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.
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.