Thanks to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, the brain is constantly scanning the environment, watching for a threat. The instinct to search out threats and/or hyper-focus on the “bad” is called negativity bias. This isn’t always a bad thing, the bias toward a threat state improved your ancestor’s odds of survival. The ones who paid attention to a movement in the grassy field or a rustling in the bushes lived to see another day.
Today, on your morning run, you aren’t worried about a lion having you as a morning appetizer. Instead, you deal with a different kind of danger that the brain interprets to be just as harmful and just as present: emotional and social threats. If your boss gets upset with you, if you are worried about being removed from a project at work, or stuck in a traffic jam, your ancestral brain goes straight to a threat state. This built-in alarm system warns that you need to change.
There are times when your brain exaggerates a threat, causing you to lose proper perspective of an event or situation. Maybe the presentation you gave this afternoon had a few bumpy moments, but by the time you drive home, negativity bias has kicked into high gear and you are certain the presentation was a complete failure. It’s easy to fixate on failure and disregard the good.
So how do you change? Create habits that move you quickly from a threat state to a reward state. Take deep breaths, let your body know you are safe, and begin to devise a solution to the situation. With time and practice, you can move quickly from a threat state to a reward state and change how you perceive your day.
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