Last Updated on May 29, 2024 by Dr. Alberto Solà

Do you ever wonder why you are often pessimistic? Do you find that even when things are going well, you tend to expect the worst? Are you always waiting for the other shoe to drop, or always looking for the negative side of a positive or generally neutral thing?

You’re not alone. Believe it or not, this type of thinking is actually natural for human beings. We have been wired this way, and this type of processing of outside events even has a name: negativity bias.

There are a number of reasons that people are prone to think negatively about things, but knowing that it’s something we all do involuntarily can help arm you against it to some degree. Knowing that you are merely seeing things as dark and hopeless, rather than seeing them as they are, can give you strength against being taken over by these sorts of thoughts.

People who let negativity bias control their lives end up in some very dark places. Stress, depression, and feelings of hopelessness can be strong triggers for relapse. If you are someone working on your recovery from addiction, you need to keep your head up and stay positive in order to find ultimate success. Learning how to combat your innate negativity bias can help keep you on the clean, sober and healthy path now and in the future.

Why Humans Are Wired for Negative Bias

It’s unfortunate that human beings are predisposed to thinking negative thoughts, but the reasons we are this way go back to primal man.  At the dawn of humanity, our brains developed in this way to keep us safe. Our brain is set up to sense danger, and to stay away from it to stay alive.

Long ago, if we heard a rustling in the bushes, our brains would tell us to run; after all, there could be something hiding in the bushes waiting to eat us. Realistically, that rustling could have been a small animal or the wind, but we are programmed to think the worst, in case it was, in fact, a lion or bear.

Over time this negativity bias developed into the human way of thinking the worst may happen in any situation. According to some studies, the brain reacts more strongly to stimulus that it sees as negative. We are much more likely to remember the bad things that happened to us over a longer time period than our good and positive experiences.

Furthermore, human beings love bad news. How many people to you know who ravenously consume news media on a daily basis? So much of the news we hear is negative, despite the fact that so many good things also happen each day. Consumption of negative news media on a large and constant basis isn’t mentally healthy for several reasons. First of all, it further conditions us to expect that the worst possible outcome will always happen, since it seems to have happened to others.  Second, listening to negative news can ruin your outlook on life for the rest of the day, thereby setting you up to influence things in your own life negatively as you move through your normal daily tasks.

One study even suggests that three minutes of negative news in the morning can ruin your mood for the rest of the day – yet we return to it again and again anyway.

Negativity bias: it’s just the way we are. Thankfully, knowing that negativity bias exists is half the battle against combatting its role in your life and in your future.

How to Combat Negativity Bias

Fortunately, there are strategies you can introduce in your life to fight back against your natural negativity bias.

Focus on the good. While looking on the bright side is almost always easier said than done, now that you know that you are wired towards the negative, you realize that making a conscious effort to thing positive thoughts is crucial. It’s a practice, and for some its harder than it is for others, but the more you remember and embrace the good things that happen in your life, the more you will begin to notice them everywhere around you.

Cultivate a gratitude practice. One way to encourage yourself to focus on the good more frequently is by beginning and maintaining a daily gratitude practice. Set an alarm on your phone so you remember to do it, and download a gratitude app or purchase a fancy journal to inspire the habit further. Each day, write down five things for which you are thankful, and try to make them different each day. Think about the best parts of your day, even the small moments, and you will be well on your way to thinking more positively overall.

Take breaks from the world’s pressures. Our lives are so demanding and everything is always coming at us from all angles all the time. It’s okay to check out every once in a while – as long as you are doing it in a healthy, constructive, drug and alcohol-free manner. Go for a hike, head to the spa, visit some hot springs, go on a quiet retreat to an AirBNB cabin in the woods. Read. Write. Do yoga. Go for a run. Meditate. Breathe in the cool air on a sunny fall day and revel in the beauty that surrounds, all while taking some time for yourself away from your normal, everyday demands – for a few minutes, an hour, or even a few days, if you can. Recharge!

Practice mindfulness.  Take the time to notice things and examine them closely. Pay attention, focus and try to see things from all angles. This will help you to view things and your experiences as they are, not as how you imagine them to be. Being mindful will help you to embrace the essence of everything rather than what you think you are seeing through the filter of your natural negativity bias. In doing so, you will be able to react in a healthier and truer manner than ever before.

Avoid things that are inherently negative. As discussed above, the news media is often negative by nature. Perhaps you can improve your mood by leaps and bounds by avoiding it first thing in the morning, or altogether. Sure, it’s important that we all stay informed, but you can still remain informed even if you check in less often. Also, steer clear of negative people, people who complain, violent movies and television shows, comedians who tear others down, and so on. It’s possible to block out external negativity to a great extent, thereby lessening the effect that your own negativity bias has on you.

Know Thyself

Now that you know that your pessimism is natural, you can work against it using the tools described above. Once you start thinking in a positive manner more often, you will soon find that life in general is easier and more rewarding. Positive thinking will help to keep you strong on your recovery journey, and will change your life in so many ways. Good luck!

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