Why Do We Always See The Bad Things First?
There are many ways in which your inner critic makes your life miserable.
It pinpoints your mistakes and never sees the good parts. It makes you doubt yourself saying: “Who are you to do this?” It belittles you and spoils the pleasure of a hard-earned success by telling that you were just lucky.
This doubtful, nagging voice can mess up your relationships as well.
You see the faults in people and are reticent to trust them. When you constantly criticise them, they see you as arrogant, self-righteous and a pain in the back. (Even if you think your criticism helps them to be better.)
Why do we have it?
Surprisingly, its function isn’t just to keep us living in anxiety and stress. (OK, and sometimes to become better, too.)
The negative thinking appeared as a tool for survival.
Thousands of years ago, when our ancestors spotted in the bushes a tiger for the first time, they had two options. They could have curiously gone closer to examine it, or they could have been suspicious, grabbing their weapons or looking for shelter.
The pessimistic mindset stopped them from becoming the tiger’s dinner. And for most of human history, in a threat-filled world, expecting the worst increased our chances to stay alive.
Our bodies still carry genetic information from our ancestors; our brains use the same patterns learned a few millennia ago.
So it seems that we are biologically conditioned to see the bad things first.
Unfortunately, while an effective way to avoid predators, the inclination to see mainly the negative doesn’t always help us to make good decisions.
An interesting study, using questionnaires and fMRI scanning showed that when people emphasised the problems over the wins, the sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ nervous system was activated. The regions of the brain associated with blaming ourselves and experiencing negative moods lit up at the same time.
When this happens, the heart rate and blood pressure increase. We’re more likely to make decisions based on automatic, fast shortcuts in our thinking. The problem is they can be faulty, and we’re not exactly flexible in our thinking then.
When we focus our attention on positive aspects, the reward circuits in our brain are activated. The areas associated with pleasant moods light up. Our parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system becomes more dominant.
When the threat appears to be low, our brain thinks it’s safe to take more time over decisions. We become more flexible; we can explore multiple possibilities and consider new ideas. We take into account how other people feel and think.
This is essential if we want to change our behaviours or achieve something.
It also helps us to stay motivated and to keep on going when we face a challenge. Focusing on gains and possibilities increases the likelihood that we reach our goals.
Conclusion: we need a negative focus to survive, but a positive one to thrive.
That doesn’t mean you should ignore problems entirely. Also, you don’t need to silence, squash or banish that negative voice. After all, it can be a useful counsellor when kept in its place. Just don’t allow it to be in charge.
Unless, of course, you’re coming across a tiger.
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