One Bad Thing vs. Many Good Things

We’ve all had those perfect days. Everything is going like clockwork. You accomplish every task without a fault. You achieve every aim you set your sights on and you killed it like a pro in the meeting. Everything is damn good! A well-oiled machine noiselessly cranking out stuff.

Out of the blue, an upsetting remark from a colleague flips your switch. It ticks you off. A passer-by bumps into you and utters something rude. Or you find that tag on your shirt suddenly starting to itch. A perfect day collapses like a pack of cards and you feel like you are standing in the cold rain – wet, and shivering. You’re miserable.

But why does it have to be so? Why should ‘one bad thing’ ruin your day?

Why is it that your mind harps on negative events or emotions? It doesn’t matter how tiny the negative event is, the mind seems to make a mountain out of a molehill.

It is also the same reason why mass-media bombards you with negative news continuously. They want to engender the feeling that you are living in ominous times and the end of the world is at your doorstep.

It’s definitely not your fault that you rue over negative situations. It is your brain at play. The human brain couldn’t evolve at the same pace as that of the environment around it. For early hunter-gatherers, the only source of learning was experiential. They had a heightened sense of awareness towards negative events such as – a tiger lurking amidst the tall grass, a berry that may be poisonous, or a fellow tribesman who could stick a sharp wedge in the back. It was a matter of life or death.

Those who developed a heightened sense of awareness towards negative events survived millennia of evolution and handed down these genes to subsequent generations. When probability runs over large sections of a population, and evolution runs its course eliminating those that are resistant to change, what you are left with is a large section of the populace that is genetically imprinted with that change. Large populations with a heightened awareness of negative events begat entire populations with this trait as a dominant one. Put in simple terms, this is one way the brain tries to keep you safe.

Scientists have coined a fancy term for this – Negativity Bias.

In simpler terms Negativity Bias is a tendency of the brain to record and remember negative events in favour of positive ones. This is also why a rebuttal offers more pain than genuine praise.

Another consequence of this bias is that it stops us from trying out anything new. Want to start that new venture? Want to make that road trip across the country? Want to run a marathon? No, no, and no. What if I fail? What about the pain associated with failure? How do I deal with it? Do I need to deal with it? Nah, let’s not try anything new at all.

Fast forward to 2020 and it seems like you were caught off guard with the pandemic. When things were beginning to look better and brighter, the pandemic smacked you right in your face. Your brains are now working overtime to keep you safe – heightening your senses to wear masks, stay away from others, social distance, and survive this. Gene imprinting may beget another generation of individuals with a stronger leaning towards negative events and bias.

This is something beyond your control. But what is in your control? To overcome this bias. How do we overcome the ‘One Bad Thing?’.

The answer to this lies in the question itself. How many bad things did we encounter? How many good ones did we encounter?

Bring the rest of the day into perspective here – weigh the rest of the day against this one bad thing. To which side have the scales tipped? You’ll see for yourself.

If you strike out all the good things that happened to you over the course of the day, you’re left with one or two bad things. Is it worth breaking your head over these one or perhaps two bad things? Ask yourself this.

Also, when negativity bias stops you from trying out anything new, ask yourself, does it matter if you fail? Doesn’t the downside pale when compared to the upside? Would it not matter to have tried and lost rather than to not have tried at all?

Do we let them get to us? Do we let them strike us down? Does ‘One Bad Thing’ even matter?

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