May 2017 Making Your Gray Matter

What You Appreciate Appreciates

During an average day, do you focus more on what you have or what you have not? Do you pay more attention to what’s going right or what’s going wrong?

If you’re like me, you probably fall victim to the brain’s “Negativity Bias.” Our brains’ primitive systems were conditioned to pay attention to negative things in the environment because those were potential threats to survival. And while our environments have changed, and aren’t as threatening anymore, that primitive part of our brain is still hard at work focusing on negatives.

Unfortunately, that negative bias causes us to pay attention more to negatives than necessary and overlook the positives. In other words, by “appreciating” all of the bad stuff, it appreciates! For example, if there’s a person in my life I struggle relating to, I’m tempted to focus on all of the things about him/her that bother me. By focusing on those things, they become more apparent every time we interact. This serves to only drive a wedge further between us.

What happens if we decide to appreciate those parts of that person that I do like? Focus on the things we have in common? By making this simple shift in attention, I start to see this person differently; not as a collection of unlikable traits, but as a person I can relate to better. This doesn’t mean that I ignore those traits I don’t like, but I put them on the “back burner.”

This concept applies well beyond interpersonal differences. What things do you appreciate about your life?

  • Relationships (with others and with yourself)
  • Health
  • Material possessions (this doesn’t mean that you are materialistic, but that you appreciate what you have)
  • Life experiences (past and present)
  • Future plans

For just a week, at the end of each day, write down, think about or say three good things from your day that your appreciate. Be specific and don’t simply repeat the same things each day. By doing this, you’ll start seeing more things that you want to appreciate.