2020 is by far the most traumatic year the entire world has endured for a long, long time. The virus responsible for shutdowns and mask fights. Political deceit and grandstanding that led to schisms. Financial ruin of millions. Multiple examples of public excessive force followed by racial divides, riots, anarchy. Tragic increases in suicide and domestic violence. Americans banned by countries in the civilized world. Forced separation from loved ones.
How have events of 2020 impacted you emotionally?
Uncertainty, Fear, Isolation and Stress Magnify Negativity Bias
That is a lot of despair, pain, and loss of personal control. Any one of those issues is enough to drive someone over the edge. The overwhelming stress of no real information or direction, and certainly no certainty about the near future. Fears eagerly amplified by the media. It should be no surprise to anyone with common sense that the multitude of externally imposed stressors plus isolation equal the escalation of psychological and emotional distress. And it isn’t over yet.
You may be wondering why be thankful? Why not be thankful?
Negativity Bias: Giving the Negative More Attention
Humans pay more attention to the negative than the positive. This phenomenon is called Negativity Bias and it is the tendency to prioritize adverse events and information. Not only do we easily attend to bad things, we actually register negative stimuli faster, give it more weight, and think about it much more than that positive.
Let me share a personal example. I joined a group tennis lesson with a new coach, who I had heard many great things about. During the first 2 drills, the coach complimented my footwork and early forehand preparation. Was loving the clinic. In the next drill, however, the coach criticized the first error I made with my backhand. I fumed internally and the mental chatter blew up. I made one mistake! I’m not perfect! It was one stroke, why not wait to see my whole game? Yada Yada Yada.
Negativity Bias distracted me and obstructed my enjoyment of the sport I love. Once aware of my mental interference, I was able to reset, reopen to learning, and enjoy the clinic.
“The mind is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.” — Rick Hanson, Psychologist
How to Overcome Negativity Bias – The 5:1 Ratio
Negativity Bias is the basis for the 5:1 ratio, developed by Psychologist John Gottman. It takes FIVE positive experiences to counteract just one negative experience. For every time you are yelled at, ignored, called a name, or deceived, you will need 5 affirming encounters to offset the damage.
5 Deposits into Your Emotional Bank Account Counters Negativity Bias
Author Steven J. Covey’s Emotional Bank Account is another way to understand the 5:1 ratio. Positive moments are deposits into the bank, making it bigger/fuller/healthier. On the other hand, negatives are withdrawals. And we all know that when you withdraw more than you deposit, your bank account gets depleted. Thus, if you call your son lazy for not cleaning his room then you will need to affirm him in at least 5 other ways to offer him mental and emotional balance.
Gratitude Overcomes Negativity Bias
Just how does Gratitude override Negativity Bias?
Gratitude is the way to override Negativity Bias and tragedy. Being grateful can save your day. Studies have shown that the state of gratefulness has many significant benefits for humans. Gratitude releases dopamine and oxytocin, feel-good hormones that make us “high”. Being grateful can also improve sleep and social bonds, like marriage and employer-employee. And the combination of these effects are great barriers to depression and anxiety.
Gratitude releases dopamine and oxytocin, feel-good hormones that make us “high”.
Back to 2020, the most traumatic year for many people, and our natural leanings toward negativity. The current existential crises leave little room for hope and joy, as seen in the increases of suicides, domestic violence, and destruction. There is room, however for appreciation. The space for humanity to transcend the pain of this year is widened by gratitude.
“Turn your expectation into appreciation.” –Tony Robbins
YOU Control the Negativity Bias with the Transformative Power of Gratitude
Because humans are not automatons, each of us has the power to control our own thoughts. I encourage you to exercise your ability to redirect your focus toward the beneficial. Even though society is still unsettled and uncertainty still on the horizon, you can experience and express gratitude. Your life, your family, your health, your ability to walk and talk, your ability to think, your breath are worthy of gratitude. I am so thankful for a solid block of sleep.
As Gratitude Grows, Negativity Bias Goes
Your overall health will be enhanced when you are grateful. And the more you express gratitude, the more you will have to be grateful for. So instead of asking “Why be thankful?”, I ask, “Why not be thankful?”. Your total health depends on it.
The more gratitude you express, the more you will receive to be grateful for.
3 Quick Tips to Overcome Negativity Bias with Gratitude
- Practice Gratitude Gaze: Look around the room you are in. Select five objects you like. While gazing at them, think of how they add to your world and say “thank you”. For example, I am grateful for my sofa because it provides comfort for my refreshing naps.
- Create a Gratitude Journal: Daily write down what you are grateful for—family, lessons, finances, work, etc. For example, I am grateful for my health, my work, specific loved
- Replace Negative Terms with Positive Terms:
- List the 3 negative phrases you use the For example, I don’t have…, My life sucks, I can’t.
- Reframe them to express gratitude (generally the opposite). For example: I have enough, I am happy to be alive, I am thankful for my abilities.
- Rehearse (practice)
You have the power, even when faced with the level of pain we’ve endured so far in 2020, to overcome the negative with gratitude. In your state of gratefulness, uncertainty, fear, isolation and stress transform into experiences in which you are joyful, connected, confident, and complete.
Your Guide to Gratitude and More
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Glen Alex, author of Living in Total Health, has a mission to help people be more joyful, connected, confident and complete. This is a life experience she refers to as Wellth: Health + other riches in life. Glen is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who delivers counseling and coaching services and is the guiding spirit behind The Glen Alex Show, GlenAlex.com, Healthy Boundaries for Overwhelmed Women online course, and other services in fulfillment of her transformative mission. You can contact Glen Alex at Glen@GlenAlex.com or (702) 766-6492.