Archive | February, 2019

‘Soaking Up the Good’ – Getting Rid of our Negativity Bias

24 Feb

Our penchant for focusing on the negative stuff happening in our lives is a hand me down from our cave-dwelling ancestors.

Back then, being alert and focusing on the dangers in the environment helped them survive, but today, favouring the imprinting of negative information in our brains for long periods of time, end up muffling all the positive experiences we’ve had.

Imagine, you’ve spent the day out with your family, watched a film, shopped, and ended the day with a dinner laced with laughter and bickering. Going home, your son reminds you of something he needs for school the next day – and then, you argue, and your spouse joins in and he picks on you and chooses that very moment to highlight your flaws; You get home exhausted and in a bad mood. For days you aren’t able to get over all the negative comments made on that day. You peg that day as a negative experience although only a small part of the day was turbulent. The rest of the positive experiences you had on that day takes a back seat.

This is what psychologists refer to as a ‘negativity bias’ – Our in built tendency to give more attention to the negatives rather than the positives – in ourselves, in others and in our daily experiences.

Which means, the bad stuff stick faster and lingers longer in the brain, than the happy stuff.

That’s why when I am shown pictures of me having a great time with my friends, I am quick to spot all the flaws – my hair not curling the right way or the tip of my nose looking so bulbous or me looking shorter than the rest of my friends and so forth. The good times are pushed to the back and I end up letting my thoughts focus on how unflattering my photographs are.

The very same negativity bias that served our ancestors well, is now a hindrance to our wellbeing and productivity, as all it does now, is keep our brain obsessed with the adverse experiences of life.

That’s why they say that it takes more than three compliments to make up for one criticism!

Who says you need to accept this bias? You can counterbalance this disproportionate focus towards negativity by-

  • Being Mindful of the daily happenings in your life. How do you observe the world around you? Are you one of them who pays more attention to the negative happenings in your life?
  • Making a conscious effort to value and appreciate all the positive things happening in your life. Savor them and allow them to soak into your memory and feel good about them.
  • Recognizing when negative thoughts like juggernauts begin to take over your brain. At that time break the pattern of negativity by doing something that keeps you from feeding these thoughts- go for a walk, listen to music or call a friend.
  • Talking to that inner voice which points out all your shortcomings. Be calm, gently change his perception and point out to him the bigger picture where both positive and negative experiences coexist. Be kind to yourself.
  • Practicing gratitude. Life has innumerable challenges but there is a multitude of blessings beneath the surface, which is taken for granted. Train your mind to look for them and shine your spotlight on them. It is an antidote to focusing on the negatives.

The good news is that our brains innate neuroplasticity make it possible to retrain it to spot the good things in life. We construct our reality. A large part of how we feel depend on where we choose to put our attention.

With conscious awareness and practice we can find many opportunities to weave in the sunny moments of our lives, into the fabric of our brain, thus overriding its natural tilt towards negativity.



Understanding and Raising a Child with a Difficult Temperament.

6 Feb

Right from birth, children display a distinct style of responding to the environment They have their own style of approaching the world — also known as their temperament.

Temperament is not something the child chooses and there are no right or wrong temperaments but understanding these traits is essential so that you learn to respond effectively to his/her unique personality.

As you watch your child interact with his surroundings you will discover his/her preferred style of relating to the happenings around him.

Does he/she have an easy going nature and adapt well to new situations and people, or is he/she overwhelmed by new routines? Does he/she have a cheerful demeanour, or is he/she moody and irritable most of the time? Is he/she extra sensitive to sensory stimulation? Does he/she fret and fume often? Are his/her emotional reactions intense? Does he/she take a while to warm up and adapt to changes in the environment? Is he/she timid or curious?

When parents are not attuned to the needs and ‘wiring’ of the child, then both — the parent and the child experience distress. Since the pattern of interaction between them is mutually reinforcing, exchanges between them will then produce a rise in the already existing difficult behaviour. For the child, that builds resentment and anger, while for the parent, its frustration and helplessness.

Accepting the difficult temperament of a child does not mean that you step back from helping him/her modify his/her behaviour. Instead it means that you use empathetic and caring ways to alleviate the distress they cause to themselves and others.

When there is congruence between the child’s temperament, and the expectations of parents and others in that environment, chances are that the child will do better in cognitive, academic and social adjustments than his counterparts who don’t have the same environmental fit.

To achieve this congruence, you need to reassess all your ideas and beliefs on parenting.

Parenting books and well meaning friends may offer advice on the ‘right’ way to bring up a child, but the only way that works, is to create your own guidelines based on your childs temperament.

The important thing is to be accepting and responsive to his individuality.

Parenting a difficult child can be exhausting. These children are far more sensitive to the quality of parenting than children with an easy demeanour.

No amount of yelling or punishing or giving empty threats or shutting down will help in dealing with the behaviour of a difficult child.

Calm, responsive and sensitive parenting coupled with generous amount of patience and persistence can help guide these children into behaviour patterns that increase their self esteem, self confidence and adaptability.

A few markers going forward in achieving this calm

· Understand and accept how your child usually behaves in most situations. Also be aware of how you respond in those situations. Its the way we talk to our children that becomes their inner voice.

· Consider how your actions impact the outcome of the interaction you have with your child.

· Without criticism, encourage them to take baby steps toward the preferred behaviour while praising them for the effort they have made. For e.g. Tim being shy refuses to come out to greet the guests. His parents unapologetically explain to the guests that Tim needs a little more time to start a conversation. They also reassure Tim saying that there are people do hesitate to meet new people, and tells Tim that when he feels like he could say ‘hello’ to the guests and get back to his room. This makes Tim feel at ease as his parents have understood him. By giving Tim the suggestion to just say a ‘hello’, his parents have allowed him to feel the success of having overcome his shyness in a small way.

· At times you need to tweak the environment so that your child experiences success. This requires you to reflect on the behaviour that is bothersome and rearrange things such that it minimizes the opportunities for challenging behaviour.

· Creating a reward system helps in managing behaviour. Set small, clear achievable goals which when achieved are followed by praise and rewards, e.g. Its great to see that you completed your homework before you set out to play. Being specific in praise will spur them to continue doing more of the same behaviour

· On a regular basis, spend a little time with each child individually, doing an activity that’s enjoyable to him/her. Make this time frequent and predictable, so children anticipate it. This allows a closer bond to be forged between the child and parent which make kids want to co-operate and emulate the qualities of the parent.

· Teach them how to communicate. Sometimes children behave in a certain fashion in order to tell us something or achieve a goal. Look for what it is they are trying to tell us. Help them become aware of their feelings and build an emotional vocabulary so that they do not use negative behaviour to communicate.

· Be Mindful of your triggers. Be aware of what drives you crazy and and have some strategies in your parenting tool box that help you tackle those situations without reacting emotionally.

Change is a process and does not happen immediately. Some behaviours take time to change. It can be frustrating, but harsh confrontational interactions need to be replaced with a balance of encouragement and control so that the child gradually learns to be more adapting, more cheerful, and more calm.

It’s a misconception that parenting is something you automatically know the moment you become a parent. Parenting is a lot of learning. Its okay to ask for help. If you find yourself getting sapped and drained out raising your children, then its time to meet a counsellor to better equip yourself with strategies to ensure that parenting remains a rewarding experience.