Unleash Your Artistic Optimist, Part II: Know Your Negatives

I feel fatigued, tingly, and thirsty. I think to myself, “I’m sick!” As I obsess over these symptoms, I fail to notice good stuff happening, like my boyfriend stroking my hair, or my friends laughing merrily as we watch the Super Bowl together.

Due to the Negativity Bias, we tend to pay more attention to and remember more about negative things, making us forget and miss positive things.

As we explored in the last blog, one reason it’s important to process negative emotions is because if you don’t, they can easily hijack your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Once you’re on the Negativity Express, it’s very hard to get off. Aboard, you’ll notice that you are less resilient in the face of daily difficulties as well as larger setbacks. And good luck bucking those nasty emotions that got you a ticket to be taken for a ride.

But have no fear, because you are a natural-born Artistic Optimist! That means that you can learn how to use your native resiliency to bring about a better future. To do that, you must learn how to cope with negativity in the present. You do this not by denying negativity, but by acknowledging that it isn’t the only, best, nor biggest game in town.

How can you name – and overpower – the Negativity Bias?

  1. Call a spade a spade. Acknowledge all of the dark thoughts in your brain. Pay special attention to the words you use (no censoring!).
  2. Now find hearts. What positive things are true right now? No matter how bleak this moment seems, there are good things going on, too. If you struggle to think of positives, start with the fact that you’re breathing and build a list from there. Keep adding to the list until you have at least three hearts for each spade – that is, three good things for each negative.
  3. Focus on what’s true and helpful. Come back to the spades. For each one, ask yourself, “Is this 100% true? Is it helpful to think about this?” If the answer’s no to either question, put it aside. Then look at your hearts again ask the same questions. From the remaining hearts and spades, choose the ones that are most useful for you right now. For example, “My symptoms suggest I might be getting sick, but as long as I’m at this party, it’s most helpful to myself to think about my friends’ joy, my boyfriend’s kindness, and the suspense of the game.”

As an optimistic artist, you take what you’ve got and make the most of it. You now know how to acknowledge negativity without letting it gobble up all of your attention or overpower positive truths (for more on how to square with and move beyond negativity, click here). Come back soon to learn more ways to work with reality to optimize your future!

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