Day three and selective bias. This is some of the science I find most fascinating, as is the research in this area of Prof Elaine Fox (author of one of my favourite books: Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain) who I have had the pleasure of working with. Let me tell you about my selective bias. A good while ago I found myself walking down the street and my heart felt heavy. The first thing I saw (or at least I chose to focus on, it would seem) was the cancer research shop. I felt worse. The next thing I saw was the homeless person on the street. Miserable. Then, onto the arguing couple. My walk continued like this and by the time I arrived at work I was far from cheery.
Elaine talks about how some people’s brains tune in automatically to negative stuff, whilst others can filter this out and zone in on the positive. These ‘selective biases’ also apply to memory, and whether we choose to remember negative or positive things, and to how we tend to interpret ambiguous situations in a glass half full or glass half empty way. Thinking negatively can lead to unhappy emotions, so it’s helpful to try to stop it. And the good news is we can!
Focusing on the positive (which does not mean pretending the negative does not exist, it is merely choosing where to place our attention) is proven to increase feelings of wellbeing. This is something I have practised a good deal over the past two years and now when I walk down the road I always notice when the sky is blue or the sun is shining, and without realising it I will unconsciously seek out the smiling couple or cuddly dog.
So, with persistent effort, what our brain focuses on can theoretically be re-trained. This means any negativity bias can be reversed. Strong evidence shows that mindfulness meditation helps. A newer technique called cognitive bias modification (CBM) is also being developed (to find out more about this click here). But, for now, try our walking exercise. See if you can repeat it in other situations. Focusing on the positive, not the negative, is one of the biggest things that has changed my outlook for good. On a bad day I can still tend towards negativity, but if it happens I check myself and rebalance. Give it a go, and see how it works for you!
Please click here for further research on Positive Focus.