Negativity Bias: Why We Notice What’s Wrong More Than What’s Right

My new book, The Perfectionism Workbook for Teens, is available now! To celebrate, I am running a five-part series highlighting some concepts from the book. I’ll talk about some different ways perfectionists struggle, and offer some tools for change. (By the way, although my book is technically aimed at teens, a lot of the tools work for adults too, and these blogs posts will focus on ideas for grownups.) This week’s post is about the negativity bias.

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Here’s an experiment: after you finish reading this paragraph, close your eyes and think about your day yesterday. Take two minutes to recall everything that had a significant impact on you — events, emotions, thoughts. When you are done, write or type a list of everything you remembered. Do that now, before reading any further.

How many thoughts, feelings, and events on your list were positive? How many were negative — complaints, criticisms, disappointments, etc.? If you are like most human beings, the majority (perhaps the vast majority) were negative. That’s because humans have actually evolved to be negative. For our ancestors, noticing what’s wrong — i.e., dangerous — was more important to survival than noticing what’s right. If they failed to notice a beautiful sunset or a juicy mango, they lived to fight another day. If they failed to notice the smell of rotten food or the sound of a tiger lurking behind a bush, that’s it — end of their genetic line.

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