Shifting Focus: Journey from Negativity Bias to Emotional Mastery

Shifting Focus: The Journey from Negativity Bias to Emotional Mastery

Outside, the last remnants of daylight fade into the horizon. Inside, the alabaster walls are aglow with soft lights. The clink of cutlery and the roar of conversation drown out Miles Davis’s Confirmation, creating a vivid backdrop for an evening you should remember fondly but don’t. You try to shake it off as best as you can, but one sour moment in an otherwise pleasant day clings to your mind like a thorny blackberry vine.

Everyone wants to be happy, to hold on to all that is good and beautiful. Yet we seem unable to free our minds of the flypaper effect of unpleasant situations. What is it that keeps drawing us back to negative experiences? The best way to understand this phenomenon is through negativity bias.

Understanding and Overcoming Negativity Bias

For many of us, we have a tendency to focus on, learn from, and use unfavorable data more than favorable data. This is called negativity bias and it explains why we often:

  • Ruminate on things that hurt our feelings
  • React more strongly — emotionally and physically — to aversive stimuli
  • Remember unpleasant or traumatic events more than pleasant ones
  • Focus our attention more quickly on negative than on positive information

Negative biases are related to what we focus our attention on. By making a more conscious effort to focus our attention on the positive events and feelings we experience, we can begin to combat our instinctive negativity bias. And that takes practice. So, where do we start?

Leah Goldstein’s Journey: From Adversity to Mastery

For Leah Goldstein, an international ultra-endurance athlete, professional cyclist, and former national kickboxing champion, overcoming the power that our negative experiences seem to exert on us is about “learning to love life” and looking at the past and her challenges as stepping stones on her path toward growth. 

After suffering one of the worst crashes in the history of professional cycling, Leah hit rock bottom. Her doctors feared she would never walk again, and racing, she was told, was “out of the picture.” 

It wasn’t the first time she encountered hardship. As a child, Leah struggled with a learning disability. She was unable to master the English language and was bullied for it; she was chased around by a group of boys every lunch. But Leah didn’t succumb. She chose to find a way out. How? Through Bruce Lee. Watching him perform inspired her, and through her own fighting spirit and dedication, Leah refused to let her bullies harness the power to hurt her physically and emotionally. She chose to productively channel her hurt and anger into taekwondo and went on to become the two-time North American national taekwondo champion. 

As an adult in her 30s who got into competitive cycling, Leah was shunned by the cycling federation, who told her she was “too old.” So, she made another choice — the decision to once again fight back against the negativity and overcome it. She became the first woman in the 40-year history of Race Across America to take first place in the solo division.

As she proved the bullies from her childhood and later, the cycling federation wrong, Leah chose to learn from her cycling accident and the hopeless feeling it elicited. It taught her that life is too short and too precious to waste on people who invoke negativity in her life. Now, she preaches a mentality of appreciation and positivity.

“It’s a choice. You can change anything,” Leah says. It’s about mindset and mindfulness — by becoming aware of the negative biases that creep up on us, we can shift our attention to better, positive things, an act that we at Mentora Institute refer to as ‘emotional mastery’.

Emotional Mastery in the Workplace

Negativity bias is everywhere, and can be especially problematic in the workplace. Drawing from cutting-edge neuroscience, cognitive behavior therapy, and positive psychology, Mentora’s Emotional Mastery Master Class brings strategies and tools to overcome negativity bias in the corporate world. From redirecting emotions to mastering them by changing the underlying thoughts, this program enables companies and employees to channel their feelings toward positive action and address problems through a perfect mental lens.

“The valuable insights I gained are profound. I now understand that I’m often caught in mindreading and ‘should-ing.’ When I catch myself doing this, I can hit the pause button, identify some automatic negative thoughts (ANTs), and then reflect to redirect my thoughts. This makes me more confident as a person, leading me to embrace more challenging assignments that I was previously afraid to handle.”

– Katalin Wrange, Assistant & Operational Development at Ericsson