If you hadn’t noticed lately, people’s brains are marinating in the negative. Everyone seems to want to spend their energy sifting through the negative possibilities of the coronavirus.
The markets will never recover
I could lose my job
I will never be able to retire
Thousands of people are going to die
We haven’t seen the worst of it yet
We are swimming in it. (Drowning in it might be a more apt description.) There is something magnetic about the negative news these days. Why is it that so many of us are drawn to it?
As with all things, I consulted, the Google box on this one:
“Negativity bias” also known as the negativity effect, is the notion that, even when of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature (e.g. unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions; harmful/traumatic events) have a greater effect on one’s psychological state and processes than neutral or positive things.
When I think about our tendency to focus on the negative while giving lesser weight to equally significant positive data points, I can’t help but think about our motivational triad.
Our brains are designed to keep us alive. Historically, that meant one of three things: seek pleasure, avoid pain, expend the least amount of effort (be efficient!). What does that have to do with COVID and news-binging?
News-binging and catastrophizing fall into the category of avoiding pain (i.e., keeping us safe). Our brain believes that this information is keeping us safe. When we read about the latest coronavirus catastrophe, our brain is stimulated, our nervous system is excited. Our brain reacts more strongly and pays more attention to this stimuli. Why? Because our brains are wired to keep us safe; to avoid danger. Hence, negativity bias.
Ever noticed that when you read bad news you get this frenzied little buzz going on? You feel stimulated, compelled to consume more. Gather more data. Understand the situation better. Learn how to protect yourself better.
Why did that happen?
What would I do differently?
Am I similarly at risk?
We are biologically wired to scan the horizon for signs of crouching tigers. We are programmed to look for danger so that we can avoid it. Stay safe.
Our brains are looking at the news this same way. It is providing data that we need to understand to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.
Does that mean it’s the best decision for you?
That’s for you to decide.
Is the amount of news you are consuming helping you?
How is it impacting you?
How is it negatively impacting you?
When you find yourself bogged down in negativity bias, I recommend that you acknowledge your biological efforts to keep yourself safe. I also recommend examining the positive inputs you might be overlooking.
Give both the positive and the negative equal air time.
Feel free to examine that worst case scenario swirling around your brain BUT also consider the best possible outcome. Aren’t they both equally possible? We don’t know what is going to happen or what these next few months will bring. What we do know is that our brains tend to focus on the worst possible outcome. Given that, shouldn’t we also give equal attention and energy to the best possible outcome?
If you are able to examine both the best possible outcome as well as the worst possible outcome and accept that reality will likely end somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, you can approach the days and your life with more perspective.
If you can come to terms with both the worst possible outcome and the best possible outcome, you will be able to accept anything in between those two. You will be mentally and emotionally equipped to deal with the most likely outcome, somewhere in the middle.
Help your brain identify the balance of possibilities that it is overlooking. Help yourself find some balance between reality and the full range of possible outcomes. Recognize your natural tendency toward the negative.
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