Choose a word from above or insert your own words about a positive experience into the following prompt:
Step 1: A time that I felt ______ was when…...
Describe the experience that made you feel this way, why did you feel this way, how did you feel physically or emotionally?
Step 2: I can provide this experience to myself or others by ….
Consider ways that you could recreate this pleasant experience for yourself or those around you
Use the prompt to remember and highlight enjoyable experiences in your life. In doing this you will be counterbalancing the negativity bias and training the neural pathways in your brain store these experiences in your long-term memory.
The Neuroscience to Why it Works
The negativity bias results from our brain prioritizing negative input over positive feedback. It's why, at the end of the day, you may sit and criticize everything that bothered you, while neglecting to recognize the moments of joy or gratitude. For our ancestors, emphasis on negative input was a necessity. If they missed the signs of danger they could have faced serious injury or death. On the other hand, if they missed positive feedback it was likely that they would have the chance to experience it at another time.
Our brains continue to follow this pattern of highlighting the negative. Unpleasant, painful or harmful memories stick to your neural structure like glue, while the pleasurable memories slip away like sand through your fingers. People who are feeling stressed, anxious, wounded or irritated tend to overreact to unpleasant stimulus. If this pattern continues to happen eventually you may train your brain to look for threat everywhere.
When you have an experience that causes anger or fear for example, stress hormones are pumped into your brain. Your amygdala, the brain's smoke detector shouts signals of DANGER!! This warns your body to mobilize, think "fight" or "flight." During a stressful event where the body prepares to mobilize the brain’s response patterns switches from slow, thoughtful Prefrontal Cortex regulation to the reflexive and rapid emotional responses of the amygdala and related structures.
In order to escape this cycle we can intentionally shine the spotlight on positive experiences. This does not mean that we ignore problems such as injustice and pain. We can try to be open to whatever is beneficial from each experience. As we sustain our attention and breath longer on these pleasurable experiences, the more likely the memory will be shifted into our long-term memory.
Imagine that each time that you install a pleasurable experience into your long-term memory, you are putting a drop of water into a cup. While it may take time to fill-up, eventually you will be able to take a sip to quench your thirst. During times that you may feel neglected you might reach for your cup of memories to remind yourself of a time that you felt cared for or valued . It may not change your current situation, but you can recall that you have felt valued before and it is possible to feel it again. This practice can help to build resilience and create better coping mechanisms.
For more reading on this topic check out these pages:
The Body Keeps the Score Interview
How to Hardwire Positive Experiences
Stress signalling pathways that impair prefrontal cortex structure and function
Tame Reactive Emotions by Naming Them
Podcast: Linking” – How we can use New, Positive Experiences to Soften and Eventually Replace Old, Negative Ones.
What Is the Negativity Bias?