How Negative Thinking Erodes Your Mental Resilience (Part I: Mental Biases)

Failure isn’t only inevitable; it’s necessary for authentic personal growth. Knowing and practicing this, though, isn’t just about saying you’ll develop greater endurance and thicker skin in the long term. It’s important to understand that resilience isn’t something external that you have to attain. Rather, it’s something internal that you already possess and only have to unlock. 

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Each one of us has the capacity for resilience; the only difference is that some of us are better equipped to tap into it. This has less to do with circumstantial factors like personality and upbringing, and more to do with systematically identifying and negative thinking patterns. For starters, here are the five most common types of negative thinking that erode mental resilience in the short and long run. 

Part I will focus on understanding and taking apart 2 common mental biases that distort the way we process current information, as well as how we process past events. 

 

1. Negativity bias

AKA: Being excessively pessimistic. 

Given a choice, most of us tend to see only the bad news while ignoring the good news. 

What it looks like: 

That one kid at school who cried when he got 97/100, or that one co-worker who obsesses over negative feedback despite receiving an overall good rating during her performance review. 

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Why it’s bad

Singaporeans are probably masters of pessimism, given that we’re a nation of chronic complainers. This isn’t to say that you should always content yourself with the status quo or that there aren’t genuine problems that need to be overcome. Instead, succumbing to the negativity bias will cause you unnecessary stress and anxiety, as well as an unreasonably pessimistic self-image. 

How to change it

If “look on the bright side” sounds like tired advice to you, then try practicing realistic optimism. That means you need to consciously direct your attention towards the good news in grounded, realistic ways, instead of just zooming in straight away on the bad news. 

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2. Hindsight bias

AKA: “I saw it coming!” (but not really.)

What it looks like

A co-worker plays you out at work out of nowhere, and gets assigned a project you’ve been having your eye on. You start to mentally relive all the conversations and interactions you’ve ever had with them from day one, all the while thinking “Aha! There, I should have known. Why didn’t I see it coming?” 

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Why it’s bad

It makes you ruminate excessively and overthink things that can’t be changed. Whether it was something that was in your control or not, the events of the past are in the past. 

Unless you live in the Marvel Cinematic Universe where a time machine exists, you can’t change what’s already occurred. Allowing yourself to ruminate only gets you stuck in the past unnecessarily instead of looking forward. 

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How to change it

Turn your eye towards the future. Rather than allow your disappointment to control you, remind yourself that you’re in control of your emotions. Allow yourself some time to process the negativity. Then, look ahead at how you can better protect and improve yourself so that the situation doesn’t repeat itself in the future. 

In this sense, you’re taking ownership over yourself instead of mulling passively over things you can’t control. 

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