The other night, I was at my studio just messing around. One thing led to another, and I decided to do The Aging Tests. These are physical feats I’ve informally set up as a sort of aging barometer—if I can still do these, I’m not old yet.
I started with the easy one. Can I still sit down and bring my toes up to touch my nose? Check. Okay, I’m feeling smugly young at 60. But what about a cartwheel?
The REAL test of whether I’m still just really 17 (my internal age) is whether I can do a cartwheel.
I stood up and stretched a little. I assumed the cartwheel starting stance. And froze.
I literally couldn’t force myself to try.
My heart was racing, my head was hollering, “You haven’t done a cartwheel in a long time. You could break your neck. You could die. Just to prove you aren’t old? Not worth it.”
But I LOVE cartwheels. They are the epitome of childhood fun. Second only to rolling down a grassy hill. And I was in a room with a flat wooden floor. Plus, if I can’t do a cartwheel, it means I don’t pass The Aging Test. It means I’m old.
BUT, cartwheels require speed. Momentum makes the whole thing work. You can’t course correct once you’ve started.
No wonder my brain was screaming, “This could go terribly wrong!”
And that’s when I knew I was in the grips of The Dreaded Negativity Bias. As Rick Hanson explains in his book Buddha’s Brain, “Your brain preferentially scans for, registers, stores, recalls and reacts to unpleasant experiences” way more than it does positive ones. This negativity bias, “highlights past losses and failures, it downplays present abilities, and it exaggerates future obstacles.”
It’s what makes us say things like, “If I mess this up, I’ll lose my job.” It’s what makes us ask, “What’s the worst that could happen?” without countering it with, “What’s the best that could happen?” It keeps us out of danger…but if we don’t pay attention, and manually override it when appropriate, it will also keep us from taking good risks too. It will keep us stuck in bad-fit jobs and dead-end relationships.
Instead, Hanson tells us: “It takes an active effort to internalize positive experiences and heal negative ones. When you tilt toward what’s positive, you’re actually righting a neurological imbalance.” He points out that accentuating the positive has far-reaching benefits, including a stronger immune system and a cardiovascular system less reactive to stress. Plus, positive experiences “lift your mood; increase optimism, resilience, and resourcefulness; and help counteract the effects of painful experiences, including trauma.”
In other words, notice when you have positive experiences and savor them. Train yourself to see “what could go horribly right.”
Back at my studio, I tested my arm strength. Can I still stand on my hands for a second—you know, kick my feet up so that all my weight is on my arms? Yeah, no sweat. Have I ever NOT been able to do a cartwheel? No. So take a belly breath, calm down, and let’s do this thing!
Okay, ready…cartwheel stance, arms above head… Go!
Hand, hand, foot, foot—wheee! I counteract The Dreaded Negativity Bias by savoring the experience of feeling like a joyful 17-year-old girl again!
What is The Dreaded Negativity Bias keeping you from doing, trying, being? Let’s talk if you need help to get rolling again!