Our therapist says that human brains have a “negative bias”; that is, they look for negative data and store those data for later comparison against current contexts. Humans naturally look for danger, like carrying a smoke detector with us wherever we go.
This hard-wired process, thousands of years in the making, may help explain some common anxieties: you may dread going to social events because you’re worried so-and-so will be a jerk or because you’re worried about embarrassing yourself. You feel generally uneasy in a crowd.
You’re not crazy and you’re in good company if you look at the same general circumstances negatively over and over (you hate your job, you’re afraid of snakes, etc.).
Once our brains set the negative patterns we are wired to identify (think of early humans looking at shadowy rocks or trees to discern a predatory animal or person), we start looking for confirmation to reinforce our conclusion. I didn’t get a raise so my job does suck. I told a joke and no one laughed so parties are awful.
You are practicing “confirmation bias”–seeing only what you are looking for. It’s natural. You just may be unaware of it, and starting a new practice–to look for good in things or to approach situations with no expectations at all–takes conscious effort. It is not hard-wired.
Raise your hand if you love conscious effort to self-improve.
Still, think of anything you’ve ever been good at or think of someone you admire who has a specific talent. Being good takes a lot of practice. Progressing from strangling the violin to producing a soothing sound to playing classical music takes regular practice. Learning to drive took practice. Driving gets easier because we practice so much.
Sound daunting for dropping your negative expectations? Here’s the thing: you’ve already been practicing negative confirmation bias for years. That’s why you’re so good at it (and you’re naturally inclined to identify danger)!
Starting a new endeavor takes practice and time. While writing this, someone we were loath to see arrived on time for his service call. We tried to bring no expectation to the meeting. Merely the absence of negative bias allowed sincerity to appear in us. What a pleasant experience! And one that can be practiced.
So next time you notice yourself dreading an upcoming event or experience, practice dropping your negative bias–just noticing it allows you to set it down like a backpack filled with heavy, sharp boulders. Ahh, so much lighter to walk without expectations! Having no expectations allows you to respond to the actual situation, not to your prior negative experiences or your imagined negative experiences.