October 9, 2020

Negativity Bias

During times of transition it pays to be aware of the negativity bias. This bias causes us to give more emotional weight to something negative than to something good, even if rationally they would be equal. Like all cognitive biases knowing about it won’t change it. Just like optical illusions they work even when you know about it.

Since we can’t control the negativity bias directly, we have to change the inputs instead. The Stoics offered several suggestions, one of my favorite being the prospective retrospection. In this exercise you stop at some moment during your day and reflect on the fact that, at some point in the future, you might wish you could time travel back to this very moment (or at least one like it), no matter how mundane the task might be. Buying groceries may be boring but there are people who are homebound who would love to be able to go pick out their own food again. Commuting may be frustrating but there are people who’ve lost their jobs who would love to have that commute again.

If that practice isn’t for you, think about ways to be more mindful of all the little positive things that are happening around you, even in the frustrating moments.

© Eric Biven 2020