Our brains are interesting organs. All of my clients have been getting doses of neuroscience education, so I thought I should share some of that on the blog. In case you haven’t picked this up, I’m a nerd, a geek, a learning junkie–however you want to phrase this. I earned three successive degrees in psychology in order to have the privilege to do my job, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. If you’ve spent any time with me, in person or in print, it also shouldn’t be a surprise. Also, I’m prone to tangents.
Anyway, our brains are interesting organs. If you watched the Ash Beckham video I shared yesterday (and if you didn’t you should), you got a brief primer on the stress response. Today, I’m going to explore one tiny slice of another brain tendency–what neuroscientists call the “negativity bias” of the brain. Or as researcher and author Dr. Rick Hanson describes, it the fact that the human brain has evolved to be “Velcro for the negative and Teflon for the positive.”
Another way that I frame this for my clients is to say that we have a tendency to strongly “hook in” to our negative thoughts and fears. Because negative thoughts often come with a very convincing emotional component. They play on our fears (not being capable, or loved, or chosen). Add that convincing emotional piece to the negativity bias that we have built in, and we can find ourselves pretty strongly hooked to those negative thoughts.
But the good news is that our brains are capable of learning new things. And while we may not be able to stop our brains from generating those emotionally charged negative thoughts, we can teach ourselves to be aware of the hooks–and to choose not to swallow them.
When I have a client who is describing persistent negative thinking, they often say, “I just can’t stop these thoughts.” That’s when I review the neuroscience and explain the negativity bias. I suggest that maybe they don’t have to stop the thoughts. And then, I invite my clients to try experimenting with a new approach. I ask them to visualize a great big, shiny hook, ready to snag them–sidelining their day, their mood, their relationships, you name it. And then I invite them to visualize dodging the the hook–choosing not to go for the ride. I ask them to try unhooking themselves from those thoughts. The thoughts might continue, but you don’t have to go with them.
So, if this sounds familiar to you, I’m inviting you to unhook too. What do you want to unhook from?