carpool diem wrist bands

Righting the Negativity Bias

I’ve taken on an extra job of taxi driver this Spring carting kids every night to soccer, flag football, cello, golf, or running club.   I’ve felt irritable and a bit crazed by the extra activities and my mind has focused solely on the downsides of these choices.

It helped me this week when I ran across a book I read several years ago called “Buddha’s Brain: Practical neuroscience of happiness, love, and wisdom” by Rick Hanson, PhD.  This book explains how there is a negativity bias built into each of our brains.  This results in preferentially scanning for, registering, storing, recalling, and reacting to unpleasant experiences for evolutionary purposes.  As Hanson describes, our brains are like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.

Depressing?  Perhaps, however there is hope for those of us caught in the pesky negative feedback loops in our heads. Amazingly, our brains are malleable. By moving toward positive and healing experiences that calm our arousal and negativity, we actually start to right this neurological imbalance.  And although it takes effort, practice, and work to move toward the positive, especially when we aren’t biologically wired this way, it is absolutely possible.

My Uncle Bill would take this research as evidence for why he is a grumpy old man, and others might use it as an excuse for staying stuck in the negative. But I don’t buy this line of thinking.  We always have choice.   Yes, choosing to get up and meditate or get to yoga class each week or hike in nature or spend time around people who nourish us does certainly take EFFORT.  It is work to let positive experiences sink into our old pains and rewire our automatic tendency toward the worst case scenario.  Yet it is possible, and I also think it is our responsibility as humans to work toward our highest potential.

Last night sitting in the car during yet another activity for my son, I realized for the first time the beauty of an hour all to myself.  If I was at home, I would be washing dishes or throwing in laundry.  Instead, I was in a quiet car by myself.  Instead of letting this experience slide off like Teflon, I made a conscious choice to Velcro this state of quiet and ease to the fabric of my being.  And it felt good.