It's amazing what spring does to ones soul. With the snow (finally) melting away, the sun shining longer throughout the days and the birds singing louder on the newly budding trees, life all of a sudden just seems more hopeful. That is how I am feeling today.
But first, let me tell you how I got there.
Today I learned something new. It's a phenomenon called negativity bias, and we all have it. Since the beginning of humans actually. In a nutshell, negativity bias is "the psychological phenomenon by which humans have a greater recall of unpleasant memories compared with positive memories. People are much more biased to the avoidance of negative experiences and they tend to behave in ways that will help them avoid these events. With this, humans are much more likely to recall and therefore be influenced by the negative experiences of the past."
One of my family's favourite animated movies of the past year was The Croods and that family's mantra is a perfect illustration of negativity bias at work.
The main character, Eep, starts the movie narrating and sets the stage:
"My name is Eep. And this is my family, the Croods. If you weren't clued in already by the animal skins and sloping foreheads, we're cavemen. Most days we spend in our cave, in the dark. Night after night, day after day. Yep, home sweet home. When we did go out, we struggled to find food in a harsh and hostile world. And I struggled to survive my family. We were the last ones around. There used to be neighbors. Uh, the Gorts, smashed by a mammoth. The Horks, swallowed by a sand snake. The Erfs, mosquito bite. Throgs, common cold. And the Croods, that's us. The Croods made it, because of my dad. He was strong, and he followed the rules. The ones painted on the cave walls. Anything new is bad. Curiosity is bad. Going out at night is bad. Basically, anything fun is bad. Welcome to my world!"
Or very simply, as Thug, the dad, puts it, "Never NOT be afraid."
The problem with negativity bias and this kind of thinking is that the part of our brain that still tends to behave like that of a caveman (the amygdala or "primitive" brain) is wired to go negative and store all of that information for easy access. All our childhood (and adulthood) experiences, both experienced and seen are in there and as a result our brains are programmed to overestimate threats and underestimate opportunities and resources. This all served us very well, way back when food was scarce and the risk of getting eaten by a tiger or smashed by a mammoth were imminent. Nowadays though, this kind of thinking gets us into more trouble than we think. We are a world filled with anxiety, fear and unease. We are constantly being fed a steady diet of negativity, through the news, social media, TV shows and movies. It has gotten to the point that the positive things that happen in our daily lives can seem too small and insignificant when compared to all the terrible/awful/really bad things happening in our big world.
What's even worse than the negativity bias that makes us anxious and afraid of our big world is the smaller, and perhaps even more insidious negativity bias that affects us in our own minds. Some of you know this phenomenon as the bitch in the corner, others know it as the lizard brain, and some call it the little hater. It's that voice in our head that tells us we are not _______ enough. That voice that keeps us from doing or being our wholehearted selves, because of the fear, the doubt and the insecurity that it brings with it.
I started part two of the Brene Brown "Gifts of Imperfection" course this past week and ALL of the homework was centred around creativity and embracing ourselves as creative beings. We even had to print that on a piece of paper and place it where we can see it (and say it) everyday.
And then we had to start to heal our creative wounds. The ones that we heard as kids, the ones that we inflict upon ourselves via our little haters or the ones that we internalize from the world and society around us.
I had some wounds left over from my childhood that I didn't realize still hurt ("You just don't have a dancer's body") and then there are the ones that I hear daily either from myself or that I perceive from others ("You are not the creative/play parent" and the ever present "You are not a writer, you are just a blogger.") Putting the bandages on those wounds seemed silly at first, but choosing the words to heal them was the real medicine.
And that is what it all comes down to in the end.
Do I choose to believe the words that wound or the ones that heal? Do I choose to listen to the little haters in my mind or tell them to shut the hell up? Do I choose to live in fear, always with a certain threat level activated or do I choose to push past the fear and negativity and see the positive, no matter how small?
In The Croods, Eep and her family had to change the rules, they had to abandon their fears, reach for the sun and follow it until tomorrow. They had to evolve past the negativity bias in their brains and choose not only to live, but to live with intention. And if animated cavemen can do it, I think I can manage it too.
And that is why I am feeling hopeful today.
Every Moment is a Choice.
Retreat to the dark cave or reach for the sun?