It is very possible that you will read the first part of this post and think to yourselves, “Man, this dude has an ego the size of Mount Everest!” While this is not my intent, I realize the risk. Hopefully you know me well enough to know that my ego is only slightly larger than a Scottish munro. Also, please don’t misconstrue my thoughts as humble-bragging. I am proud of my humility and want you to know it. So, please stick with the post through the compost of my vanity, and it will eventually make sense.
So, here’s the deal: Unless you have been avoiding me the past two months, you have probably seen that I recently released a Christmas novella. (It is still available here in ebook, audiobook and paperback) It has been a great experience for me. First, to actually get it done and out, and secondly, the response has been terrific. Lots of kind reviews and comments, and I thank you for that.
I know it is unwise to read your reviews, but I couldn’t resist. Early on, I was nervous how it would be received, but was relieved to see the first reviews and ratings roll in – all five stars. Hooray! Just the sort of thing my fragile ego needed.
In fact, there are currently 35 ratings on Amazon as of now, and…drumroll please…they are all FIVE-STAR REVIEWS.
Except one. Yes, one.
Some knucklehead goofed and accidentally left one of the stars off! At least that’s what I tell myself. Now my Amazon page looks like this:
My perfect streak went up in flames. Do I know who did that? No. Did they leave an actual review” No.
Should I care?
But that’s the problem – I DO care – even though I know I shouldn’t let it bug me, it does.
I know I’m not alone in this weird behavior, and I’m not just talking about writers. I think we all do this to some extent. For example:
If your husband tell you he loves you every day of your marriage, but you make the mistake of asking if your pants make your butt look fat – and he slips and says yes… look out!
One word of criticism hurts worse that 100 words of praise.
On that work day where everyone you encounter is nice to you, but then one jerk is rude – that’s the person you think about on your drive home.
You can have a thousand things to be grateful for, but one thing gets under your skin – and that’s what you share on social media.
You go to a restaurant that is always good, then one time it isn’t, so you never go back.
I’m sure you can think of more, and probably better, examples.
Why do we do this? Why do we fixate on the negative, even when it is surrounded by positive? Four stars is pretty darn good – why would I let that bug me? Especially when it is overwhelmed by five-star reviews?
It seems that often we are tuned to seek out the negative. My friend Chris Wallace refers to those of us who practice that behavior as “missiles seeking targets,” rather than “target seeking missiles.” Do we subconsciously look for, and strain att he negative gnat?
We do. Turns out it is because we are wired that way.
Scientists actually have a term for this. It’s called “negativity bias.” “The negative bias is our tendency not only to register negative stimuli more readily but also to dwell on these events. Also known as positive-negative asymmetry, this negativity bias means that we feel the sting of a rebuke more powerfully than we feel the joy of praise.” (Fascinating article on this here)
So, if we are actually wired that way, it will require intentional effort to change it. You know, the whole “putting off the natural man” conundrum. (Mosiah 3:19)
If you have been around a few years, you know who is coming up next: President Gordon B. Hinckley. Speaking to BYU students he said:
“I come this morning with a plea that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight,” he said. “I am suggesting that we ‘accentuate the positive.’ I am asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still our voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment virtue and effort.” (link)
“What I am suggesting and asking is that we turn from the negativism that so permeates our society and look for the remarkable good in the land and times in which we live, that we speak of one another’s virtues more than we speak of one another’s faults, that optimism replace pessimism.”
A few years later, President Thomas S. Monson added:
“This is a wonderful time to be living here on earth. Our opportunities are limitless. While there are some things wrong in the world today, there are many things right…We can lift ourselves, and others as well, when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude.” (link)
While not a prophet, actress Betty White, who died this week, said the key to her longevity (99) is to “accentuate the positive, not the negative. It sounds so trite, but a lot of people will pick out something to complain about, rather than say, ‘Hey, that was great!’ It’s not hard to find great stuff if you look.” (link)
As I’ve thought about this post, I can pinpoint areas where “negativity bias” has and does affect my life, relationships and happiness. Seems that fixating on the negative makes attaining happiness more unlikely.
To me, the beginning of a new year is the perfect time to try and focus on what we are focusing on. Rather than fixate on that tiny, missing star, I should be grateful that I didn’t have 96% one-star ratings!
May we all have a wonderful 2022, full of wonderful things to fixate on, so we don’t have time to obsess about the negative.