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  • Writer's picturemissjulianajane

How to shift your negative outlook

Updated: May 13


Let me ask you something...

Do you tend to think of what could go wrong before you think about what could go right?

When you hear about something you haven’t heard of before, is your first thought usually negative?

If you get an invite to do something you haven’t done before, is the first thing that comes to mind something that will go wrong?

When you hear unhappy news, do you immediately go to the worst-case scenario? 

When you are at a crossroads and trying to make a decision, do you find yourself constantly weighing out the worst things that could happen rather than excited about the positive aspects?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are activating your negativity bias. We all have this. Negativity bias is the brain's tendency to focus on the negative rather than the positive. Research suggests that It's helpful at times and undoubtedly saved a few of our distant ancestors from predators and such. 

First, let's talk about negative bias. Research shows that 

This is a natural thing we all have, but some of us become more fixated on the negative than the positive. Simply said, we are off balance. 

We all tend to remember trauma much more vividly than we remember happy times.

We all tend to hear negative comments more acutely than positive feedback.

We are drawn to negative stories, events, and other stimuli than positive ones.

We tend to remember adverse events or comments more than positive ones.

When making decisions, we tend to think more deeply about what can go wrong than what can go right.

We learn more from negative events than positive ones.

Studies show that we may even believe bad news more than we might believe good news. 

We may be more motivated by imagining what we will lose if we don't achieve than what we will gain. 

A good example of this is work. We tend to think we will lose money, skills, and respect if we strike out on our own or take a new career path rather than thinking about what we can gain by doing this. 

We may even hear criticism more profoundly than we hear praise. We dwell on something someone said that was critical but disregard or devalue the praise we receive. We also tend to dwell on a bad experience, running it over and over in our minds and then using it as a yardstick for any future events that come our way. 

For example, we bomb a job interview. Instead of looking at it as an anomaly or using it as a tool for improvement, we dwell on all the things that went wrong with a feeling of powerlessness.

When we do this, we chip away at our self-esteem and self-worth. We also develop a pattern of negative thinking that can hugely affect our relationships and opportunities in life. The classic Saturday Night Live skit “Debby Downer” pokes fun at this way of being, but in reality, people find a negative outlook repelling rather than helpful. 

This natural mechanism is there to keep us safe but can end up harming us more than saving us if we let the fear behind the negative thoughts become more prominent in our lives.

I have a friend who gets mad whenever someone points out his negative outlook and says it is only because he is looking out for us. He has so internalized his negative outlook that he doesn't see the damage it is doing to his relationships and even his health.

Going through life unbalanced and dwelling too much on the negative can have a profound effect on your life.

 It can bring on physical issues and increase anxiety because oftentimes, people with negative perspectives feel disempowered. That feeling of powerlessness creates anxiety around just about everything. The If you think everything will go wrong then it probably will type of scenario is constantly being played out in their lives. If you expect it, you will seek it out subconsciously even if something good happens to you. You will look for the minor hiccups along the way. For example, if you buy a house but can't get through the process of purchasing it and the loan you had to get, Even though you achieved your goal of buying a house, you can’t get past a rude real estate agent or how the seller took a light fixture or whatever. You are subconsciously looking for the negative to reinforce your outlook that everyone and everything is unpredictable and out to get you. 

It is important to be able to weigh the pros and cons when approaching a situation. If you feel more negative than positive, consider making pros and cons lists where there must be an equal number of pros and cons. It would be best if you gave equal time to both sides of your list. Think about each side with the same dedication and do not let the cons creep in while imagining the pros. Create scenarios in your mind related to all the pros, just like you do automatically about the cons. 

Negative bias can also shape how you see people and relationships. You may feel that everyone you meet is out to get you, or you are leery of them. You may tend to dwell on a loved one’s imperfections more than you dwell on all the good they do. When you get into an argument with your partner, you may tend to dwell on their imperfections rather than the points they made in the argument. When you get a performance review, you may forgo the positive comments and concentrate more on any constructive criticism that was noted. You may find yourself negatively anticipating outcomes of conversations or situations, causing you to go into these spaces with your defenses up and expecting the worst. You may be unable to hear people’s needs because you receive the information as an insult rather than an ask. 

How can you shift your perspective a little to feel more positive? 

Let go of negative self-talk

Start listening to your inner dialogue.

If you have a negative thought about someone, yourself, or a situation before it happens, stop yourself and work to reframe the internal messaging into something more positive or neutral. 

If you see someone new and immediately judge them, notice it and let it go.

If you constantly berate yourself with self-talk, like you are not competent or likable enough, then change that by self-reflecting more and labeling less.

If someone says they want to talk to you, you immediately assume it is to yell at you, stop, and reconsider other possibilities. 

Reframe events and past memories.

If you go into an event or situation thinking about all the bad stuff that will happen, try to balance it out with possible positive outcomes.

For example:

If every time you get in your car to go on the freeway, you think people will be targeting you. Say you immediately think everyone is going to cut you off. Shift your thoughts to If someone does cut me off it isn't personal. It isn't about me. Maybe no one cuts me off. For every person that cuts me off, someone lets me in a lane I need to be in.

If you think someone is mad at you, learn how to communicate your concerns in a way that allows the both of you to work through it.

Start finding new ways to deal with things that you used to view negatively.

By this, I mean if you obsess about past events negatively, such as searching for every stupid thing you said and then fixating on what you said. Realize you are doing this and change the pattern. Say to yourself, nope, I don't do this anymore.  And shift. Do something to stop the train of thought, like listen to music, watch a funny movie, or maybe even watch cute cat videos. Maybe you take up journal writing, and when you start obsessing, you write about positive outcomes from the event or a positive topic or prompt. Perhaps you explore how you could learn from the situation. 

Instead of fixating on things that went wrong in the past, start looking at them as learning opportunities. 

Start giving the positive things equal attention. 

If you look at a negative news story, follow up by watching a happy video and give both equal attention. If you have a great cup of coffee, give it as much attention as you do the traffic jam you experienced while driving to work. Give the neighbor who always says "hi" to you with a smile the same attention you give your cranky co-worker. Find balance.

I am not saying that you swing over to rose-colored glasses and sunbathing all the time, but you need to find a balance.  

Remember, being too negative affects your health, relationships, satisfaction in life, and even future possibilities. Be open to exploring the idea that you may have gotten off balance, and be open with yourself. Realize that it is easy to become off balance and swing over to the negative, especially if you are feeling overwhelmed, something traumatic is happening, and/ or you are experiencing increased anxiety levels. It happens to all of us. You aren't alone, but it is essential to realize it when it happens. Sometimes, negative folks adopt a very stubborn viewpoint on their negativity, which isn’t the same as those around them. That is why it is important to be open to understanding your outlook on life and be willing to shift if the balance is skewed. Being stubborn won’t help your relationships; it will translate into an uncaring perspective on your part. And let’s face it, relationships are about caring, among other things.

Suppose you are unsure if you harbor a negative outlook on life. Spend time analyzing your thoughts; what first comes to mind when encountering new people, places, and situations? How do you feel about daily activities? Are they burdensome? Are they fun or something else? If you are honest with yourself, you will see where you are off balance. Sometimes, you can be positive in one area of life but extremely negative in another. Say you are positive about your workout life but negative about your work life. Be careful; one negative aspect of life can infect the other parts before you even know it. You may have to get another job if you can’t redirect your thoughts about work. Take action of some kind so that you don’t end up feeling negative about other aspects of your life. Be honest about truly bad situations and change them, but don't let negative thoughts that aren’t even real cloud your outlook.

Look around at the people you hang out with. Is there a negative vibe? Do you all like to get together to gripe and smack talk, or is it mixed with other things? Did you grow up with someone who thought everything was doom and gloom? Maybe you learned some of your behavior from others or you fell into it because that was the context of the group.

Realize that negative perspectives can be comfort zones. 

Even if it harms your relationships and adds to your unhappiness, you may feel comfortable; it is something known to you. If you were positive, that would be a new space, which might feel scary. Maybe you're worried about what others will think if you change your outlook. My answer is, who cares? You are doing this for you! They will probably appreciate positivity! Being negative keeps people from getting close to you, which is also a safety mechanism. It is a natural protector. Relationships can be scary; they involve vulnerability, which is terrifying for some.

Ask yourself, what is the payoff for my negative attitude? 

Does it make me feel better than others? Does it elevate my ego for a minute? Does it keep things from getting too deep? Does it keep me from being vulnerable? Does it make me look important or knowledgeable? Has it become my source of entertainment? 

How is negativity serving me? 

Does it keep me safe? How do I know? Are they just thoughts that I think might happen, or is there real danger? Is it keeping me from taking calculated risks or being spontaneous? Is it keeping me from the things I want? Is it attracting the people I want to know or not? Is it creating the possibility for me? 

Be mindful of your inclinations.

Be aware when you are being negative, and check in with yourself. Is there a real threat? How can I think of this more positively?

If you are struggling, you should seek professional help, either a therapist or another modality that resonates with you. Coaches can help with this type of life shift, and it might be worth exploring. Meditation, acupuncture, and groups can also help. 

Okay, now you know a little bit about spotting your negative biases and have a few tools to help you change a negative outlook to something more positive. That's great! If you need someone to help you sift, consider asking someone close to you to keep you accountable. Maybe you can both work on things together. Who knows? The point is that you are working on a more positive life, and that is really wonderful!

That is it for me today, my friends! Take care and know that I support you, and I love you, and you can do this!

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