In the past two days 20 presidential contenders went on stage in Detroit to convince the American public he/she is the man or woman for the job. Oprah’s spiritual advisor Marianne Williamson was one of the candidates that invited the most interest online. Google Trends showed that she’s the most searched Democratic candidate in 49 of the 50 states during the debate. Her message, light on policy specifics but heavy on spirituality may have piqued everyone’s interest and fascination.
Wiliamson, a self-help author appealed to me probably because of some bias. As she’s someone I can identify with, a self-help author, though monumentally more successful. The word bias, in a politically heated time like an election season, (though it does feel like it’s politically heated in America all the time), is thrown around with regularity. The word which may have entered the human lexicon in the 1500s, evolving from the French word biais meaning “a slant, a slope, an oblique” usually implies a negative connotation when used as a modifier.
A bias is something we develop, either because of how we are raised or the kind of views we are exposed to, but there is a particular one that is intrinsic to how our mind is designed. According to Cleveland Clinic Wellness, our brains are hardwired to “take in and register negative experiences more deeply than positive experiences.” As psychologist Rick Hanson, a senior fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley puts it, “The brain is like velcro for negative experiences but teflon for positive ones.”
Hanson also noted that a negative stimuli leads to more brain activity than positive ones. “They are also perceived more easily and quickly,” he said. This is the reason why polarizing, divisive, or even scandalous messages appeals to us most. The same applies to insults or accusations we receive. They tend to stick and dominate in our minds and as expected leads to an unhealthy emotional state. “Through MRI imaging, researchers have proven that negative thoughts stimulate the areas of the brain that promote depression and anxiety,” notes the Cleveland Clinic Wellness.
Most of our thoughts are a carryover of the previous day’s ideas, majority of which leans on the negative. They are recycled and not for a better purpose. This is why it’s important to train the mind on new things and allow it to grow out of the old forms of thinking we possess—including the ones we just had yesterday. In the Scripture, believers are told to allow their minds to be transformed by their Creator, to divest “the customs of this world.” Those that are antiquated, irrelevant, and devoid of love, compassion and even hope. We must focus our minds on new possibilities and look into the future with an upgraded lens.
In order to do this, self-help gurus and productivity experts suggest that we read something positive or uplifting minutes after waking up. It helps set our mood and the direction of how we’ll go about the rest of the day. They urge that we don’t reach out for our phones the moment we wake up (which up to 60 percent of smartphone users do), where we can end up scrolling through negativity and bad news. Our social media streams serving an unending source of information that feeds into our negativity bias.
Our differences are revealed in times when we have to make a choice, when we are forced to pick one thing from a bevy of options. This as true in choosing a person to vote for president as it is when doing our groceries. But it also applies to decisions we make about how we think. We can choose to perpetuate our negativity bias or start shifting it today.