For What It’s Worth…Negativity, Survival, and Brain Training
Therapy is way more than a toolbox of intervention. Information alone cannot replace professional help. However, information can be very powerful. So, for what it’s worth to you, here is the weekly post offering a therapeutic idea, concept, or intervention that you can try out in your own life or relationships.
You are in a battle every day. It is a battle for your mind.
Research shows that when it comes to our memory negative is more powerful than the positive. Here are some examples.
Asked to recall personal, autobiographic memories people are more likely to share negative experiences.
John Gottman, a well known research and clinician in couples therapy, has discovered in his research lab that if a marriage relationship has EQUAL negative and positive exchanges, the couple will report that the marriage is NOT satisfying and is a negative experience over all. That is when there are an EQUAL number of both positive and negative exchanges. Gottman has found that a marriage must have a ratio of five or six positive interactions for every negative interaction in order for a marriage to be considered satisfying.
Other researchers in the social sciences have discovered that this same ratio applies to other relational and social exchanges.
This article from Time Magazine talks about the tendency to remember the negative. The author points out that remembering with greater strength does not mean remembering with greater detail. In fact, the details are often quite distorted. Nevertheless, the memories, distorted or not, are strong…often stronger than the positive memories.
Some would say that there is a biological and survival component to negative emotions being stronger. For example, we are wired to remember things that we need to AVOID in the future.
In other words, being negative helps us SURVIVE physically. In the way, way past, negative experiences could have been dangerous and a threat to our physical existence. We remember these experiences as a way to avoid them the next time.
Positive psychology is a relatively newer branch of psychology focused on one thing: the battle for a positive mind and all the research that accompanies such a pursuit.
Negativity is associated with lower levels of success, lower levels of health, and lower levels of relational satisfaction as well as higher incidents of depression and anxiety. Negativity can be like a corrosive that eats away at our dreams, our relationships, our livelihood.
Tenaciously positive people are healthier, more successful, and have greater relationship satisfaction.
I am all about making room for expressing negative emotion…pain, hurt, and anger. I am all about getting the festering toxins out. You can read more about that here and here.
Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.
Then, we have to move on. We have to train our brain to see the positive.
Of course, as a biblical truth, this concept has been around forever.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
So, how does one do this? How does one train your mind to be positive?
Well, scripture reading, music, and other pursuits can be powerful. I also want to share a simple practice for you to implement…and it IS practice. You cannot give up. Remember, our brain NATURALLY goes back to the negative. You have to exercise those positive thinking muscles!
At the end of the day (we do it around the dinner table) share or write 3-5 things that were GOOD about your day. If you struggle with this part, remember rain can be a good thing! The sky can be beautiful! You can find SOMETHING good. If this is a challenge for you, start small. Next, share one thing that was NOT good about the day. Wait, you aren’t finished! Next, share 3-5 things that are or COULD END UP being good about that one negative thing. This might require you to use your imagination! Stretch that brain! Remember this is brain training!
This is Romans 8:28 in action.
Biology and natural survival might lead us to remember the negative, but I think we are in a fight for another kind of survival…the survival of our dreams, the survival of our hopes, the survival of our relationships.
This kind of survival is worth the training…the practice…the hard work.
So, while you are putting your body through boot camp to get in shape for the summer swimsuit season, put your mind through boot camp and get it in shape for LIFE.
This is difficult indeed. And I appreciate the reference to the “practice” requirement. I tend to be always “working” on various things: needs for growth in multiple areas of my life. I suppose by default, that has me considering the problems . . . all the time! Thanks for the reminder. Things that are helping me with this: trusting the Lord to work things out in those areas where my only course of action is to pray, hope and trust. Being thankful for what is rather than despondent, etc. about what is not. Practicing patience and release rather than frenetic energy and control.
The positive practice is quite sufficient for making up for what I am working to leave out :). And as we all know, we can’t quit doing something very well without starting something else, so I’m working to incorporate the above – and work it is!!
Hope you and the family are well. Miss you all as always,
Heather, it IS work and DOES take practice…and we would be fooling ourselves to think otherwise. Living life this way takes such intentionality with our choices. I miss you, too. I think of you often. Hope you well!
[…] Last week in my “For What It’s Worth” post I encourage an exercise where you list 3-5 positive things. The second part of this exercise involved writing or sharing 1 negative thing, about which you find 3-5 positive things that could come as a result. […]
[…] Our minds sometimes fixate on negativity in the day to day. It is survival mechanism. When you remember something negative the hope is you won’t repeat it! That is all fine and good, but sometimes we need to identify and appreciate the positive things in life. This process involves training our minds to see the good. […]