In life two negatives don’t make a positive. Why does it seem easier to critique than compliment? Why do we remember negative events or comments quicker than positive ones? Why is it easier to point out what’s wrong more than what’s right? Why are we drawn to defaming gossip than good news? Why does it impact us greater to lose $100 than to find $100? Why is there 62% more emotionally negative words compared to 32% positive in the English dictionary? (Are we hardwired to be positive or negative?)
“In life two negatives don’t make a positive. Double negatives turn positive only in math and formal logic.” – Robert McKee
Scientists say it is our natural NEGATIVITY bias. I was astounded to learn about these scientific studies. The “Negativity Bias” is explained by saying, “Things of a more negative nature (e.g. unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions; harmful/traumatic events) have a greater effect on one’s psychological state and processes than do neutral or positive things.” (Negativity bias)
In our brains, there are two different systems for negative and positive stimuli. The amygdala uses approximately two thirds of its neurons to detect negative experiences, and once the brain starts looking for bad news, it is stored into long-term memory quickly. Positive experiences have to be held in our awareness for more than 12 seconds in order for the transfer from short-term to long-term memory. Rick Hanson describes it in this way: “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.”
You may have experienced this yourself. For example, you spend a lovely day with a friend or spouse. You visit your favorite coffee shop and belly laugh sharing funny moments from the week. You then stroll down the sidewalk, and help an elderly lady cross the street. After viewing a much anticipated movie premiere, you enjoy your favorite dinner and dessert. While driving home you argue over a misunderstanding and end the evening with an argument. Though you agree to disagree, you feel defeated–even though you had many more positive experiences during the day than the one negative. The negative stands out as stronger to your emotions. This is the negativity bias.
I’m not sure if this bias is a result of the fall of man, and redeemed through salvation. OR, somehow (as many scientists report) a survival mechanism to protect man from impending danger throughout the ages. Either way, we know we have a natural propensity toward the negative, which needs the power of the positive to counteract it. You might just be surprised how much more POSITIVE is needed to equal the negative effect.
5 Positive : 1 Negative
Most experts agree that 5 positive interactions are needed for every negative. (Some say 3:1, but most agree is higher.) The Harvard Business Review reports the most productive and healthy teams are those that function in a culture of 5.6 positive to 1 negative, but average for low performing teams was 0.36 positive to 1 negative (or 3 negative comments to 1 positive). (The Ideal Praise to Criticism Ratio) Dr. Gottman says he can predict couples who will divorce based on the ratio of positive to negative interactions.
The magic ratio is 5:1. In other words, as long as there are five times as many positive interactions between partners as there are negative, the relationship is likely to be stable. It is based on this ratio that Dr. Gottman is able to predict divorce! Very unhappy couples tend to have more negative than positive interactions. The bottom line: even though some level of negativity is necessary for a stable relationship, positivity is what nourishes your love. Dr. Gottman, The Positive Perspective
Rethinking the Negative Effect
With the facts of how our brains are naturally drawn to negatives, we know the importance of focusing our thoughts on TRUTH!
Let’s rethink our approach to counteracting the negative:
- Interject your day with GRATITUDE. Dan Rockwall suggests the habit of stopping to say THANK YOU to someone at the top of every hour of the day. Keep a journal of things you’re grateful for like Ann Voskamp’s 1000 Gifts . When any negative thought or worry comes to mind immediately THANK GOD for the promise.
- Insert small pleasant, positive experiences throughout your day, instead of only waiting for the weekend, vacations or birthdays. Experts agree that multiple small positive experiences throughout the day combat the negative more significantly than one big one.
- Celebrating small benchmarks throughout a project, can be more powerful than waiting until the completion of it. Only giving positive feedback or encouragement at the project’s end would be a ratio of _____ (how many negatives you had through the project) to 1 positive. That’s not enough.
- Don’t underestimate the POWER of PRAISE. All throughout the book of Psalms, we see how the negative is counteracted with the truth of praise. “As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.” Psalm 71:14 Our praise is “MORE and MORE” than the negative around us. As we sing and praise for longer than 12 seconds, it sends the positive from short-term memory to long term. Praise 5 times more than you complain!
But what if you don’t feel thankful? Think of gratitude as a practice not a feeling. Don’t lie. Just find something worthy of praise. If there’s nothing praiseworthy in your organization, close the doors and go home…Praise small things frequently rather than big infrequently. Dan Rockwell
In Christ’s redemptive power we are NOT limited to a NEGATIVITY BIAS. The gospel is the GOOD NEWS that overcomes all past, present and future BAD NEWS! We don’t have to live subjected to the pull of a negative attitude — as we are led by the SPIRIT (not our carnal minds) we will SEE and SPEAK positive truth that neutralizes the enemy.
10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. Romans 8:10-11
- How is the ratio (5 positive to 1 negative) in your significant relationships?
- How can you help create a positive work environment at your job?
- How does this help you parent? You can’t equal negative comments with one positive remark.
Day 17. Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; Proverbs 3:5 The heart of the righteous studies to answer: but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things. Proverbs 15:28
Father, forgive me for my negative and thoughts and words. Thank you for the life of Jesus and His spirit that give me life and the ability to think and speak positively – sharing His life with others. I declare I will not live by my natural flesh and negative appetites. I belong to you, Lord. Help me to lean not on my own understanding, give me your thoughts. Let life be spoken out of my tongue. Cleanse me from speaking any evil, negative words and help me to encourage people.
Big Thought: We are called to be positive 5 times more than we are negative.