An Inherent Negativity Bias
“One is never afraid of the unknown; one is afraid of the known coming to an end.” — Jiddu Krishnamurti
We often fear the worst to take place due to an inherent negativity bias. Our mind will give greater importance to our survival and happiness, and whatever disrupts this is awarded more attention. Can you identify with this narrative in your own life? The mind’s negativity bias is an evolutionary system that has helped humans survive throughout history. It allowed early man to endure the external elements, yet it can also become habitual and a difficult mechanism to switch off. We have a habit of expecting the worst in a situation, and are adamant we’re right if the event comes to pass, and thus a vicious cycle ensues.
Whilst we cannot control what happens to us, we can control our response to it. Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl espouses this idea in Man’s Search For Meaning where he writes: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Fear and anxiety are old foes that feed off one another. However, if we are aware of our predominant thoughts, it helps us to know what we are giving our attention to. This is because fear is a tale told by the mind and kept alive through repeated thoughts. The same mind that forms negative thoughts also creates empowering thoughts. It is merely a matter of choosing what we lean our attention towards.
Thoughts are not the enemy; they are non-material episodes projected onto the mind through consciousness. It is when we attach meaning to them that they can lead us into a dark place. There are many factors that account for fearful thoughts, including: lack of sleep, genetics, poor diet, illness, substance and alcohol abuse as well as low self-esteem, to name a few. Sometimes, external events can play a role and we may be prone to heightened anxiety and despair. This is characterised by a persistent low mood lasting more than two weeks which may include a state of melancholy and physical and emotional symptoms. If you suffer from mental unrest or anxiety, your thoughts may not be in harmony with your true self. Therefore, it is important to recognise this instead of bowing to these emotional states.
Reframe Your Thoughts
“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of Hell, a hell of Heaven.” — John Milton
To expect better outcomes in life, we ought to reframe our thoughts and move in the new direction instead of fearing or expecting the worst. That is, we expand our horizons, instead of castigating ourselves. Self-compassion is shown to boost self-esteem, leading to better decision-making. Similarly, you might want to consider how you console a family member, a friend or a colleague in a similar position? I’m certain you wouldn’t ridicule them, rather encourage them to consider their circumstances through a new lens. To stop fearing the worst, we must avoid ruminating on negative thoughts and move our attention into our body. We do this by noticing our breath and the ebb and flow it creates while sitting in silence. We might meditate on the sound of our breath to further calm our nervous system. It is difficult to make rational decisions when our mind is trapped in negative thinking. The key is to flip the switch and shift our physical state from stressed to calm. Trying to reason with anxious thoughts is like grappling with a sumo wrestler; we are bound to lose owing to the intensity of the thoughts.
What if we can learn to accept our thoughts, however intense without buying into the narrative they promote? Acceptance means dropping any resistance to what is happening. From a place of non-resistance arises the power to transform our inner struggle in line with our highest good. Journaling is a powerful tool that can help us get thoughts out of our mind and onto paper while observing their theme. Often, thoughts pass through the mind at such a quick rate they become runaway thoughts and we’re unable to recognise them, let alone recall them. In contrast, journaling can help us see the true nature of our thoughts, so they no longer wreak havoc in our life.
Knowledge, awareness and taking the right action are useful tools to stop fearing the worst in most situations. Gradually, we realise that external conditions are not the source of our negative thoughts, but our own reactions and the meaning we assign to them. Knowing this, I’d like you to reflect on areas where you devote negative attention to? How might you flip the switch and change the focus of your attention to a more positive aspect? It is possible to find peace and contentment within ourselves and not consider the worst-case scenario. It starts by renewing our commitment to change our perspective and uphold this new image. Sooner or later, we will realise our projected image of fear is nothing more than a tale told by a frightened mind instead of an empowered being.