I went to a quick workshop today on writing and something they said resonated with me and so I’ve immediately sat down to write this blog.
CONFIRMATION BIAS. If something comes to mind easily, we tend to think it’s right.
Recently, I’ve been ruminating on what an abject failure I am in all walks of my life. When Olivia told me she was leaving Darling Buds and I wondered why, my brain immediately supplied the answer that it was because of me… because I’m such a shitty person that she couldn’t stand to work in partnership with me. And so I didn’t question beyond that… I had my answer. Even as she explained that it was because she chose to follow her photography passion and she simply doesn’t have time for both, I still held on to the belief it was because of me and because she was hardly going to come out and say it to my face now, was she?
That’s confirmation bias and it’s hardwired into all of us.
When it comes to self-esteem, I think that confirmation bias works against us. When my kids misbehave the first conclusion I arrive at is that it’s because I’m a terrible parent. When my kids are perfect, polite little angels, the first conclusion I arrive at is that they’ve picked it up at school or day care. Notice how in neither of these scenarios do I see myself in any kind of positive light?
So what can we do about it? What can we do to either re-evaluate that first conclusion, or to rewire our brains towards a more positive first thought?
The psychologists I’ve worked with have the answer to that first option. When we beat ourselves up, criticise ourselves or find ourselves in a spiral of negative thinking we first need to ask “is it true?” But that requires us to have the presence of mind to realise we’re in that negative holding pattern.
The other day Ian asked what was wrong and I said “I’m useless. I’m a useless person.” Ian couldn’t wrap his mind around why I thought that to be true, but for me… I’ve spent two weeks believing it and never once thought to question it.
So, how do we rewire our brains so that we have a more positive first thought and don’t end up in that downward spiral in the first place?
Practice. Start rewiring your brain to a more positive way of thinking across everything you do. Think of the old theatre improv technique of “yes, and…” As parents, or time poor people I think we have a tendency towards saying no to others and to ourselves.
When our kids ask us to build a robot with them just as we’re about to clean the bathroom, don’t say “I can’t right now, maybe later…” Try saying “yes, and then after you can help me wipe out the bath.”
When we ask ourselves whether we’re going to the gym today or if we’re going to weed the garden today, instead of making our mental excuses (I’m tired, it’s cold out, blah blah blah…), try “”yes, and…” Yes, I’m going to the gym and I’m going to have a warm bath after. Yes, I’m going to weed the garden and I’ll make sure the wine’s chilling in the fridge so I can enjoy it after.
Making this simple change in behaviour from “no” to “yes” can be a trigger to changing our first reaction, our first thought, and our negatively focused confirmation bias.
Try “yes, and…” this week and see how it goes. See if you’re spending less time dwelling on the negative and more time enjoying the positive. I’d love to hear how it goes!