Own My Growth

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Our Mind Is A Magnet For Negative


You get a great year-end bonus, and you are super happy for a few hours. The next day you would have pretty much forgotten about it. Likely, you have already moved on from that positive news.

Alternative scenario: You expect a big fat bonus because you think you have done some great work. Unfortunately, what you get is a fraction of what you were expecting. You feel hurt, betrayed, and disappointed. And, this negative feeling persists for days or even weeks.

You can substitute this anecdote with any other. When you experience anything positive, it creates a sense of wellbeing for a few hours or a day at best. But when you encounter anything negative, it sticks in our mind, like a pesky houseguest.

I found the answer to why humans tend to get stuck in a negative mind frame in an enlightening Ted Talk by Psychologist Alison Ledgerwood titled Getting Stuck in the Negative(and how to get unstuck).

Gain Frame And Loss Frame

In this Ted Talk, Alison Legerwood explains that we perceive things around us in one of two ways, Gain Frame and Loss Frame. When you see things from a gain frame, you focus on the upside, and you tend to be positive. When you see things from a loss frame, you tend to focus on what is lacking, and when you do that, you experience a negative emotion.

Alison and her co-researchers from UC Davis did a series of social experiments to understand how our minds process information. In one experiment, the researchers told two groups of participants about a surgical procedure in two distinct ways. The researchers described the surgical procedure in terms of a gain frame as likely to have a 70% success rate to one group. And, to the second group, they described the same procedure in terms of a loss frame that is likely to have a 30% failure rate.  

Participants liked the surgical procedure when it was framed in terms of the success rate, and they reacted negatively when it was framed in terms of the failure rate.

The researchers then added a slight twist to the experiment. They told the first group that they could also think of the 70% Success rate of the surgical procedure as a 30% failure rate. Similarly, they told the second group that they could think of the 30% failure rate as a 70% success rate.

The results were revealing. The First group revised their opinion about the efficacy of the surgical procedure. They did not like it anymore. However, in the second group, the was no change. Reframing something positive into negative shifted perception towards negative but reframing negative into positive made little impact.

Once the loss frame enters our minds, it sticks. The big takeaway from this Ted Talk is that our view of the world has a fundamental tilt towards the negative. We can toggle from a gain frame to a loss frame quickly, but we struggle to move from a negative frame to a positive frame.

We have to work harder to see the upside in things.

Avoid Wallowing In The Negative

Unfortunately, without realizing this phenomenon, we tend to reinforce the negative frames in our lives unconsciously.

We bitch about the demanding boss; we obsess about the friend who did not return our call or pickle about the argument we had with the difficult colleague. And the more we do this, the more we get stuck in the morass of negative frames.

If you find yourself being grumpy and moody often, it is time for you to introduce a new habit.

Start focussing on all the good that is happening.

  • Notice the security guard at the Mall who helped you load your groceries into the car.
  • Appreciate the colleague who did a great job in dealing with a difficult situation.
  • The lovely lunch you had with your friend. 

When you start reflecting on the positive stuff, you slowly push out the negative frames out of your mind. You begin to feel lighter and more positive.

In Summary

Be aware that anything bad tends to stick. Our mind is like a magnet for anything negative. One bad comment from you can stick with someone and ruin that person’s day or week. In the same vein, don’t indulge in anything that could reinforce the negative frames and get you into a bad mood.

2 Replies to “Our Mind Is A Magnet For Negative”

  • Beautiful. Does this apply to things like news as well ? Situations that are impersonal (such as politics etc) to us as opposed to personal ( such as a bonus, feedback etc) ?

  • Absolutely- anything negative is avoidable given that it has a tendency to stick.. that said, when you perceive something as negative for yourself, you tend to get sucked into the negativity more!!

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