How To Overcome Your Brain’s Bias for Negative Thinking

self-learning thinking Jun 18, 2021
man selecting negativity


The next time someone asks you why you keep focusing on the negative, just blame your brain’s negativity bias. Although we might prefer that we dwell on the positive, the natural inclination of our mind is to dwell on the negative much more so than the positive.


We are far more likely to take in a negative event than we are to take in the details of a happy event or a compliment that we receive. So, if you get stung by a bee while out on a date, it's not unlikely that you'll end up remembering that day as the bad day you got stung by a bee even though you otherwise had a wonderful time on the date and enjoyed the person you were with. Not only are we more likely to take in a negative event than a positive one, but the magnitude of our emotional response is quite higher in the case of a negative event. For example, the negative emotional response that people experience from imagining losing $50 is substantially greater than the positive emotional response that they experience when they imagine gaining $50 (McGraw, Larsen, Kahneman, & Schkade, 2010).


The next time someone asks you why you keep focusing on the negative, just blame your brain’s negativity bias.


Why oh why would we dwell on the negative when it leads us to feel, well, negative? And when it leads the people around us to feel quite negative too?


Well, it turns out the likely cause of our negativity bias or this tendency we have to dwell on negative events is likely at least in part evolutionary. You can imagine that dwelling on the negative (i.e., anything that threatened our survival) was a big help back in the days of lions, tigers, and humans more closely sharing their home environment. Because we focused on the danger and the threat, we were able to make it!



These days we know that focusing on the negative has all sorts of ramifications from social to mental to emotional to physical well-being. The negative can negatively impact our relationships, our work, our physical health, and our mental health, among other things.


The negative can negatively impact our relationships, our work, our physical health, and our mental health, among other things.


So, given that this negativity bias is more or less ingrained in who we are as humans, what are we supposed to do to curb it a bit so that we can enjoy life rather than complain and be sad or mad about it all of the time?


I'm so glad you asked. That's what today’s article is all about.


As you probably know, I'm all about taking our obstacles and shortcomings and turning them into solutions, pathways, and opportunities to become better versions of ourselves. And when it comes to the natural and inherent negativity bias of your brain, it's no different. Evolution’s got nothing on you. Here are a few things you can do to begin to overcome your negativity bias right away.


See and savor the good.


The natural antidote to our negativity bias is to create balance by noticing and creating positivity. If our negativity bias makes us see the bad, then we’ve got to be intentional about seeing the good! It’s as simple as that. And we’ve got to do it by mindfully living our lives and valuing the positive aspects that already exist within it that we’re likely missing every day. Seeing the good means you are less likely to be overtaken by the bad.

According to positive psychology (aka “the science of happiness’), adapting our view of negative experiences by taking a more positive and balanced perspective on them has been shown to help overcome the negativity bias. So, the next time something unpleasant happens to you, invite yourself to think about the costs of the unpleasant experience and then shift also to noticing the silver lining that exists within the experience, maybe even finding something to be grateful for within it. This is what makes gratitude an incredibly effective agent of positive emotions which, as you might assume, helps us to balance out our natural negativity bias.

And, how about when good things happen? Well, you don’t just want to let those experiences pass! You want to think about them, share them with others, relive them, and enjoy them whole-heartedly. The more you savor positive experiences, the less likely your mind will be to habitually spend time in its bias of negativity. So, be aware of what’s bringing you pleasure throughout the day and make a deliberate attempt to make it last, whether it’s by thinking about it, talking about it, reliving it through photos and memories, or whatever other way you want to savor life’s good experiences.




Learn how to tend to the negativity and prevent it from exponentiating.


We can try to cover up this negativity bias with positive words, affirmations, and thoughts as suggested in #1 all of the time, and what will help more than anything is to focus on tending to and taming the negativity itself.

Anytime we try to simply cover up what's here, we lead ourselves to an inauthentic and insincere life experience. We might walk around with a smile because that's how we want to feel and we know it's what everybody wants to see, but inside we're feeling anything but happy. And I don’t know about you but I don’t want to do that. True happiness is the real goal. And true happiness begins from honestly and wholly tending to the negative thoughts and feelings that arise from this inherent fixation on negativity that our brain has.

How do we do that?

Luckily I just developed a course that answers this exact question. It's the training I wish I had back when I was first learning how to be less stressed and more happy and how to work with the negativity of my own mind. To get access to this course and lots of support along the way, simply click here. I'd love for you to come on the journey of learning to tend to the thoughts and feelings in your mind. After all, it's the foundation of all happiness, success, and growth in our lives.

(If you have any questions about the course as you check out the course page, just reach out and let me know!)

Related to the last point…


Learn how to deal with your inner critic or inner bully.



Our self dialogue is where a lot of our negativity takes form. So it's important that we learn to tend to this voice of criticism that we have. And contrary to popular belief (check out my full article on working with our inner critic here), we don’t do this by trying to push it away but by relating to it with kindness and compassion. When negative thoughts appear and you notice yourself feeling down because of your inner self-dialogue is the time to turn to yourself and ask yourself what's going on inside do you feel hurt or angry? why might you be feeling hurt or angry? and so on. This is where the real work to overcome your negativity bias begins. Because tending to our inner critic is absolutely vital, I've talked about this quite a bit in my online community, The Happiness Hub. For more details on how to tame your inner critic or inner bully, come join me inside the community for lessons in curbing negativity in your mind and in your life, as well as weekly lessons in all things happiness.


Contrary to popular belief, we don’t tame our inner critic or inner bully by trying to push it away but by relating to it with kindness and compassion.


These are three ways you can begin to overcome your brain's negativity bias right away. But they aren’t the only ones. There are three more powerful ways that I'd love to share with you. Come hear about them and learn to tame your negativity bias in my virtual community, The Happiness Hub. I'd love to see you there!




McGraw, A.P., Larsen, J.T., Kahneman, D., & Schkade, D. (2010). Comparing gains and losses. Psychological Science, 21, 1438-1445.

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