You’re Not a Negative Person, It’s Just How the Brain Works

Negativity bias, a survival mechanism, often leads to excessive worry and anxiety. Signs include expecting the worst, dwelling on negatives, and discounting positives. Combat it with gratitude, mindfulness, reframing thoughts, limiting news exposure, and seeking therapy like CBT to retrain the brain for a more positive outlook.

Dr. Jenn Anders, Psy.D By Dr. Jenn Anders, Psy.D

Updated on Apr 30, 2024

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Have you ever noticed that it’s way easier to remember a negative experience than a positive one? Or maybe you spend more time than you think you should dwelling over criticism? This phenomenon is known as the negativity bias, and believe it or not, it is a survival mechanism that’s hardwired into human brains. 

Negativity bias is essentially the tendency for our brains to pay more attention to and give more ‘mental weight’ to negative experiences than positive ones. From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s more important for our survival to be attuned to potential threats and dangers in our environment than to be focused on positive experiences. For example, if we see a lion in the bushes, our brains will immediately focus on the danger and help us get away from it. If we learn of an unsafe person lurking in our tribe, we will pay close attention and avoid them. This is a good thing because it helps keep us safe.

However, the downside to negativity bias is that your brain can become stuck in a loop of negative thinking leading to excessive worry and anxiety. When this happens, it’s natural to think there is something wrong, when the reality is this is merely a thinking pattern we learned, and something we can easily unlearn.

If you think this might be you, here are some tell-tale signs you’re allowing a negativity bias to cloud and distort your view of reality: 

  1. You automatically believe the worst will happen (even with little supporting evidence)
  2. You find yourself looking for and focusing in on people’s negative qualities
  3. You feel the sting of negative feedback 10 times stronger than the positive 
  4. You view setback as something more significant rather than an isolated incident
  5. You discount the positive 

The good news is there are several solutions that can guide you out of this thinking pattern and help combat negativity bias. 

1. Practice gratitude.

This is not as fluffy as it may sound. Research suggests that when you actively focus on the positive things in your life and express gratitude for them, you can actually rewire your brain to pay closer attention to positive experiences and in turn, counterbalance the effects of negativity bias on your life.

2. Actively invite moments of stillness and mindfulness into your day.

Mindfulness involves being fully present in the moment by diverting your attention away from distractions and instead observing your thoughts and emotions without judgment. The key is to just observe; pretend you are watching your emotions from a 10,000-foot vantage point and cultivate curiosity rather than judgment. By practicing mindfulness, you can learn to become more aware of your brain when it slips into this negative thought pattern.

3. Repeat this mantra as often as possible: thoughts are not reality.

Just because your brain is focusing in on negative experiences doesn’t mean that those negative experiences are an accurate reflection of life. When you learn how to challenge negative thoughts and reframe them in a more positive light, you can learn how to intuitively cultivate a more positive outlook on life. 

4. Limit exposure to the news.

While it’s important to stay informed, too much exposure to the news can be overwhelming. And let’s be honest, 99% of the events portrayed in the news are negative, giving you the impression that the world is on fire. 

5. Seek professional help from a therapist.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that has been shown to be incredibly effective in helping people overcome negativity bias. CBT is a form of talk therapy that helps you build awareness and glean deeper insight into how and why your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all influenced by one another. Through CBT, you’ll learn how to identify and challenge negative thoughts and then replace them with more positive and realistic ones. This process will help you shift your mindset and improve the overall quality of your mood. CBT might also help you develop essential coping skills and strategies to manage negative situations. For example, therapists can help guide you through relaxation techniques, mindfulness, and problem-solving skills that will help you cultivate a more positive self-image and stronger self-esteem.

While negativity bias is a natural part of being human, it doesn’t have to control your every waking thought and feeling. By practicing gratitude, mindfulness, reframing negative thoughts and working with a trained therapist you can learn how to cultivate a more positive mindset which will eventually lead to a more fulfilling life. 

The next time your brain starts to focus on the negative, remember that this is just one way of viewing the situation. Sometimes it takes a bit of guidance from a trained mental health professional to retrain your brain, but it is entirely possible.

Seeking therapy is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s a courageous first step towards self-improvement. With the help of a qualified Grow Therapy therapist, you can learn how to put these actions into practice, gain insights into your thoughts and behaviors, and develop practical skills to help you live a more meaningful and fulfilling life. You can start today by scheduling a session with a therapist who takes your insurance.  

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About the author
Dr. Jenn Anders, Psy.D Dr. Jenn Anders, Psy.D

Jennifer Anders is a licensed psychologist and writer with a special interest in perfectionism, social anxiety, cognitive restructuring, disordered eating, and exposure therapy.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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