What is the Negativity Bias of Your Brain?
Recently I had an operation on my wrist and when I was waiting to go to the operating theatre, I had a couple of hours to kill and I had taken a new book to read called Mindfulness for Health. What I found really interesting and have wondered about before, is are our brains negatively wired sometimes? What I learned from the book and I am doing more research into, is that us humans are hard-wired to suffer and Neuroscientists call this a “negativity bias”. Therefore, much of our suffering is a side effect of the instincts that nature has built into us through millions of years of evolution.
This Negativity Bias can be very powerful and scientists estimate that it can take as little as one tenth of a second to notice a threat – an aggressive looking face for example. When we feel threatened in some way we react instantaneously, go straight into our memory, ready for instant recall. Now positive experiences take far longer to be stored in our memory, or sink in. This could be why we learn faster from pain than from pleasure! Therefore our bias towards negative thinking ensures that we see threats everywhere and this is why the mind focuses on pain and suffering with sharpness. We therefore notice far less the massive number of pleasant things in our lives.
What is the 5-1 Rule?
Basically the 5-1 rule states or estimates that it can take five pleasant experiences to balance a single negative one of equal magnitude. So back to the negative bias for a moment, if your fridge, dishwasher or washing machine breaks down yo9u conclude that they don’t make them like they used to do. When you are out and about and may notice one rude, bad mannered person in a crowd, you may conclude that the country is becoming full of bad mannered people. Perhaps, this explains why there is so much negativity in the news, to manipulate us and put fear into us.
How to re-balance your life.
Understanding the Negativity Bias of your brain is the first step. Then by focusing on simple positive pleasures in your every day life, you will soothe the brain networks to reduce any pain and suffering and start to notice and appreciate more of the pleasures in life. If you struggle to get to sleep because you are in discomfort or felling anxious or stressed, try to focus on one simple thing – this one breath in, how does it feel in your body. Notice your bedclothes, do they feel cool and comfortable on your skin. Bring mindful awareness to the small pleasure of every day life. If you’re in your garden, stop – what can you see, what can you smell, touch or hear.
Focus on each one of these things. If you are sat at the table enjoying a meal, focus on the colours, the taste, textures and aromas of the food you’re eating. Enjoy a soothing bath or shower, how does the water feel on your skin, what is the smell of whatever you’re washing yourself with, is the water warm?
You are not stuck with the brain you’ve got, you can change it for the better with mindfulness. Did you know that we produce up to 5,000 brain cells every day, so your brain is constantly adapting and changing. Try to live life just one day at a time, today and focus on the here and now, be present. Look for the pleasures of life rather than focusing on discomfort, worry, anxiety or stress.
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