Have you ever noticed how we tend to fixate on the one bad thing that happened throughout our day, yet ignore the dozen other things that were good? We pay far more attention to negative events that happen to us than positive ones. We can recall insults more easily than we can recall praise or complements. We lay awake at night pondering that one embarrassing moment we had five years ago, rather than our latest achievement at work or school. If any of this sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. This is what’s known as negativity bias, which refers to our tendency to more readily focus on the negatives than the positives in our life, and how dwelling on this results in something called rumination.
Rumination is exactly what it sounds like, we repeatedly dwell on these negative events over and over again. Research has shown this excessive pondering is linked to depression, and can increase your chances of becoming depressed. When we ruminate, we are also ignoring the present moment and what is going on around us by getting stuck in our own heads. This can also harm our ability to maintain a positive, upbeat attitude towards life in general. Additionally, does remembering and repeating every negative event, criticism, embarrassment, or mistake in your life actually make you feel good? The answer is likely, no. The other day, I found myself pondering an embarrassing thing I did about eight years ago. It seemed to pop into my head from out of the blue, yet nonetheless I thought about it. I remembered how bad I felt during that time, and wondered what I even was thinking back then. And remembering how bad I felt back then, made me feel bad all over again in my present moment as if the situation had just happened. So, what can we do about this?
Researchers believe that one way to combat this includes reframing that negative situation. Try to identify something positive that happened during it. If you made a mistake, it’s OK; try to reframe your mindset about what positive thing came out of it. Another way to combat the bias toward negativity, is to savor those positive moments. Knowing that we have the tendency to naturally focus on the negatives, when positive things do happen, really try to take them in. Take note of how you feel in that moment, identify what’s happening around you, who you’re with. What other sights are around you, what are several things you can hear, what do you feel, what do you smell even. Try to make the memory as robust and strong as possible, so that you can replay it easily over and over again. You may also want to consciously try to redirect your attention when you find yourself ruminating. If you can, change up what you’re doing, and maybe go do something you find fun and enjoyable to take your mind off it. And lastly, try to interrupt your excessive dwelling with a thought-provoking question like: Is this really helping me? When I was fixating on that embarrassing moment from eight years ago, I cut into the thoughts by asking myself what I was doing or achieving by thinking about this, and how this was serving me. It only made me feel bad, which was indeed not helpful or serving me in any positive way. That moment happened so long ago, I wasn’t going to change anything about what happened, so what was the point in thinking about it so excessively? It helped me see that if a thought such as that wasn’t helping me in some way, and only making me feel bad, then it wasn’t a thought I needed to give any more time too.
Try any of these listed above if you find yourself ruminating. Really try to consider how it’s making you feel, and ask yourself if those feelings are helpful or beneficial to you. We are each in control of our own thoughts, and just because we have this bias towards fixating on the negative events in our life, doesn’t mean we have to succumb to it.