How to Boost your Mood
Have you ever noticed that you are more inclined to think in negative, than in positive ways? Yes? This is not surprising. As humans, we have a built in bias towards negativity. In fact, we are ‘wired’ to focus on the negative – to be alert, to potential dangers and threats – to anything, in fact that could pose a threat to our survival or our well-being.
In our modern world, threats to our self-esteem are more likely to be at the forefront of our minds, than threats to our survival. Making a presentation to a group of managers at work or taking on a new, more challenging job, can bring us out in a cold sweat, because of the potential risk to our esteem. We could fall on our faces – we could end up looking bad in front of our peers.
In evolutionary terms, having a negativity bias made a lot of sense. It meant that we were primed to detect danger, which increased the likelihood of our survival as a species. A positivity bias on the other hand, might have made us reckless “Not at all, he looks very friendly to me – that’s not a snarl – he’s just showing off his lovely white teeth.”
In today’s world, a bias towards negativity has the potential to do us more harm than good. For example, when we focus on the one negative comment that was made about us, at a work appraisal, while ignoring all of the positive things that were said. Similarly, thinking about everything that could go wrong on a work related project, is unlikely to make us feel happy or to help us to sleep soundly in our beds at night.
Change Your Negative Thinking
The question is: How can we go about changing our negativity bias? The research in this area shows that in order to offset the negativity, we need to increase the ratio of positives to negatives by 5:1, that is, in order to be happy and to do well.
In practise, the 5:1 rule might involve making a conscious decision to shift your focus from what doesn’t work to what is working well for you. You could start by ‘collecting’ examples every day of what’s good in your life. You can be creative about where you shine your torch to highlight the positive stuff.
The other thing that the research shows is that the part of your brain that deals with negativity is different, to the part that deals with positivity. This is important, because it means that you can ‘switch’ from negative to positive more easily than you may think. You might like to try this for yourself. The next time you are in negative ‘mode’, change the focus of your attention to something more positive and see what happens.
Psychologist, Maureen Gaffney, in her book “Flourishing” gives an excellent account of the significance of the 5:1 ratio and how it can be achieved.