So. Earlier this week, in my Shift update post, I mentioned my interest in “shifting narratives” this year. Now, that’s actually something I’ve been working on for a while now (last year -- you may remember this -- I started challenging deep-seated "arbitrary rules" I had set for myself), but I’m planning to get more serious about this kind of work in the coming year. I'm hoping to "shift narratives" by recognizing and identifying the negative "stories" I tell myself (y'know . . . those "stories" we all tell ourselves that hold us back and prevent us from moving forward), and try to do . . . something . . . about them.
As I’m laying my groundwork for the work ahead, I’ve been doing a little reading . . . about negativity bias and how it impacts our lives. Negativity bias is our tendency to register (and dwell on) negative stimuli/events more readily than positive. This negativity bias means that we feel the sting of a rebuke more powerfully than we feel the joy of praise, for example. Turns out it’s actually something hardwired into human brains – from back in our cave-dwelling days when we needed alarm bells to go off in our heads whenever anything threatening happened. We don’t need those alarm bells so much anymore . . . but we can’t seem to shake the negativity bias that comes with them! (If you're interested, you can read more about the negativity bias in these articles here and here.)
Negativity bias . . . is really annoying. By focusing on the negative things - rather than the positive things - that happen in our day-to-day lives, we run the risk of mis-perceiving everyday situations, making bad decisions, misunderstanding our families and friends, and generally feeling “bad” and losing our optimism.
Fortunately, once we’re aware of negativity bias in our lives, there are ways to overcome it.
Here’s a real-life example (from my life) for you . . .
A few years ago (before the pandemic, so it’s been awhile), I noticed my growing frustration while driving because I was missing EVERY. SINGLE. GREEN. LIGHT. All the time. Whenever I was driving, I was always (always!) forced to sit at traffic lights. And it felt like they were changing JUST as I was driving up to the light. All the time. Every day. Super annoying; super frustrating.
But then I started wondering . . . was I actually missing all the lights all the time? So I decided to . . . try a different approach. I decided to pay attention and notice when the traffic lights worked in my favor – when I did make a green light, for example, or when the light stayed green as I approached the intersection. Whenever I experienced such “good” traffic light outcomes, I acknowledged them by saying - out loud - “Thank you Angels of Traffic!”
It didn’t take long before I realized I was thanking those “Angels of Traffic” quite a lot. Like . . . ridiculously a lot of the time; maybe even most of the time.
What I had done . . . was, first, recognize my negative pattern (thinking all the lights were against me). Then I practiced a quick "activity" (the out loud thanking) each and every time I noticed my negative pattern NOT happening. This very small thing – thanking the “Angels of Traffic” – was enough for me to break the pattern and shift my narrative about traffic lights.
This experience illustrated a couple of important lessons for me. First, that I certainly do entertain negative biases in my day-to-day life. And second, that I can counter those negative biases if I pay attention to my negative patterns with some sort of "plan." If it can work for my attitude about traffic lights (and it really has made a huge difference in my driving attitude -- and I'm still thanking the "Angels of Traffic"), imagine what else I might be able to conquer!
So . . . thank you, “Angels of Traffic” . . . for helping me confront my own negativity bias, and for setting the stage for my deeper work ahead!
Have you ever noticed your own negativity bias? And have you ever tried to shift it?
A NOTE OF CLARIFICATION:
I feel that I need to add this note, based on several comments I received on my original post yesterday.
I am aware that many traffic lights are timed and controlled by flow-cameras. I do not think that "angels of traffic" are changing the lights for me. My post is not about religion or superstition or other strange powers; it's about psychology. It's about how I nudged myself to NOTICE how often the traffic lights are green, even though it felt to me like they were "always" red. That's what negativity bias does: it makes you aware of the negative things (in this case red lights) while downplaying the postitive things (in this case green lights).
The point of my post is this: Once I became aware of my own negativity bias (in only noticing the red lights), I was able to shift my attitude by intentionally noticing the green lights by saying the silly phrase (which I totally made up on the fly) "thank you angels of traffic." I could easily have chosen the phrase "bippityboppityboo" or "green light." ANY phrase would have had the same effect. I was just triggering my brain to NOTICE that I was hitting a green light.
And . . . that's a powerful thing. Because if I could get myself to notice how I (not literal "angels of traffic") have the power to shift my negativity bias, it helps me imagine that I may be able to tackle some of my other more insidious demons using a similar technique: identification, awareness, and a plan for noticing/countering them. (And I'm not talking about literal "demons," but those negative stories I have told myself on repeat over the years.) (And we all have them.)