Our brains function with what is called, “Negative Bias.” This means that our predisposition, likely an ancient survival mechanism, is to focus on what is wrong instead of what is right. We remember painful experiences far quicker than favorable ones. We react far more strongly to bad news than good news. We dwell on the negative more than the positive.
Look at your own thoughts and reactions. If nine people pay you a compliment, and only one insults you, you will linger over that one insult for weeks while forgetting the overwhelming positive feedback you received. I only have to open my email each week to have this experience. No matter how affirming some readers are, it’s the persistent faultfinders that I think about in the middle of the night.
Dr. Rick Hanson says it like this: “Your brain is continually looking for the negative – what is wrong. As soon as it finds it, the brain fixates on it with tunnel vision, fast-tracks it into your memory storage, and then reactivates it at the slightest suggestion. In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.”
He concludes that each of us needs, “Seven positive, healthy reinforcements for every single negative reinforcement each day,” just to stay on the level. Seven to one: That’s how sticky our brains are when it comes to all that is cynical and harmful. Clearly, this is an accurate diagnosis of our ailing society, a society that worships at the altar of the digital screen.
From an adolescent attempting to post that “oh so perfect” pic on her Instagram – but who can never live up to such false, totalitarian perfection – to the angry retiree sitting in his recliner barking at Fox News, we look at the world through a narrow set of lenses; lenses finely ground to reveal only what is wrong with the world, with others, or with ourselves. It is impossible for this steady diet of negativity not to poison our hearts and minds.
The Apostle Paul knew this even in primitive times saying, “Fix your thoughts on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Then the God of peace will be with you.”
Count your blessings not your grievances. Read from the Psalms not just the daily headlines. Linger happily over your coffee in the morning, and put your remote control away. Take a walk and dwell on all the grace in your life, instead of rushing to the latest talk radio episode. Grant forgiveness, not condemnation. Replace toxicity with healing. Sing a song. Enjoy the silence.
If you want peace you can’t immerse yourself in falsehood, ugliness, and meanness for seven days a week, and then expect a half-hour homily on Sunday to put you back on the path. You will have to “fix your thoughts” on better and higher things – for your own sake, and the sake of us all.