Overcoming Negativity Bias


Negativity bias is the name given by psychologists to the human tendency to be much more likely to focus on and to remember negative experiences, instead of neutral or positive experiences.

Human beings developed a negativity bias—that is, they evolved to notice and respond more forcibly to the negative because this bias helped our our ancestors to stay alive. Thousands of years ago, when we were living in survival mode and real danger was always present, it was more important to escape dangerous (negative) situations than it was to approach opportunity. However, in many ways, this bias no longer serves us in modern-day life.

A strong negativity bias can severely impact our sense of wellbeing and quality of life.  Fortunately, there are ways to deal with the negativity bias. The list below includes some ideas taken from the study of positive psychology and learned optimism which can help you to rewire your brain for increased positivity.

Some strategies to re-wire your brain:

  • Be aware of your bias. Knowing that you have a negativity bias will help you to recognize when and why you’re dwelling on the negative aspects of a situation.
  • When something positive happens to you, try to hold on to the feeling for a few extra moments. Replay it in your mind a few times so that the memory of the positive experience gets stored in your long-term memory.
  • Scatter simple pleasures throughout your day in addition to the bigger ticket events (like vacations) that you are looking forward to. Simply put, make sure that you make time to do more of what you love.
  • Gretchen Rubin—owner of “The Happiness Project”–recommends that you create an “area of refuge” in your brain. Have a list of positive memories, quotes, or lines from poems or favorite books—that you can think of whenever you find your mind wandering into negative territory. You can also make your home into a sanctuary in which you display art, photos, and objects which remind you of the things/people/ideas that you love.
  • Make gratitude a habit. Journal each night about all of the good things that happened to you throughout the day. Be specific! You can also think of three things that you feel grateful for every morning before you get out of bed. By focusing on the good you’ll gradually be rewiring your brain for happiness. If you do this long enough, it will eventually become a habit.
  • Keep a “well done” list. Every time you accomplish something (no matter how small), face your fears, help someone out, or receive a compliment, make a note of it on your well done list. When you are feeling bad about yourself, bring out your list and remind yourself of the good stuff you do.
  • Practice mindful awareness of your emotions. Try to accept yourself for having negative emotions and realize that they are part of the common human experience. Observe your emotions without judging them or acting on them. Do not let them define who you are. So instead of thinking “I am an angry, jealous person”, say “I am experiencing some feelings of anger and jealousy in this moment.”
  • Learn more about how to rewire your brain. Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and author of “Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom”.  Martin Seligman has written about positive psychology topics in books such as The Optimistic Child, Child’s Play, Learned Optimism, and Authentic Happiness. His most recent book, Flourish, was published in 2011.

By Polly Guetta

Beds, Bathtubs, and Books – Finding Your Own Personal Sanctuary


Within you, there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at anytime and be yourself.” –Herman Hesse

Every one of us needs a sanctuary – a place in which we can retreat and feel at peace. A sanctuary is where we can reconnect with ourselves, take a deep breath, and just relax by allowing ourselves to let go of the feeling that we have to be productive every minute of our lives.

Sanctuary means different things to different people and in describing our own personal sanctuary, we reveal something about our truest selves. With this in mind, some of our MDABC staff and volunteers generously described their own personal sanctuaries so that our readers may be inspired to think about what their own sanctuary means to them. And if by chance, you don’t have a place that you feel is a sanctuary, I hope that these entries might get you thinking about creating or finding one.

From Catherine St. Denis, Operations Manager at MDABC:

“My place of sanctuary is my bathtub. When I’m in the hot water with the steam drifting all around me I feel as if there is nothing that needs my immediate attention. I put in my foam earplugs and just let the water surround me. I might read a book or play a game on my phone but no matter what, that locked bathroom door and earplugs allow me to let go of whatever I want and just feel the warmth and water all around me. I love it!”

From Teri Doerksen, Receptionist at the Wellness Centre at MDABC:

“My sanctuary at home is my well-worn sofa that has an African-themed throw neatly arranged on it.  I can see all four plants that I have in my living space, and they provide a certain calming, reassuring energy that makes my home feel like a home.”

From Caer Weber, MDABC Volunteer:

“I think my sanctuary is my bed. I have curtains on one side that makes it into a ‘fort’ – so cozy. It’s my favourite place to read. And often in the background are neighbours’ children playing in the backyard and sounding so happy. Oh there’s stuffed animals too. A must.”

From Martin Addison, Executive Director of MDABC:

“My sanctuary is not a place but an activity: reading the poetry of Lord Byron and Percy Shelley. When I read, I find that these august gents will often speak to me – not through the ears but through some kind of whole body experience. And because it is whole body, it has the tendency to hold the phone, the TV, the computer and my chores at bay. It is a wonderful antidote to a busy day leaving me with a sense of fulfillment and achievement.”

From Polly Guetta, Development Coordinator of MDABC:

“I think of my living room as my sanctuary. It is decorated in pale shades of grey, turquoise, and coral pink. When I have a free moment, I like to sit on my big, comfy sofa with a cup of coffee and do nothing but sip and look at all of my green plants and the way that the objects on my shelves are arranged. It can be a very peaceful place for me to relax, rejuvenate and reflect.”

From Valentina Chichiniova, Certified Counsellor at the Wellness Centre at MDABC:

“My sanctuary is my living room. Simplistic in style, the room is decorated in red, black and white with beautiful green plants all around. Our style is minimalist with natural bamboo and wood wall decorations. The big windows look directly at the patio full with trees and plants. The entire space feel inviting, warm, and connected with nature. This connection with nature gives me sense of peace and serenity. The perfect place to read, converse, or have a cup of coffee or tea!”

From David Bowes, MDABC Volunteer

“I often find sanctuary in the outdoors – especially walking along the ocean at night.  Being under the stars and beside the ocean in Vancouver fills me with a sense of wonder and peace.  I find that watching herons fish silently by the moonlight can be almost mystical to experience.  While it is not a sanctuary that I create, it is one that I can enter into which draws me beyond my ‘small self’ and connects me to my source.  The natural world is always changing and pulsing with rhythm and energy – reminding me that the one constant in life is change – and in that swirl of glorious complexity I find sanctuary.”