Let me know if this has ever happened to you. You text someone, a friend, a lover, a colleague your mom. You ask a question. Something simple, like, "Hey, I miss you! Can we have dinner sooner?" And then crickets. No response. You see the typing bubbles, but nothing. Nothing for one minute, five, ten, an hour a day. By now, what is your brain thinking? If you're anything like me, your brain is preparing for the worst. Your friend doesn't like you anymore. Your lover is going to leave you. Your mom wishes she had given you up for adoption (okay, I exaggerate a little, but not by much). Or alternatively, the friend, lover, and your mom were lost at sea, in a car accident, in some sort of trouble. Your brain, and mine, has misinterpreted something factual: you sent a text and didn't get an immediate response, into something emotional, something colossal, something threatening, something well.... negative.
And this isn't something that only happens when a text goes unnoticed. It can happen when someone says or does something to you that gets interpreted by your brain as an attack, a criticism, a slight ("Is that what you're wearing?"). It can happen in response to an omission ("She didn't post an Instagram tribute to me on my birthday - gasp - she doesn't care about my birthday!). And if you let your brain run the show, this kind of negative thinking can take over your mind, your body, your soul, and your life.
But it's not just us - it's everyone - who is subject to this kind of pattern, this kind of instinctual negative reaction. And that's because our brains have a negativity bias. That's right. We're wired this way.
We have a negativity bias for a reasonable enough reason - to keep us safe. Biologically worrying about the worst can absolutely help us steer clear of danger. It can also inadvertently cause us to steer clear of our happiness by misinterpreting neutral or even potentially positive events as negative ones.
This is especially true in relationships, and studies have shown that while both positive and negative interactions in a relationship are healthy and normal, the positive to negative interactions need to be at least five to one for you to make it. Plus, you need to actively prevent a negative loop from becoming cemented, which is when something being negative this time turns into something ALWAYS being negative.
Okay. We're wired to be negative. Now what?
You. That's what. You have the power to lead your brain, rather than simply giving in to this negative instinct. When you feel a negative thought creeping in, challenge it. Question it. Evaluate it. Look at the situation through a new lens. Try to reframe it in a positive light. Is there a way to reinterpret the stimulus that invoked a negative reaction?
I was at a restaurant recently and they brought my burger and it was undercooked. First thought. "No one ever gets my order right. This is my bad luck, yet again." Replacement thought. "I'll just send it back and have them make it for me the way I like it. No big deal!" A simple enough example, but powerful nonetheless. Me believing my order will always be wrong, will in fact lead to that. Because the universe listens. And we fulfill our own destinies.
My therapist shared something with me a few years ago that has absolutely stuck. She shared that I should think of my mind as a subway station, with positive thoughts and negative thoughts as the trains that pass by. When I see a negative train approaching, I should ask myself if I want to get on it, or wait for the next, positive one. And that's exactly what I do. When a negative thought enters, I stop, and recalibrate myself. I lead my brain to the positive thought. I stop the cycle of negativity, and focus instead on a positive outlook fueled by gratitude and love.
So next time something happens, tell your brain how you want it to react instead of letting your brain decide for you. Leading your brain towards happiness is exactly what self love and self care are all about.