Your Perception of Reality Is Skewed

Here’s How to Fix It.

Back in the day, when our ancestors had to survive in the wilderness, they had to take every threat seriously.

In those days, the humans who expected the worst and prepared for it survived and passed their genes to the next generation. As a result, we inherited the negativity bias from our ancestors.

The negativity bias helped our ancestors to survive in the wilderness, but how useful is it now? Moreover, what is its impact on our lives today? Those are some questions that are worth pondering upon.

The Negativity Bias in Communication and Leadership

Since negative stimuli have a higher impact on people, its common communication and leadership advice to balance an instance of negative feedback with five instances of positive feedback. This is also known as the 5-to-1 rule.

The same rule is also useful in our relationships with ourselves. If you’re finding a lot of faults with yourself, you might be damaging your self-esteem. This is a common pitfall of personal development.

For that reason, when you come up with points of improvement, you need to balance them by acknowledging your accomplishments, no matter how small. This is something that we aren’t used to doing, because of several reasons.

First, it is discouraged to blow your own horn. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t acknowledge your own accomplishments. Second, our negativity bias makes us underestimate our accomplishments, almost blinds us to them.

The Negativity Bias and Your Perception of the World

There’s another use of the 5-to-1 rule, which is much subtler because it is on the level of perception. When we perceive the world, we notice the negative more and discard the positive easily. That keeps us from forming an accurate account of reality, which is a crucial skill to succeed in life.

To calibrate our perception to match the reality, we have to make a conscious effort to recognize the positive to balance the effects of the negativity bias.

The Negativity Bias and Relationships

This idea is especially useful in relationships. Think about a person in your extended social circle that you aren’t fond of. This can be a colleague, a relative, or a neighbor. Why do you dislike this person?

You might come up with a list of reasons to dislike the person you’ve chosen. Now, think about a list of reasons that makes them a good person. Think about the instances when this person was nice to you.

If you’re objective, you’ll find as many reasons to like a person as to dislike them, but you ended up disliking them because of the negativity bias. You needed five times more reasons to like that person than to dislike them. And that person didn’t provide that many reasons to you.

The Negativity Bias and Your Life Situation

This is not only relevant to relationships but also to situations. Maybe, you don’t like your job, your finances, or your health. But if you look closely to them, you’ll find as many reasons to like them as to dislike them.

Again, the idea here is to make a conscious effort to recognize and acknowledge the positive in your life situation.

Conclusion

Our evolutionary inheritance includes the negativity bias, which makes us perceive the reality worse than it is. That had some advantages for our ancestors that used to live in the wilderness.

The negativity bias hurts us more than it benefits us today. It lowers our quality of life by keeping us in a constant state of discontent.

The way to overcome our negativity bias is to recognize and acknowledge the positive in our lives and in our relationships.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t come up with points of improvement and work on them. That means having a positive attitude when working on them.

Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.

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