No question, 2020 was the year of no. No in-person meetings. No eating out. No gym. No friends or family. Not even seeing each others’ mouths for month.
We had to say no to so many things we probably don’t know how to say yes anymore.
So, after a terrible year, I have decided 2021 is the year of yes.
I will say yes to everything I can (within reason). This doesn’t include letting my kids play in traffic or buying a Maserati or selling my house. This includes saying yes to new experiences, new clients, new friends, new adventures and new skills. So far in the first week of 2021 I have said yes to parasailing, a new business opportunity, joining my kids in a freezing ocean (I said no after the water touched my feet) and returning to swimming consistently to get in shape.
I did this because I have found that the word No trips too easily off my tongue. I am more likely to have a negative bias against new, different, and potentially uncomfortable situations and I didn’t understand why.
After some research about this phenomenon, I discovered the theory of Negative Bias (Negative Bias: Why We’re Hardwired for Negativity (verywellmind.com). This describes the human tendency to focus on negative events, dwell on them and make decisions based on them. Psychologist Dr. Rick Hanson describes it this way: “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones”. (Confronting the Negativity Bias – Dr. Rick Hanson)
Why is this the case? My previous posts discussed the role of the most primitive part of the brain, the amygdala, in approaching critical decisions. It tells us to look for threats and if you sense any, to take flight or fight. We are walking around, especially lately, in a constant state of anxiety, which is easily elevated if even a perceived threat presents itself. Saying no allows us to stay safe.
In addition, negative experiences produce more neural activity than positive ones, are processed faster and more easily, and get stored in your memory more quickly. Positive things, however, take longer to sink in and get buried, as we tend to overestimate the negative and forget about the positive. (Psychological Recommendations to Help Reduce Negativity Bias | by Saarim Aslam | Mind Cafe | Dec, 2020 | Medium)
What can we do to overcome our negative bias? A few things:
Understand that your brain is trying to seek out and destroy anything that could be remotely threatening. This could include asking for a raise or crossing against the light (even if there is no one coming for miles). Don’t let a small amount of anxiety stop you from saying yes – use your brain to determine whether a real threat exists
Take a pause between the request and the word “no”. Think about why you are saying no, and what you could learn if you say yes
Savor positive moments. Write down the compliment you got. Keep a “kudos” folder in your email so you can go back and bask in your own glory. Hold onto that positive performance appraisal
Look for the people in your life that say yes. What have they learned, gained, discovered? Talk to them about their experiences and the benefits they have gained by saying yes
So what will you say yes to in 2021?