Why Do We Remember the Good More Than the Bad?

Why is it that people tend to focus more on their failures than successes?
What is it about the human psyche that causes us to remember the bad more than the good?
Why do we beat up on ourselves when we make mistakes, while fleeting past our victories?

It’s that 1 negative thing …

In any given day, I may accomplish much, but it’s the 1 negative thing or interaction that leaves a lasting imprint on my mind. It’s that 1 single mistake that keeps replaying in my head, ignoring all the other positive events of the day.

I recently had such a day. I’d done many things well, but didn’t hit the mark on another task. So I lamented over my presumed incompetence: “Why, why, why didn’t you think things through?” I chastised myself.

Reality check

As I continued to replay this broken record, it suddenly dawned on me how self-indulgent I was being. Because within the same day, I had shared a very intimate conversation with a young man who’d lost his father to prostate cancer, and found out 6 months later that his mother had lung cancer.

Talk about a reality check! Here I was feeling sorry for myself, when I could be grateful for the privilege of having shared such a personal and honest conversation. It was humbling how this young man spoke about his experience with such boldness and courage.

Is it human nature?

So I ask again, why do we remember the bad more than the good?

“It’s in human nature,” says social psychology Professor Roy Baumeister, whose research states that, “Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.”

Communication Professor Clifford Nass provides further insight on this, “The brain handles positive and negative information in different hemispheres. Negative emotions generally involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones. Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events—and use stronger words to describe them—than happy ones.”

5 good for every 1 bad

So it’s not just me. I’m not crazy or unusual for focusing on negative experiences. I don’t need to beat myself up when things go wrong. Plus, it’s refreshing to note that positive thinking and living isn’t just a soft and fluffy feel-good term, it’s cerebral, and necessary for healthy balanced living.

According to Professor Baumeister, “Many good events can overcome the psychological effects of a bad one.” The ratio is apparently 5 goods for every 1 bad, which is a great reminder that we need to show more love and compassion for others and ourselves.

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4 thoughts on “Why Do We Remember the Good More Than the Bad?

  1. so very true Uwana. I replay bad choices over and over again, especially when I’m trying to fall asleep, I imagine what I should have done, and what can I possibly do to fix it. sometimes I think this is good tho, because you CAN go back sometimes and correct it. other times, it’s just beating myself up until I ask for forgiveness. either way, I’ve learned something! I think we focus on the bad, because we KNOW inside the good should be there all the time!! :)

    • Hi Shards!!

      Yeah, the night times can be a circus. I actually birthed these thoughts when sitting still at night. You’re right in that there are lessons to be learned through introspection. But sometimes I take it too far, which like you said, is when we should seek wise counsel. We should always strive for good, but I’m learning that I need to celebrate my victories and successes as much as I harp on the negative things when they do happen. Bless!

  2. We are all our own worst critics. I always remember the bad more than the good. One negative comment seems to overrule a hundred positive ones, it seems. And there is so much we take for granted until we lose it, or until, as you mentioned, we are suddenly forced to compare our own lives to others. I guess that’s what travel and a widened perspective is all about. Then again, one of my favorite blogger friends reminded me that you could travel the whole world and gain nothing if you were not open to what the world had to show you…

    I guess it’s something we all need to work on. At least you’re aware of this!!!
    Blessings, friend. :)

    • Hi Jessica! At least it seems like I’m not the only one. Sometimes I wear myself out with the self-criticism. And you make a good point that travel and being open-minded help keep us grounded. For me, volunteer work or giving back of my time in some way, also helps take me out of my headspace. Unfortunately though, I haven’t had much time to do that. Thanks for helping me feel more “normal” LOL ;)

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