Skip to content

Are You Captured By Your Own Negative Thoughts?

 As humans, we’re wired with an automatic negativity bias, paying more attention to what’s negative than positive.” Elisha Goldstein

You got a new outfit, it looks great and you are getting tons of compliments. But then, just one person says something spiteful about it, though you got tons of praise, you can’t help but stew over the negative comment. Why is that? Why does our mind seem to dwell over the negative?

Alison Ledgerwood, a psychology professor at University of California – Davis,  has done lots of studies on how humans think and how we can think better. We all know the expression about seeing a glass as half-full or half-empty. It isn’t just what you see but how you see it. The way you describe that glass to people can really change how people really feel about it. Alison wanted to know what happens when you try to switch your way of thinking from the positive frame to the negative frame – or vice versa. Her research team brought two groups of people into the lab and told them about the new surgical procedure. Group one was told that the procedure has a 70% success rate. For group two, they framed it as a 30% failure rate. It’s the same exact procedure and they are giving you the exact same information but one doctor is focusing on the part of the glass that’s full and the other doctor is focussing on the part of the glass that’s empty. So, no surprise: People like the procedure when it’s described in positive terms and they don’t like it when you focus on the failure rate. But then the researchers pointed it out to the first group that you could also think of the procedure as failing 30% of the time. Suddenly people didn’t like it anymore. And when they tried a similar thing with group two, pointing it out that the procedure had a 70% success rate, people didn’t change their mind.

Similar studies like the one above have been done over and over and it’s been found that people seem to get stuck in the negative way of thinking about it and it’s hard for them to flip and focus on the positive. All these studies reveal that once you frame something negatively, it really sticks. It makes sense from an evolutionary or functional perspective that our minds are built to look for negative information in the environment and to hold on to it once we find it. For our prehistoric ancestors, it could cost them their lives to forget about a predator lurking around. For them as hunter gatherers, negative information like this saved their lives. For us however, we are longer faced with those tigers and lions but their genetic make-up got passed down to us.

Our prehistoric ancestors faced the threatening jungle while today’s working class faces the threatening workplace. From the brain perspective, it’s the same jungle. For me Veli Ndaba – ‘The NeuroEngineer’, I’m driven and committed to help empower leaders and teams to raise their self-awareness level leading to a creation of a brain-friendly environment for Peak Performance. I achieve this by using the ‘Veli Ndaba NeuroEngineering Leadership Effect’ #VNNLE, a tool that combines the principles of Neuroscience and Engineering to leadership and to changing leading cultures.

I’ve seen and experienced it from my own life that it’s difficult to see the upside and it takes hard work. We have to put effort into looking at the bright side of things. We can’t assume that our mind is just going to do that automatically. Also, it’s very easy to keep on tilting back towards the negatives.

Tips on how to Get Uncaptured  By Your Own Negative Thoughts:

  1. Spend few minutes every day thinking about the things you are grateful for. Doing this regularly can help it become a habit. Overtime, this can help you reduce your pervasive negativity bias.
  2. Increase the time you spend around positive people.
  3. Read and listen to positive messages daily, especially in the morning.

Veli Ndaba is a NeuroEngineering Leadership Effect Speaker and Trainer, Brain Coach and Author of four books (You Are Born to Win, Your Dream is Calling You and SWITCH ON! And Set Your Soul On Fire!) and Newspaper Columnist. To book him to speak at your next event or to help you and your team unleash your greatness, contact him on, or +27 83 304 9773