Very often our mind is focused on what goes wrong. We are quick to pick ourselves apart. We focus on the negatives rather than pay attention to what went right. Whilst it can be good to learn from mistakes, in general, we spend an unhelpful amount of time thinking about what is bad in life, rather than what is good. What’s more, this negativity bias has been linked with an increased risk of anxiety and depression.
Why do we focus on the negative?
The reason many of us are so good at focusing on the negatives and analyzing bad events is for evolutionary reasons. Our capacity to weight negative input so heavily evolved for a good reason – to keep us out of harm’s way. For our ancestors, survival depended on our skill at dogging danger. Our brains therefore evolved to notice danger and, therefore, hopefully respond to it. However, whilst an effective way to avoid predators, our innate skew towards negativity is not effective for us in the modern world where we are much less likely to face real danger.
What can you do about it?
If you are committed to changing your focus from the negative to the positive, here is a simple tool you can use. It’s called ‘Three Good Things’ and it’s a great technique. It’s simple and quick to do and many people find it to be incredibly effective.
To try it out, for the next week commit to writing down three things that went well with your day. Do this every night before going to sleep.
That’s it. Simple right?
These three things do not need to be the most amazing experiences in the world. They can be as simple as ‘I did a good piece of work, ‘I had a nice lunch’, ‘I read a good book’ or ‘I had a good training session’.
After doing this for just one week, notice if you had had any benefits and see if you want to make it an ongoing daily habit.
What does the research say?
Research has shown Three Good Things to alleviate depression and increase happiness compared to a placebo control group for up to six months when completed for just one week. What’s more, Gander, Proyer and Ruch (2017) found people reported increased wellbeing, used more positive words and reported increased positive emotions when journaling three good things for just one week. Sounds good eh?!
Wondering how this works? It is thought the repeated use of this technique may strengthen the neural pathways which look for the positive aspects or issues which we encounter. As a result, the negative focus and thinking is reduced.
Where can I find out more?
If you would like to understand more about positive psychology and interventions such as Three Good Things then we recommend Martin Seligman’s book ‘Flourish’. Or you can watch Seligman’s Ted Talk – ‘The New Era of Positive Psychology’.