their brains for success. This means building on mindfulness and rewiring your thinking and behaviours for positvity.
The first step of the rewiring process, is to understand how you currently think and behave. We do this by mapping your current thinking patterns to give you an objective assessment of the mechanisms working beneath the surface that may be causing you to self-sabotage your own success or take you closer to your goals.
Our thinking patterns are a reflection of the choices we made yesterday, in the last week, the last month and even the last few years. Most people are unaware of their thinking patterns because all of this thinking happens so quickly and automatically. We see it as our job to help you to develop better thinking patterns so you can work smarter and not harder.
Research has shown that human thinking patterns primarily fall under 4 different key thinking styles. Do you want to learn more about the different thinking styles?
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