I came across a scientific explanation why humanity progresses in fits and starts rather than on the basis of eternal progress. Apparently our brains are hard-wired with what is called “negativity bias,” a trait that proved favorable as the process of natural selection worked its magic on our species.
Negativity bias is the tendency to feel threatened by the big, bad world we live in. Prior to the civilization of the human race we lived in a world fraught with peril. Those who survived these times were not necessarily the strongest, but instead the fittest who came to expect danger, problems and threats at every turn.
We no longer live like savages or animals in the wild, but the negativity bias that served our ancestors well continues to play like an old record in the darker recesses of our minds. Our feet continue to tap to its tune despite the fact that the dance is no longer necessary.
Unfortunately negativity bias by its nature produces a state of consciousness where threats are overstated and opportunities are understated and frequently missed. Fearful, dubious and anxious about the other foot falling, people – even in our modern times – are hesitant if not reticent to take risks, enjoy themselves and invest in the future.
The recent economic perturbations are no doubt exacerbated and prolonged by this vestigial trait, as actual uncertainty is given as much weight as imagined instability. The unknown – real or imagined – is humanity’s greatest fear.
Murphy’s Law is really more appropriately termed “Murphy’s Self-Fulfilling Prophecy,” for those who believe in it are doing nothing more than adding fuel to the fire of their inherited negativity bias. If you are convinced that things are certain to go wrong, you are more likely going to follow the tracks to the end that you envision than you are to happen accidentally upon a more ideal resolution.
I overheard someone saying yesterday: “I’m no optimist, but I do believe in the fundamental goodness of people. I’m willing to let them reveal themselves either way. There’s no need to judge them because they prove their worthiness in the choices they make.” Here was someone who was not afraid of the unknown, of what was yet to come. I couldn’t help but think of that attitude and approach as being the perfect antidote to this pesky negativity bias.
The key to overcoming negativity bias is found in developing the ability to discern between real and imagined threats. You’ll drive yourself crazy if you treat every threat as real. Conversely, you’re at risk if you don’t pay heed to the alarm bells. There is a balance point available to each one, yet no one can show you where that is, you have to discern it for yourself.
Be careful not to give over your ability to discern for protection as many do when faced with fear. Be wary when protection is extended at the expense of your rights to privacy and self-determination. Ask others who are not easily shaken by the storms in life for their perspective when yours is rendered myopic by the hormones produced by fearful reactions. Perspective is always your friend.
Likewise, deliberately develop the ability to identify, compliment and complement those elements in your world that are working correctly, functioning smoothly and trending toward victory. In other words, work on your positivity bias. Invest in others where you can, expect the finest from your peers and give your best no matter what.
Victory breeds victory and progress on the heels of victory is far less costly than the progress that comes from failure. Your life is likely to be full of both victories and defeats, but this mixture needn’t subdue your enthusiasm. Put yourself out there, embrace life and enjoy yourself…the world can and will be a better place because you lived.