XMAS Time – Time to make an extra effort

How to overcome the negativity bias in general and in decision making in particular.

The negativity bias is everywhere. First we look for imperfections, faults and shortcomings. We are trained this way, to spot potential threats and traps, as quickly as possible so that we do not fall prey to harmful or dangerous situations.

While helpful in the past, and extremely useful in life threathening situations, we often fail to consider the limits and circumstances under which negativity bias has no purpose and more importantly harms our and others well-being and happiness.

Some researchers on the subject like Paul Rozin and Edward B. Royzman would even go as far as saying: “We suggest that 1 feature of negative events that make them dominant is that negative entities are more contagious than positive entities.”

How contagious these negative events are can be seen in the news selection and news production in the mass-mediated news coverage. Our human tendency to be more attentive to negative news content can be measured and shown again and again, as in the very recent and comprehensive study by Soroka, Fournier & Nir (2019): Cross-national evidence of a negativity bias in psychophysiological reactions to news.

But it is not all doom and gloom, as the study also shows. On an individual level change is not only possible, but can also be observed in practice. Is that not good news for XMAS Time?

We can all shine in the dark, if we make an extra effort. Picture by Naurora

The negativity bias – Reframing can be hard

Very simply put, and expanded in the Ted Talk of Alison Ledgerwood below, the negativity bias can also be experienced in a “half-empty glass type perspective”(loss frame) that gets more and more stable. After one or several negative experiences, we tend to find it increasingly difficult to get back to our happy and cheerful self.

Once we frame something negatively, getting back to normal or even on the positive side of things (gain frame), we need to make an active and sustainable effort.

Why do we have to make this extra effort? Because, as it turns out in several experiments, the “loss frame” is that much more sticky than the “gain frame”, so that we need more time (actual thinking and calculation time) and energy to overcome it. In other words, it is mentally harder to switch from a “loss frame” to a “gain frame” than vice versa.

But there is a solution.

If for example you write down every day for a few minutes what you are grateful for, not only your happiness will increase but also your health.

“You have to work to see the upside” Alison Ledgerwood

You can also shine in the dark with proactivity… and with a good plan

Simply wishing or even asking father christmas to be happy and healthy will not get you very far. You have to be active and you have to have a good plan.

As we saw above, the “loss frame” and the negative events that are associated with them are very sticky and contagious so we have to apply a robust and sustainable approach, to get on top of them.

This applies particularly when we focus on the aspects and strategies in decision making to overcome the negativity bias.

Here we look at the “meta-goal in how we can succeed to overcome our negativity bias” by applying novel ways of decision making.

I call this novel way proactive decision making or decision timing.

The term proactive refers here not only to the modern meaning of active, preemptive, or “showing initiative” but also to a person who takes responsibility for his or her life, rather than looking for causes in outside circumstances or other people.

Here a person develops inner strength and resilience just like a candle in the dark, or even more challenging along the lines described by the Austrian existential neuropsychiatrist Dr. Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning (published 1946). Frankl stresses here the importance of courage, perseverance, individual responsibility and awareness of the existence of choices, regardless of the situation or context, may they be as adverse, as being an inmate in a concentration camp.

We have the freedom and the ability to get on top of negativity bias. Particularly during XMAS Time, we can actively go the extra mile and make an extra effort to be grateful and to forgive, not only others, but also ourself for having to struggle with negativity bias.

But this is not only about the past, but more importantly about the present and the future.

We are free as soon as we begin to be grateful and to forgive. Then we can begin to shine in the darkness and we will begin to see more and more other lights, that each in turn make an extra effort that this XMAS Time and the New Year that is about to begin will be more positive and will provide more positive change than the years up to now.

Merry XMAS and a Happy New Year!!!

P.S.: If you want more detail and ideas on how you can get on top of your negativity bias maybe this XMAS present might be something for you.