The 13-year old boys walked off the field kicking dirt and shaking their heads. Aiden anguished, “If Ben’s shot had gone in, it would have been a totally different game.”
In the first few seconds of the game, immediately after kick-off, the boys had a fast break down the right side, and suddenly Ben was in control of the ball sprinting alone at the goalie. His shot missed, barely, and there was a collective “Oooooh” from the stands as the ball went wide.
After that, the game slowed down, and eventually they lost 0-2.
According to Dr. Daniel Amen, we have thousands of little negative thoughts each day. Thousands. It’s because in any given situation, negative events and emotions have a greater impact on us than positive ones. It’s unfortunate, but true. It’s why negative political campaigns have a greater influence on the emotions and decisions of voters than positive campaigns.
This negativity bias can be triggered by small interactions and sometimes hold fast in our minds for a long time. A colleague recently mentioned to me that she can’t stand someone else we both know. I was surprised, and asked why, since he seemed like such a nice person. She explained that once, years ago, he ignored her ideas at an important meeting.
According to Jonathan Haidt, psychologist at NYU, “Over and over the mind reacts to bad things more quickly, strongly and persistently than to equivalent good things.”
When we are in a negative mental state we also close down intellectually and creatively. We lose our attention span, and our ability to think holistically and systemically.
According to positive psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson, positive emotions have the inverse effect. Positive emotions deepen our attention, and widen our intellectual and social connections. In other words, choosing positive emotions in the face of distressing events will lead us to becoming more generous, thoughtful, and intellectually curious.
“Positivity transforms us for the better. This is the second core truth about positive emotions. By opening our hearts and minds, positive emotions allow us to discover and build new skills, new ties, new knowledge, and new ways of being.”
– Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D.
Here’s an idea from Dr. Daniel Amen, on how to switch your thinking. When an automatic negative thought pops into your head (I suck, my work sucks, he never listens to my ideas, etc..) do this: Write it down, ask yourself if it’s true, then challenge and discard that idea. It’s an effective tool used in counseling and can help shift your thinking.
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Shawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Bibliomotion) will be out in October, 2016. You can pre-order a copy now.