The human brain fascinates me. This author of this article explains a biological evolutionary characteristic – the human brain wants to be negative.
The explanation makes sense but is equally fascinating: Negative-feeling hormones like cortisol are immensely valuable from an evolutionary standpoint. These help a person to identify and respond to obstacles that may endanger a person. Negative hormones are super accessible in a healthy brain.
Our brains are meant to find problems. Our brains like to be negative.
Conversely, happy-hormones like serotonin are in shorter supply and are much less accessible. From an evolutionary standpoint, they have their place, but are harder to tap into. They’re frequently in short supply and are evolutionarily meant for short bursts of activity and hyper-focus.
Our inner selves want to be positive. The self and the brain are often at odds with one another.
If you’ve felt this inner game of tennis, like you’re traveling down a negative feedback cycle and struggling to snap out of it, it’s nothing to feel ashamed of. In fact, given the previously stated facts, it’s no wonder that we – as leaders and professional problem solvers – can be so focused on the glass so frequently being half empty. If we weren’t good at identifying these solutions, we wouldn’t be good at our jobs – so this is to be embraced to a degree. But how do we identify when things are out of balance? And how do we keep things together and maintain our position of positive influence on others? There are three things that help me:
1. Recognize what is happening. If I get too focused on all of the things that are not perfect, I hear it in my social circles. My friends approach me less. I might even hear comments that let me know I’m being too negative. I am always listening for these flags to pop up so I can course correct ASAP.
2. Externalize the negativity. I am frequently inundated with solving problems, so much that it can feel like everything is a problem that needs to be solved. I will create lists or journals to itemize everything I am currently trying to optimize in my job environment. This serves to remind me that the amount of things I’m focused on solving are fewer than it feels – and if I need to, I can systematically mark each off the list sequentially.
3. Do things that perpetuate positive hormones. Don’t be afraid to use reasonable bio-hacks when necessary. Going outside, exercising, socializing, and laughing allows you to feel dopamine and other happy-hormones. I personally enjoy doing really intense Crossfit WODS (workouts), as I find they bring on that endorphin rush and snap me into a positive mindset quickest. These grand moments interrupt chains of negativity and allow for new feedback cycles to begin.
What works for you? How do you stay balanced on identifying problems without letting everything feel like a problem in life?