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The Friday Five

Negativity Bias: 5 Ways to Break the Cycle of Negativity

By Jamie Spannhake

All humans struggle with negativity bias. For lawyers, though, sussing out worst-possible outcomes and anticipating threats is part of the job.

lawyer negativity bias

“I slept till 8:30. I wish I’d woken up earlier. I have so much to do. I know it’s Sunday, but tomorrow is Monday and there’s laundry to do and that letter to write. I could have worked out already. Look, it’s 9 a.m. and I’ve done nothing!”

This was my brain on Sunday. This is my negativity bias.

You’ve Probably Heard of Negativity Bias

We all suffer from negativity bias because it is biologically ingrained in us. The theory is that when our ancestors were living on the Serengeti plains, those who had a bias toward noticing threats — like lions and tigers — lived longer. So our species has a bias toward noticing the negative.

While all humans struggle with negativity bias, lawyers face it more often. Our work is largely focused on anticipating the threats that our clients might face and helping to avoid them. Or dealing with the ramifications of those threats after they became reality.

How to Reduce the Negative Side Effects of Negativity

So we lawyers are in a push-pull situation, struggling against and working with our negativity bias. But that doesn’t mean we can’t work to reduce the unhealthy side effects of lawyer negativity bias — especially in our personal lives. Here are five ways.

1. Start With Gratitude

Make a conscious effort to focus on the positive aspects of your life. Regularly reflecting on things you’re grateful for can help shift your attention away from the negative. Consider keeping a gratitude journal to jot down positive moments and experiences. Simply stopping a moment to think about any positive experiences will help shift our minds out of negativity.

2. Be Present in the Moment

Engage in mindfulness practices to stay present and observe your thoughts and experiences without judgment. When you find yourself focusing on the negative, simply stop and breath. Close your eyes. Then reopen them and reassess the situation, neutrally or by focusing on the positive. Meditation can help with being present in the moment. It allows us to become more aware of the negativity bias and teaches us to redirect focus to the present moment, fostering a more balanced perspective.

3. Challenge Negative Thoughts

Actively challenge and reframe negative thoughts. When you catch yourself dwelling on something negative, ask yourself if there’s an alternative, more positive interpretation. This cognitive restructuring can help break the cycle of negativity.

4. Surround Yourself With Positivity

Seek out positive environments, relationships and activities. Surrounding yourself with uplifting people and engaging in activities that bring you joy can counteract the effects of the lawyer negativity bias. Positive social interactions and experiences can have a powerful impact on your overall mindset.

5. Practice Self-Compassion

Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a friend. Recognize that everyone makes mistakes and faces challenges. Instead of being overly self-critical, practice self-compassion by acknowledging your imperfections and embracing a growth mindset. We don’t need to be perfect to be successful or happy.

Breaking the Cycle of Negativity Takes Time and Consistent Effort

Small changes in your daily habits and mindset can gradually lead to a more positive outlook. So, instead of my negative perception of my Sunday morning, I could have had these thoughts:

“I got to sleep in today. That’s so rare and luxurious. Clearly, my body needed the rest and I’m so thankful I was able to get the rest I needed. My child slept in too. My dog didn’t need to go out, and even the cats didn’t wake me with a paw in my face. Now I’m rested and ready for the day so I can get the laundry done and make progress on my work this weekend. Grateful for my life.”

Give it a try.

Image © iStockPhoto.com

The Lawyer, the Lion, and the Laundry book cover

Three Hours to Finding Your Calm in the Chaos

By Jamie Jackson Spannhake

In this bestselling book written for lawyers, former Biglaw litigator Jamie Spannhake helps you clarify your desires and set priorities so you can reclaim your time and enjoy your life. Available in soft-cover and digital format.


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Jamie Spannhake Jamie Spannhake

Jamie Jackson Spannhake is a writer, coach for lawyers, and speaker. She helps busy lawyers create lives they truly want, lives with time and space to do all the things she was told she couldn’t do as a successful lawyer. Her work with clients is based upon the principles in her book, “The Lawyer, the Lion, & the Laundry.” She spent nearly 20 years practicing law in New York and Connecticut, in BigLaw, as a solo, and as a partner in a small firm. Learn more about her at JamieSpannhake.com, or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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