Are you too negative? Do you see the glass as half empty rather than half full? You may be surprised to learn that negativity is the brain’s default mode, based on our need for survival. Why would the human brain skew toward negativity? Decades of research show that the brain is hardwired for negativity. That’s part of the reason why it’s so hard to stop being so negative. In this blog, we’ll explore how brain development breeds negativity and give you 5 tips to overcome this natural tendency.
NEGATIVITY AND BRAIN DEVELOPMENT
Negativity is rooted in brain development. Simply put, the brain has two hemispheres:
- The right hemisphere is more involved with feelings, imagination, and intuition.
- The left hemisphere is more responsible for language, math, and logic.
In terms of negativity, the two sides differ. The left hemisphere tends to be more positive and is more involved in social connections and exploration. By contrast, research shows that the right hemisphere has a more negative orientation and is associated with isolation and self-preservation. It is also more tightly connected to the limbic system, which is considered the brain’s emotional center.
The brain-imaging work shows that overactivity in the limbic system is associated with depression, which may be another reason why negativity is so common.
NEGATIVE EMOTIONS IN THE BRAIN
One of the key reasons why people tend to be negative is because the right hemisphere—the side that is more negatively oriented—typically develops before the left hemisphere. Considering that the right hemisphere comes into play first, youngsters view the world through that negative lens. Without the left hemisphere’s strengths, they don’t have the logic to override those early perceptions. Because of this, children grow with negativity as a foundation.
After the left hemisphere has come into the picture, children pick up new tools—language, and logic—to cope with negative emotions. However, that base of negativity has already been rooted in their worldview. Early life experiences that are negative can color a person’s overall outlook on life.
HOW THE BRAIN’S MEMORY SYSTEMS IMPACT NEGATIVITY
The way the brain forms memories also encodes us with a negative slant. In simple terms, humans have two memory systems—implicit and explicit.
- Implicit memory system: Also called non-declarative memory, this is when you don’t have to think consciously to remember how to do things, such as how to button a shirt, ride a bike, or drive a car. This memory system also involves a region of the brain called the amygdala, which is thought of as the fear center. The amygdala plays a role in the formation of emotional memories, such as those stemming from dangerous or threatening situations. These emotionally charged memories remain fixed.
- Explicit memory system: When you consciously try to memorize something, like a complex math equation, it’s called explicit memory, or declarative memory. This type of memory is dependent on the hippocampus, which is located in the temporal lobes. Unlike the amygdala, which tends to be rigid and fixed, the hippocampus is more changeable, meaning people can acquire new knowledge and forget whatever is unimportant.
Similar to the development of the two hemispheres, these two memory systems develop at different times. The implicit system develops first, meaning the amygdala, or fear center, infuses babies and toddlers with a negative view.
This means a child’s perceived threats and early traumas can become seared into the amygdala where they can be fixed for a lifetime. With only the implicit memory system and the right hemisphere, which tends to perceive the world more negatively, young children develop a negative outlook that can last. Once the left hemisphere and explicit memory system develop, some children can override that early fear-based foundation, but others can’t.
5 WAYS TO MANAGE NEGATIVITY
To overcome a negative mindset, which is often seen in people with too much activity in the limbic system, you need to balance the brain. The following techniques to manage negativity help calm the limbic system, which is the brain’s emotional center to change the brain’s default mode from negative to more positive.
1. Distance yourself from your thoughts.
The brain creates our thoughts, and it does so automatically. If you can remember that you’re not your brain, you can gain psychological distance from the negative noise in your head. One strategy is to give your mind a name. That way, if your mind has a different name than yours, it helps differentiate it from you.
2. Divert your attention.
When negative thoughts start looping in your head, distract yourself by engaging in something engrossing that you love, such as doing a crossword puzzle, listening to a podcast, or throwing a frisbee around with a friend or family member.
3. Practice gratitude.
Get in touch with what you’re thankful for. Keep a pad of paper nearby and whenever you’re feeling down, write three things for which you’re grateful.
4. Stop “should-ing” on yourself.
If you get caught up in a torrent of “shoulds”—”I should do this…I should do that…”—stop! Notice when you start should-ing on yourself and break the habit.
5. Anchor happy memories into your daily life.
Write down 10 to 20 of the best memories of your life and then anchor them to specific places in your home, using all of your senses. Whenever you feel upset, imagine walking through your home, reliving your happiest memories. With a little practice, you can train your brain to feel great, almost in an instant.
With practice, you can learn to manage your negativity so you can achieve a brighter, more positive outlook.
Published by Amen Clinics