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What is Negativity Bias? Making the switch to Positive Possibilities

A negativity bias is our programmed tendency to focus on the negative aspects of a given scenario creating a bias that does not acknowledge the potential positives. 

Leah is a former client. We worked together more than 20 years ago. We’ve stayed in touch over the years via newsletters and social media.

Leah is a bright woman with an engineer’s mind. Her scientific intelligence runs circles around anything in my life that is remotely science related.  Her passion for space related topics is pursued with enthusiastic energy.  

The only reason I know that there have been recent satellites launched or active space stations exist is because of her social media posts. 

“Am I crazy?”

Recently, she posted a link on Facebook for the sale of an out of state motel property that accommodates RV parking. This property sparked her interest and she asked in her Facebook feed: “Am I crazy?”   

Her next post on social media was a request that “someone talk me out of this!” 

I replied and assured her she was not.  

Yet, her comments indicated she felt a strong pull to pursue this opportunity.  I sensed she was second guessing this interest with “What if?” worst case scenarios and a Negativity Bias.

In spite of having not actually spoken for over 20 years, Leah and I arranged a phone conversation. 

Via social media and email, we had already discussed questions that would help her analyze this investment opportunity. 

The Investment Questions

What’s the current economic status of the little community where the motel is located? 

How much traffic comes through this community? 

What is the current property condition and does it have deferred maintenance? 

We discussed other considerations around current and potential income. 

Leah also mentioned the possibility of finding a local mechanic that could help service the RVs that stay at the property. Brilliant! 

The Logistic Questions

There were subjective questions that also needed consideration. 

Is her current financial status capable of handling this type of investment? 

Can she continue her career work from a remote location? 

What if the motel is not generating income right now and she needs to step into a marketing role to build a new following? 

The Personal Questions

And then there were the personal questions about her motivation and interest in this idea, such as why this opportunity was tugging at her so strongly.

She shared that she had visited this town a year ago when she first noticed the property was for sale. Her interest had been percolating for more than a year, and was not subsiding! 

The Negative What Ifs

And then Leah shared a litany of What Ifs. 

What if the business doesn’t make it? 

And she doesn’t like the community?

What if the community doesn’t like her? 

What if she can’t make a connection with local people? 

Or she can’t find someone to help her run the business? 

What if she bites off more than she can chew and as a result makes a mess of her finances?

At this point, Leah shared with me that she was not finding a lot of satisfaction in her current work. Not only does she feel bored with life, but she also considers getting out of bed in the morning a huge success. 

She does not consider herself a “people person,” and was dreading the thought of having to interact with people in the course of a new business opportunity. 

Finally, she voiced her real fear underlying all the What Ifs.

What if I fail?

Finding Positive Possibilities

Almost automatically, I responded again with alternatives: 

What if your ideas for the potential of this property come to fruition? 

Is it possible that this little community rallies around you as you revitalize this business? 

Could the motel be the stepping stone that leads you to where you want to go and becomes your reason to get out of bed in the morning? 

What if, in the process of pursuing all the questions and research, a completely unexpected path emerges that leads to an even more exciting opportunity? 

Could this adventure become a Hallmark movie script and there’s someone out there that you are supposed to meet?

We can use negative “what if” stories to talk ourselves out of opportunities, and dreams. Those worst case “what if” scenarios that focus on failure are simply our brains protecting us from lions, tigers, and bears, and what we label, “crazy ideas.”

Negativity Bias

Nancy Levin discusses what she calls “Negativity Bias,” defined as “the psychological phenomenon that causes negative experiences to have a greater impact on our brains than positive or neutral ones.”

Negativity bias affects our lives in so many sneaky ways—including our relationships, our motivation to complete a task, and our decision-making. Perhaps worst of all, it can even turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy that brings more negativity into our lives.

Nancy Levin

As soon as we realize that we are responding with a Negativity Bias, we can reframe these stories and approach the issue from a positive perspective. 

Shifting from a Negativity Bias, we can ask ourselves: 

What if there is no failure, and only redirection based on new information? 

Recognizing Synchronicity

While Leah continued to ruminate in “What if?” mode, I mentioned the synchronicities that had already begun to appear. This suggested there were both many reasons to at least pursue this “crazy idea” and let go of the Negative “What if?” biases. 

Leah had mentioned a connection with a real estate broker in the area who had experience acquiring and operating a motel. 

A group of women she found on Facebook share her interest in “scamp” camping, and could become potential customers for the RV park. 

A year ago, Leah had visited this community and found it inviting. 

Her technical knowledge of energy efficient changes to the property could make the business more economically viable. 

She has prior experience working in the hospitality field! 

And, a friend had already agreed to travel with her to visit the property and the area again. 

By the end of our conversation, Leah’s Negativity Bias expressed in her “What ifs” was fading, like the Wicked Witch melting in a pool of water. 

Leah was allowing herself to become curious. 

Her “What if?” questions had changed from a negative bias to positive possibilities. 

Writing Prompts

What are the negative thoughts you throw in your own way when considering a new project or opportunity? 

Write down 5 “What if?” statements that reflect your Negativity, Bias. 

Now, write 5 statements for this situation that reflect a positive outlook and opportunity. 

What If You Fly?

“Freedom waiting for you, 

On the breezes of the sky.

And you ask “What if I fall?” 

Oh but my darling, 

What if you fly?”

~ Erin Hanson 

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of The We Spot, its employees, sponsors, or affiliates.

Sarah Bennett

Sarah has had a passion to learn since childhood. In those days, the term “personal growth” did not exist in her world. What did exist was art and creativity, and they were the door to self knowledge and personal trust which opened slowly over the course of many years. She credits creative exploration with helping her to find center and find her authentic self, and in so doing, she feels called to share the power of creativity with others. The thread that connects the many chapters of her life has been her connection to people: daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, cousin, and friend. Her roles continue to expand: Organizer. Listener. Advocate. Teacher. Realtor. Artist. Writer. From home base in Laporte, Colorado, Sarah loves traveling near and far, and seeing the world through fresh eyes.

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