Dr Jan Goss

Positive Expectation ‘vs’ Negative Bias

Apparently, as human beings we are programmed with a negative bias, we actually look for and focus on the negative aspects of our self, others and our experiences! That may seem like a ‘design’ fault but of course sensing ‘danger’ in its myriad forms helps to keep us safe, it protects us. The fact is that our brain is primed to sense danger, and our amygdala determines whether we enter ‘fight/flight/freeze’ mode, or whether we summon our resilience and face adversity with calmness and equanimity.

Whereas in the distant past, a confrontation with a sabre tooth tiger may have activated the amygdala (described as ‘a sort of panic button in the brain‘), now it is triggered by things like a deluge of emails, rushing and a feeling of ‘not enough hours in a day’, demanding colleagues or clients, feeling that we “should” be doing something more, or feelings of isolation and inadequacy – the latter often prompted by social media which can inaccurately portray everyone else having more fun than we are. All of this ‘fast-pace’ – inner and outer –  can lead to feelings of anxiety and low mood, that easily become overwhelming. Certainly, this issue with social media has been cited as contributing to the increase in depression among young people.

So, we need to be mindful of what we ‘consume’ – not just our diet – the media we consume, the thoughts we think, and the conversations we engage in, all shape our propensity to see ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in our self and in the world, they shape our expectations and feed our fears – with mindfulness we can see this process in action and we can make choices that create a calm inner landscape and a positive momentum.

Because of our negative bias, we need to work on our capacity to generate positive expectation and the self-awareness that mindfulness gives us, enables us to create that change. If we start by simply ‘noticing’ our negative inner dialogue and noting the effect it has on our body, emotions and mood (without judging it, or our self), we will soon want to change our way of thinking, processing, and interacting with the world.

Gratitude is often the unsung hero of mindfulness practice. If we practice being grateful, we soon start noticing more things to be grateful for. We hone in on the positive and in doing that, we automatically let go of the negative. Keeping a daily ‘gratitude journal’, listing 5 things each day that we are grateful for, even (and especially) when life is challenging, brings great rewards and change. I use a specific journal for the purpose of writing down what I am grateful for at the end of each day and I invite you to do the same and see what happens.

I am grateful for….
I am grateful for….
I am grateful for….
I am grateful for….
I am grateful for….

It is important to repeat these words in every sentence you write, to embed your sense of gratitude.

Doing this consistently (each day) for a significant period of time (12 months is ideal) we soon begin to shift our focus from a negative bias, and as we begin to focus on all that is ‘good’ in life, all that we have to be grateful for, this creates an upward spiral that fosters positive expectation. The more we expect and trust that things will work out, the more we see we have to be grateful for.

You can start now – and send me your first list if you like, I’d like to read it. As someone who attended my Retreat Morning last Saturday said afterwards, ‘we don’t have to wait for the New year to make resolutions!’ Indeed, there is no time like the present…

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