In my last post, I outlined how our tendencies to adapt, focus on the negative, and be bad forecasters make it harder for us to focus on the good, make the most of positive experiences, and focus on what is going well in our lives. Here I give 5 tips for fighting these unfortunate tendencies:
1. Recognize these tendencies exist.
If you understand that you are somewhat programmed to focus on the negative and stop appreciating what is good in your life, then you can do a better job of catching it when it is happening. You can’t stop it completely. But if you find yourself complaining a bit too loudly and too often, you can say, “uh oh, that’s my negative bias, time to shut up and focus on something good.”
2. Change your perspective.
Develop a habit of focusing on the good. Actively go about your day looking for what is right instead of what is wrong. To do this successfully, you will probably have to…
3. Make some rules.
Part of developing a good habit is setting up clear rules for yourself. Commit to sharing at least one good thing that happened to you each day with your family or friends in the evening. Keep a gratitude journal – formal or informal – just jot it down in a notebook when you see something good or notice something beautiful. When you fall prey to these tendencies again, look back at your list and remember how much good is still in your life. If setting up rules without an end date feels to big, then try an experiment. Commit to doing something different that helps you focus on the positive for a week or two and see how you feel at the end of it.
4. Try mental subtraction.
Sometimes you can give hedonic adaptation a kick for a while by imagining that some of the good things in your life are no longer there. If I want to focus on all of the features I appreciate about my house, I compare it to my old house and help put myself back in my original state of mind from when I first moved in and everything was new and lovely. When I hear on the news that there was a car accident on my husband’s commute route, I imagine how I would feel if I found out he wasn’t coming home from work. Suddenly any grievances I have with him disappear in a quick poof and I just feel relief and gratitude when he walks through the door.
5. Pretend you are giving advice to someone else.
We can often give others better advice than we can give ourselves. Bad forecasting keeping you from making good choices about how to spend your free time? Negativity bias making you feel like nothing is going right in your life? Try imagining that you are giving advice to a good friend—what would you encourage them to do?
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