Has anyone ever accused you of being a Negative Nancy? Or has someone told you that you focus on the negative too much?
Perhaps you’ve gotten feedback from someone, only to focus on the one piece of negative feedback rather than the ten pieces of positive feedback they gave you?
If this is you, if you focus on the negative, hooray, it means you’re a human! That’s right, almost all of us do this. And while focusing on the negative might just seem like an annoying habit, there’s a scientific reason for it.
Today, I’m sharing all about the evolutionary reason behind one of your most annoying habits. Plus I’m sharing whether or not you can actually do anything to change it.
As I shared in video, it’s totally normal to focus on the negative. This pattern was originally a defense mechanism, designed to keep us safe and alive. But this was way back in the cavepeople days when our physical safety was constantly in danger.
Whether it was a hungry lion, a raging typhoon, or the threat of your hut collapsing in on you, humans constantly had to be on the lookout for danger.
Our brains are wired to focus on threats to survival, ignoring all other information as a way to protect us. It’s actually pretty impressive! The problem is that most of us no longer need to worry about our physical safety on a daily basis. We’re not worried about being eaten by a bear or being trampled by a herd of buffalo.
Unfortunately, our brains have kept this old defense mechanism, translating the focus on threats to our physical safety to threats to our emotional safety. When your brain perceives the potential for rejection, judgment, or failure, your brain does what it knows how to do best. It focuses on the negative, trying to keep you safe.
Here’s the problem though. (And it’s a big problem.) This theory doesn’t hold up for emotional safety like it does for physical safety. It works when you’re talking about lions and tigers, but not when you’re talking about relationships and work stressors. In fact, not only does this pattern of focusing on the negative not work anymore, it actually makes things worse! It leads to all sorts of unpleasant stuff, including anxiety, stress, fear, depression, and discouragement.
However, don’t lose hope. It’s not all bad news. In fact, there’s some really good news. You can change this pattern. You can train your brain to see things differently. With some intentionality and practice, you can totally train your brain to see the good.
In fact, this is practically the whole premise of Dr. Allison Answers! We can’t control what life throws our way, but we can absolutely control how we respond.
This is why I talk about gratitude so often. And approaching your anxiety like a scientist. And challenging your worst-case scenario thinking. With work and practice, you can retrain your brain, noticing the good with more ease and intention.
Yes, evolution left you with a less than helpful habit of focusing on the negative. But thankfully, you can train your brain to see things differently.
So unless you’ve got lions and tigers chasing after you, it’s time to stop focusing on the negative. Be intentional. See the good. Challenge your brain to learn something new.
PS: If you’re ready to stop focusing on the negative, start here. This is probably my favorite way to start shifting this pattern.