by The Optimist Daily Team
A writer at The Optimist Daily recently shared with our Editorial Team about a family celebration for her one year old son. It had been a perfect day. Friends had flown in from all around the country, aunts, uncles, great aunts and uncles, and grandparents all gathered to celebrate the joy her little one brought to the family. It had been a big deal to orchestrate as people were battling winter colds and complicated schedules.
As a first time mom, getting through the first year of “momming” was more difficult than she expected and some health challenges and professional hurdles had finally been overcome. The baby’s birthday felt like a victory party for our writer and after a year of maternity clothes and being covered in baby spit up, she had finally emerged. She was excited to wear something special, so she splurged on a lovely dress for the occasion, and felt beautiful when she put it on.
The day went off without a hitch. The little one delighted in the attention and friends and family enjoyed the celebration. There was laughter, love, and so much joy. It was the perfect day…. except…. her mother made a comment that her dress looked like a bathrobe. And that was all she could think about for the rest of the day. In fact, that one thoughtless comment clearly still bugged her as she told the story, months later.
How had her entire memory of one wonderful event been so shadowed by the one negative moment? She was still frustrated by her inability to see past the negative.
Another colleague was sharing that he’d had a similar experience professionally. He had once spearheaded a team that traveled to a remote part of Kenya to add a solar system for a hospital providing maternal welfare. He had been the instigator of the opportunity for his team and worked incredibly hard to bring everyone together and make the trip happen. After months of research, preparation, grant development and team collaboration, they spent an exhilarating month helping families and ensuring longevity for the hospital facility.
It had been a life changing trip, with fond memories, and impact. This is what he lived for and why he worked in the field he worked in. Following the trip, his team delivered a report to the funding organization. In preparing this final report, he played more of a support role as his expertise had been in the initial planning and logistics, but he felt his overall contribution continued to show the extreme commitment he had offered at the beginning and throughout the field experience. The report his team delivered was something that made him extremely proud. But…. when it came time for reviews from his peers, he was completely devastated to learn one of his collaborators had rated him poorly, for lack of follow through and organization.
Suddenly, the entire experience felt negative, and he admitted to lashing out at the team, and ruining his relationship with a few of his fellow travelers. In the end, he asked himself why he couldn’t get past his angry reaction and as he said “grow up and move on?”
Well, the answer is simple. It’s called the Negativity Effect and Optimists, here’s the deal – it’s very very real. The experience of our two colleagues is not unique. It’s in fact exactly why The Optimist Daily exists. We are determined to counteract the Negativity Effect / Bias.
Negative experiences, information, and interactions with people have a greater impact on every single one of us than the positive ones do. It’s a biological imperative, hearkening back to survival in the days when fear was a requirement for existence. Think about it this way – if the lovely experience of smelling flowers was of equal importance to the negative experience of starvation, we would not prioritize sustenance over smelling flowers and could very likely end up starving.
While that may be an oversimplification of the concept, the reality is – negativity weighs more heavily on us than positivity does. What we have seen evolve in today’s media landscape is a passionate obsession with negativity bias. Social media and other mass communication methods have gone down the rabbit hole, and you may have found yourself feeling as despondent as our writers did over their own experiences after just a morning news cycle.
Once negativity starts it’s path, it can feel unstoppable. Even if you start your day positively, if you run into a particularly negative family member or colleague, there’s a pretty good chance your enthusiasm will begin to wane. It’s been reported that it takes four positive experiences to offset one negative experience.
This concept and understanding how a bad apple can spoil the whole barrel is explored in a new book about the negativity bias, The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It by John Tierney and Roy F. Baumeister. A staff writer recently listened to the book on her daily commutes and offers that while the book itself can feel a bit dire at times, it shares great insight into how bad affects us, and begins to explore tools on how to counteract it. Knowing the truth of how we are neurologically affected by the negative is half the battle.
“By recognizing the negativity effect and overriding our innate responses, we can break destructive patterns, think more effectively about the future, and exploit the remarkable benefits of this bias”
What stood out to us is that this Power of Bad is something we all must be conscious of. Awareness is critical in helping us commit to improving our experience and improving the world..
A negative person, experience, media source, headline, has the capacity to change one’s productivity and effect the opportunity on any given day. The proliferation of negativity in media is an irresponsible use of our biological imperatives, and is something that a critical thinker must recognize when they find themselves going down the rabbit hole. There is a very real difference between the need to survive and learn from our mistakes, and the manipulative way we are presented with negativity.
Social psychologist Alison Ledgerwood researches how people perceive success and failure in their lives and has found that “Our view of the world has a fundamental tendency to tilt towards the negative.”
In her research, Ledgerwood separated subjects into two groups and framed the same situation to each group in either positive or negative terms. For example, when a group was told a medical procedure had a 70 percent chance of success, they were likely to think of it as beneficial, but when the opposing group was told it had a 30 percent chance of failure, they saw it as too risky.
Simply changing how we frame situations can trick our mind into perceiving them differently. Even more surprising, when the first group was reminded that this meant a 30 percent failure rate, they changed their opinions. They decided it was too risky. But when the first group was told that this meant a 70 percent success rate, they didn’t change their opinions. They stuck with the negative frame of view.
This basic experiment shows that not only does perception and framing of an issue shape our views on it, but also, it is harder for the human mind to switch from negative to positive thinking than vice versa. We are all too eager to accept the worst case scenario. So what does this mean for our lives? It is more important than ever to evaluate how we think of our daily events, specifically, we need to approach issues with a positive mindset.
Fortunately, and this is how we work at The Optimist Daily, there is a brighter outlook on negativity and what we can do about it.
A recent Optimist Daily article looks at research on positivity and hearth health; according to the recent meta-analysis, having an optimistic mind-set may reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease and early death. People with the most optimistic outlook had a 35 percent lower risk for cardiovascular events.
Having an optimistic outlook can also have a great effect on your health and wellness later in life. Research has found that positivity is linked to improved emotional and even physical well-being in those over 65; just thinking about oneself in more positive terms can improve physical health in ways that thinking negative doesn’t!
As we culminate Theme Week: The Power of Positivity we have gathered together our team’s top lists of how we stay positive. As writers and solutions news journalists, we have to consume massive amounts of media and staying positive can be challenging. Here’s what we do on our team, and the very best of what we’ve found to turn the tide to positivity.
COMMIT TO POSITIVITY
This may sound like another over simplification of the challenge, but it is a very real solution. Start out, right now, by committing to being positive. Recognize that this is a skill you must develop and surround yourself with tools that can assist in this process. Acknowledge that for every negative comment you put out in the world, or is sent your way, you will need to hear or offer at minimum four positive comments to counteract the effect. Make the decision to be positive and then practice.
Tools that have helped our team include
Listening to The Happiness Lab – a podcast by Yale professor Dr Laurie Santos. “[She] will take you through the latest scientific research and share some surprising and inspiring stories that will forever alter the way you think about happiness. She’s changed the lives of thousands of people through her class “Psychology and the Good Life,” and she’ll change yours, too.”
With benefits to both your mental and physical health, there is a lot to be gained from adopting a positive mindset. And summoning positivity doesn’t have to be difficult or stressful. Taking just 10 to 15 minutes each day to meditate can greatly increase your positive power. Make sure to follow these positive mediation tips to get the most out of your time!
- Relax as you mediate.
- Practice daily affirmations.
Your habits may be the root of the negativity in your life. In that case, you only need to make a few tweaks and changes in order to tap into your positivity and take back control of your wellbeing. Try these 5 practices to attract positivity to your life: Make a daily gratitude list, Perform small acts of kindness, Be fully present, Reduce negative influences, and Spend time at the start of each day to improve YOU.
If you’re concerned about how to make your new positive habits stick, we have some tips for doing that as well.
- Pair together the good, the bad, and the consistent: Creating new habits can be tough, but matching them with the daily things you know and love makes it easier.
- Make your own New Year: Who said January was the time to start a new habit?
- Welcome discomfort: Focus on the benefits of your new positive habits and the discomfort zone will feel like home in no time.
- Lighten up: Missing a workout or having coffee after noon is not the end of the world.
For an inspiring puck me up, take a look at this phenomenal TED TALK by social psychologist, Alison Ledgerwood
And of course
READ and SHARE The Optimist Daily
BRING IT TO WORK
Thinking positive can also impact your attitude regarding your job and work life. We wrote about a study out of the University of Arizona which found that workers who actively try and cultivate a more positive work attitude enjoy more rewarding workplace relationships and growth on the job.
Managers, be observant about how your team members act and if you see a particular employee who is in the negativity rabbit hole, do your best to help curtail their effects. Find ways to either engage them in positivity work through using the tools we are sharing, or if they are a determined pessimist, limit their exposure to other team members.
CUT OUT THE NEGATIVE, LOOK FOR THE SOLUTION & REVIEW THE SOURCE
You are your own biggest advocate here and have far more control over what you consume, who you interact with, and how much credibility you assign it. Stop reading headlines that fire you up emotionally without offering you a call to real action. Note – Real action is not liking or sharing angry MEMES on your social feeds.. Stop interacting with people, accounts, and content who are more likely to say something nasty, not solution oriented, or negative. And because you can’t avoid them entirely, always review your source. Realize that if you are feeling particularly agitated, the source may have hoped for just that result. Be skeptical and develop digital media literacy, validate what you share, find content you can trust, and surround yourself with people who do the same.
At TOD we read thousands of articles on a monthly basis and our editorial team is constantly neck deep in the news. We work hard together to ensure that we are keeping ourselves positive and a big part of that is looking for the solution in everything we learn. There is a bright side and there are do’ers doing things to change the world in a positive way.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF
Negative self-attacks are just as bad (if not worse) as hearing something from an outside source. The offhand comments we think, the way we punish ourselves for our choices, and the way we feed our own anger when something doesn’t go according to plan can create an internal pattern of the same very negativity bias we see in the world around us. Being self aware does not mean being self abusive.
An article written by Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. for PsychAlive titled, 5 Things to Do When Your Inner Critic Takes Over further explores this.
“I’ve written a lot about how we develop a “critical inner voice” and steps we can take to try to understand where it comes from and how to stop it from sabotaging our lives. However, there is a lot of value in learning how to identify and challenge our inner critic the moment it shows up. When did it start chiming in? What words did it use? How did it suddenly alter our mood? Answering these questions can be tricky, because our critical inner voice runs a stealth operation and does a very convincing job of making us believe that it’s based on reality and represents our real point of view. “Ugh. He thinks you’re an idiot,” it warns us when our partner makes a joke about us forgetting something. “She doesn’t see how much you do around here,” it informs us when a coworker asks us to do something. “You’re a terrible mother,” it screams into one ear, while our toddler screams into the other.
So, how can we get ahold of that pivotal moment when our inner critic takes over? How can we recognize it as a false and faulty point of view and stand up to it as the internal enemy it really is? Here are five things to try when our inner critic shows up.”
In brief, here are the steps
- Label It
- Postpone Action
- Seek Distraction
- Identify Triggers
Dig deeper into this solution here and help your inner voice become part of the counteracting positive in your life.
RESET AND RE-FRAME
Although it can be difficult, it is possible to re frame our negative experiences, let go of negativity, and focus on the good. Here are three strategies that will help you train your mind to focus more on the positive in tough situations:
- Practice “gain framing”
- Acknowledge at least one good thing
- Respond counter intuitively
A key goal of, The Optimist Daily aims to combat negativity online and you can too, for both yourself and others. Take a look at this article celebrating the Power of Positivity to find out how you can make the online sphere a more optimistic space! The best ways to do this are to make a promise to yourself that you will not engage in anything negative online, highlight and spread positive content online, talk about what you see to make others aware, encourage young people and your peers to not take the time to read or promote negative content, and be kind to whoever you interact with online.
So next time you hit a roadblock, think about the upsides. If you get stuck in traffic on the way to work, think about how it gives you the time to finish the podcast you’re engaged in. If you lose out on a dream job, don’t think about it as a professional failure, but as an opportunity to seek out different opportunities that may be rewarding in new ways you never even expected.
You have the power to re-frame your life’s experience with positivity and that’s a solution that will help us all.change the world.