Why we dwell on negativity and how to stop

As humans, we seem to remember negative experiences more clearly than those that make you happy. Interestingly, Stanford University professor Clifford Nass says this is because negative or stressful events are processed differently by the brain. This leads us to remember them in more detail.

Professor Teresa M. Amabile from the Harvard Business School looked into this idea and asked over 200 professionals working on various projects at different companies to keep a daily journal for several months.

The entries were analysed by Professor Amabile who found that a single setback (especially those that affected the day’s progress) affected people twice as much as something positive that happened during the day.

So, why is this? According to Professor Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist from Florida State University, humans are hardwired to dwell on negative experiences. This is because they are platforms for learning. Learning what not to do is a key element in our survival.

We now know why we dwell on the negatives, but often we don’t need to dwell to learn – so how can we avoid it?

Distract yourself

If you find yourself ruminating on something negative, try throwing yourself into a hobby or activity. This is a great way to re-place your focus on something more productive. You could also get together with friends or family and focus on catching up with them. This takes the focus off of you.

Gain some perspective

Many of us blow things out of proportion, especially in response to criticism or something negative. Try to be objective and look at the big picture. Will you be thinking about this in five years?

Be kind to yourself

We can often be self-critical, beating ourselves up for something others would consider insignificant. Try to think of yourself as a friend – would you speak to your friend the way you speak to yourself? Be gentle with yourself and believe in your ability to succeed again.