The Bad's Always Highlighted While The Good's Conveniently Ignored
Why are we always quick to remember all the bad things but it takes us quite a while to think of one good thing? Change that, with this newsletter issue.
Welcome back to another ‘Realizations’ edition of Zed Letter Day. Everyone’s experienced what we’re writing about today. It’s common, it’s sad but it’s true and it’s rampant.
Our brains are like sieves when we want to recall every good thing a person has done for us. However, when it comes to recollecting all the bad things, our brain switches gears and voila, we’ve got the memory of an elephant.
Let’s get an expert to confirm this before we move forward.
“This is a general tendency for everyone(…), almost everyone remembers negative things more strongly and in more detail.”
—Clifford Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford University.
That’s actually due to our evolution history. What we experience is a phenomenon called negativity bias. Before modernism, luxury brands and TikTok, our survival depended on our ability to quickly and accurately identify potential threats in our environment. Negative memories and experiences were more salient and thus more likely to be remembered, as they set the roadmap to avoiding them in the future.
It’s not that your spouse, friends, or boss aren’t grateful. (Beware, there are always exceptions.) Rather, they’re wired in a way that makes them recollect every bad thing of yours to the T while negating all the good that ever came from you. Not only them, you’re programmed to behave in the same way too. You’re equally likely to remember all the bad things, especially when you’re angry.
While some people may have difficulty in remembering minute details, others make it look like they’re reading out of a teleprompter, describing things which are irrelevant to the argument completely… like the color of the sweater you were wearing that day or how the mailman arrived right as they were about to say something important. It’s because negative experiences are dwelled upon, thought of, recollected, more often than positive experiences.
It’s a bane of the human existence to keep aside all the beautiful and focus on the ugly (primarily because our ancestors’ ancestors’ ancestors’ needed that ability desperately… you know, to survive).
This reminds me of a friend, let’s call her Anne. Anne had been struggling with a negativity bias for as long as she could remember. She found herself constantly focusing on the negative aspects of her life, worrying about the future, and dwelling on past mistakes. It was a terrible trait to have and it started affecting her overall quality of life. She could only focus on the bad!
She was tired of feeling unhappy and anxious all the time. She wanted to change her perspective and see the good in life, and so like any other person with the ‘I’ve had enough of this sh*t’ attitude, she sought out ways to turn her life around.
The first thing she read about, was gratitude. Every morning, she would wake up and write down three things she was thankful for. These things could be small, like a warm cup of coffee, or big, like a loving family. By focusing on the positive aspects of her life, no matter how small they seemed, she was able to start her day knowing all of the things she could give thanks for in her life.
The second thing she did was practice mindfulness. She learned to be present in the moment, without judging or dwelling on her thoughts. She would take walks in her nearby park, focus on her breath, and try to appreciate the beauty around her.
She would be present, in the moment, never letting intrusive thoughts get the best of her. She occasionally had the slip ups but the key was forming a habit. There were definitely days she didn’t feel so good but she made sure to bounce back the day after that. Nothing’s ever good two days in a row.
Anne also started surrounding herself with positive people. She sought out friends who were optimistic and supportive, and distanced herself from those who brought her down. She found that being around positive people lifted her mood and helped her see the good in life.
And finally, she confronted her thoughts (not in the literal sense). She would question whether her negative thoughts were true, and whether they were helping her in any way. If they weren't, she would try to reframe them in a more positive light. This helped her break the cycle of negative thinking and focus on the positive.
All of the things Anne did weren’t as easy as we made it sound but true changes come with efforts. Everything requires effort. But imagine waking up in a world where the good which is almost always outweighing the bad in one’s life, is actually highlighted and given the respect it deserves. That’s what Anne’s journey’s been all about.
That’s our 4 minutes for today.
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See ya day after!
Human tendency is to pick and remember only bad however following Anne's practice of taking positive from every situation is worth implementing.