Why Are We So Negative?

By: Pamela Van Nest CPCC ACC in #changing our thinking, 3 years ago


“You can’t imagine just how much believing in (your) negative thoughts is affecting your life…
…until you stop.”
Charles F. Glassman MD The Brain Drain

Ever wonder why do our minds seem to look for and become fixed on the negative? First know that it is NORMAL. That is what our minds do, they look for danger, they look for situations to fix.

This tendency is called “negativity bias”. It shows up when there is 1 misspelled word on a page, there’s a crooked picture on a wall, or when you can only recall the feedback that focuses on “can improve on” instead of “exemplary”.

Slippery Mind
Rick Hanson, a Buddhist psychologist, puts it this way, “Our brain is velcro for the negative and teflon for the positive”. You might wonder, OK, so where does this come from?

It comes to us as soon as we start learning language. We store away our parents’ warnings that are meant to keep us safe. And this is by no means a way to blame parents. As we develop we also store away cruel teasing, put downs, or teachers’ criticisms. Sometimes these warning and negative interactions resurface as the voice within, that beats us up trying to protect us. It can set up patterns in our thinking that Carol Dweck calls, “a fixed mindset” a fear based judgement way of thinking. Its what I call our Inner Critic. Some call it the Committee in the Head, Saboteurs, The Bully Brain. Another author, Shrizad Chamine calls it a “Judger” and its nine accomplices that natter at us internally keeping us in a self-doubting, superior or victim role. And if that isn’t enough to take in, did you know that researchers have discovered that we have anywhere from 50,000 to 150,000 thoughts A DAY, and… 80% of those thoughts are negative! Just writing this puts me on high alert! “Fear in the mind causes stress in the body.” Mark Driscoll

The Double Whammy
Now there are times when we need that adrenaline going to get ourselves out of danger, but when the fear is imagined, the body results are the same. At the slightest hint of danger real or imagined, adrenaline and cortisol flood the body. The heart begins to pound and the breathing is shallow and rapid, blood is shunted away from the organs including the brain and sent to the large muscles. After all if you need to get out of danger you want the muscle power you can get. Cortisol floods our system with glucose giving the muscles the energy to MOVE, and it stays in the body until you stop running, for up to 24 hours. Cortisol can suppress your immune system. Ever had a stressful couple of months only to get sick on the holiday? Thank cortisol for that.

In Real Time
I watched this physical/internal reaction unfold in real time a few years ago in a Kindergarten classroom.
It was “Fire safety week”. While I was reading Clifford the Firehouse Dog to a group of youngsters, the door opened and there in the doorway appeared a ominous figure dressed from head to toe with a sizeable fire hat, big boots, a great brown heavy jacket and pants and a huge oxygen pack on its back and covering its face, a oversized mask with 2 tubes protruding from either side – and breathing like Darth Vader!
WELL – The kids swung their heads towards the door mouths gaping, but one little guy gave out a yelp from across the circle, flew and jumped into my lap, and hung on for dear life. I could feel his heart pounding, his arms strangling my neck, his little, sweaty body quivering. If he had been any bigger we both would have been on the floor. Whatever he was imagining he was reacting to. Terror! He couldn’t stop and to think, “Oh this must be a firefighter coming to show us her equipment for our fire safety lesson! He saw the threat and ran for safety!

Words can be Threatening Too
But what about threats, which don’t show up in person, they are only in our thoughts or imagination? According to the research, the same effects are triggered in the body. That makes words powerful. If you have ever received a citation or subpoena or read a rejection letter you know what I’m talking about.
Mark Waldman, (I will give links to resources at the end), a researcher, who writes about words and our brain, reported on studies done using a functional MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), where they were able to see the areas of the brain in the fear centres and how they lit up when people imagined a danger. They experimented with showing people words on a screen, and they discovered that there was one particular word that could activate those same fear centres in the brain by just by seeing the word. One little word. It’s the word:
Just seeing this word, according to the researchers can create a reaction within your brain.
Think about how many times in a day you read or hear the word “no”. How many times do you say in a day?

BUT THERE IS A REMEDY a few actually.
There are techniques to counteract those effects to reduce the fear reaction cycle.
The first one is available to you right now this instant.

B r e a t h i n g

Inhaling DEEPLY AND exhaling slowly as though you are breathing through a straw allows oxygen to calm the fear centre The heart slows, the muscles relax. Try it now – 3 deep breaths.

The second is to bring to mind an important value, a word such as love, compassion, joy, peace gratitude. This sets up new neural pathways in your brain. While you are in this relaxed state, the “rest and digest” state of calmness, you can connect to your quiet but powerful inner voice, I call your Wise One Within, your Inner Authority, your Compassionate Coach.

The third part of this technique and is to allow awareness of your body in space through touch to ground you and bring you to this moment. Just by touching your fingertips together, or stroking your thumbs inconspicuously or touching your ear, creates relaxation. When I become mindful and begin these practices, I find I straighten my posture, and consider what is needed right now, ready to face the challenge that is conjuring in my mind.

An Emotional First Aid Kit?
From these techniques I created and “Emotional First Aid Kit” that can be accessed any time, any place.
There are 4 simple elements, A,B,C,D
A      Awareness, noticing, observing what is happening
B      B R E A T H E. 3 deep breaths
C      Consider. Bring to mind your deepest values, Consider your Inner Authority, Wise One Within.
D      Decide and Do. Connect your fingertips. Decide the wisest thing to do at this moment? What do you need, space, fresh air, time to consider?

Growth and change starts with awareness. So for the next while I invite you to notice your thoughts, what triggers your fear centre? Notice what happens when you take those 3 deep, mindful breaths. Notice when you forget to notice and you react. Just notice, and remind yourself this is all new.

In my coaching journey, I have been learning these techniques, practicing still. Practicing noticing my thoughts and questioning them. In another post I will share with you a challenge I’m attempting around complaining (the manifestation of negative thinking!)

If you have any comments or would like to explore some of your inner dialogue through coaching, I would love to connect and see what else is possible?
Remember Glassman’s quote:
“You can’t imagine just how much believing in (your) negative thoughts is affecting your life…
until you stop.
Charles F. Glassman MD The Brain Drain

Until the next time, I wish you the best of everything.
[email protected]m


Rick Hanson http://www.rickhanson.net/

Carol Dweck https://www.mindsetworks.com/science/

Mark Waldman https://markrobertwaldman.com/

Charles F Glassman https://www.charlesglassmanmd.com/

Shirzad Chamine https://www.positiveintelligence.com/


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