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Overcoming the negativity bias with mental flexibility

When we worry about things beyond our control the “control, accept, and now act” method (CAN) can help us think more flexibly and see the world differently. Performance coach Kim Tay tells us more. Some content has been adapted from New Zealand Institute of Wellbeing and Resilience’s resources.

Watch: Overcoming the negativity bias

Video Transcript: Mental Flexibility to save time and energy

[Audio/ Visual: Gentle music starts playing. This music remains for the entirety of the video. A blue introduction screen with white logo. The word “presents” in smaller, thinner lettering is beneath the logo. These words disappear and are replaced with white text “Brave in business e-learning series”. These disappear. White text saying
“The negativity bias and mental flexibility with Kim Tay The Wellbeing Works” then appear in the centre of the screen.]
[Visual: The screen changes to a profile shot of Kim Tay sitting in an office space. The words “Kim Tay” is shown in the bottom left of the screen in white lettering and disappear after a few seconds. The logo is shown on the bottom right and remains there for the duration of the video.]
Welcome to the first video in a series on using Mental Flexibility to save time and energy. Mental Flexibility means being able to change the way we think and respond to situations.
In this video, we’ll look at how the way our brains have evolved is no longer always very helpful and can slow us down. Then we’ll discuss a tool to overcome this.
Can you think of a time when you’ve had some feedback? Perhaps someone said two really good things and one not-so good-thing, but you only remember the not so good thing.
[Visual: White lettering saying ““Well planned, easy to deal with, but a bit rushed”” appear on the left-hand side of Kim Tay.]
Like a client review that had “well planned, easy to deal with, but a bit rushed”?
[Visual: The shot of Kim Tay re-centres and the words disappear.]
Think about how you’d react.
That last point that the job was ‘a bit rushed’ is likely to really stick in your mind.
It might make you feel bad, you might keep thinking about it, wondering “What did they mean? What else I could have done? Will they want to do business with us again?
Feedback is useful, but our brains don’t take in all feedback in the same way.
Our brains tend to dwell on negative feedback and give it too much weight. This is what I meant when I said the way our brains have evolved can slow us down. But why did our brains evolve this way?
[Visual: A light blue graphic of “Bob” is doodled onto the screen, on the left-hand side of Kim Tay. “Bob” is a cave man, with scruffy hair, a beard, a one-shouldered shirt, and is only drawn chest-up. Bob’s little dot eyes move left and right before re-centring. His eyes remain stationary after that. Three sound-ray lines omit from bob’s head before disappearing again.]
[Visual: A graphic of a sabretooth tiger appears on the right-hand side of Kim Tay. It’s the same size as Bob and the same colour. These two graphics remain in place as Kim talks before disappearing after 10 seconds.]
If we cast our minds back to our really early ancestors and imagine Bob pops his head out of his cave to go hunting. In the corner of his eye, he sees a shadow. His brain focuses on the warning, so he stays in his cave on high alert, in case the shadow turns out to be a sabre-toothed tiger.
Being highly responsive to possible threats kept our ancestors alive, but in the modern world, our brains still respond in the same way, even though these threats are typically not life threatening. For example, when we get negative feedback or have a computer meltdown – our brains get the same flood of stress hormones.
We are hardwired to focus on the negative.
[Visual: A graphic of a thumbs down appears on the right of Kim Tay. Directly to the left of the thumbs down is the words “The Negativity Bias”. This disappears after 5 seconds.]
This hardwiring is called the negativity bias.
And often, it’s easy to dwell on things that we can’t control, like price increases, the weather, or the looming tax deadline.
One way to overcome the negativity bias is to be mentally flexible and switch our focus.
[Visual: A graphic swoops in on the left-hand side of the screen. The graphic is three blue circles, stacked atop each other, but slightly askew so each is visible beside one another. The top circle is light blue and has the letter “C” on it, the second circle is a medium blue and has the letter “A” in it, and the last circle is a dark blue and has the letter “N” in it.]
[Visual: Beneath the “CAN” circle graphic appears the words “Control”, “Accept” and “Now act” one after each other, in simple white lettering.]
The CAN technique is an effective way to do this. ‘CAN’ stands for ‘control’, ‘accept’, and ‘now act’.
[Visual: The to “A” and “N” circles dissapear along with the words “Accept” and “Now act” So only the “C” light blue circle and the word “Control” remain. These both dissapear after 5 seconds.]
When you face a challenging situation, write down the things you can control – that’s the “C” in CAN. What can you influence? Where do you have room to move?
For example if you’re worrying about how much time you’re spending pricing jobs that go nowhere, maybe the things you can control are: How much detail you put in your quotes; how much time you spend doing each one; what types of projects or clients you choose to quote for.
[Visual: The “A” medium blue circle reappears along with the word “Accept” underneatht the circle in white littering. Then the “A” circle and “Accept” dissapear after 5 seconds.]
The A in CAN stands for Accept. Write a list of the things you have to just accept and let go, no matter how frustrating they are or how much your brain just wants to keep thinking about them. In this example you might have the cost of materials is putting clients off; the market is really competitive at the moment; interest rates are going through the roof.
[Visual: The “N” dark blue circle appears as well as white lettering “Now act” beneath it. The “N” circle and “Now act” wording dissapears after 5 seconds.]
The N in CAN is for – now act. What can you do now? Examples might be: Give clients initial quotes with less detail; put in estimates and approximate ranges to save time and to gauge their interest. Develop a standardized document that shows your value. Work out what types of jobs and clients you’re more likely to have success with, then focus on finding and developing those opportunities.
The CAN technique stops us from being dragged down by the negativity bias and dwelling on problems that are out of our control. Use it to take action, you’ll have more confidence and motivation to take proactive steps.
We’ll share two other mental flexibility tools in the next two videos on unlocking potential and challenging common thinking traps.
[Visual: Blue outro screen with white logo. After a few seconds logo is replaced with Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Hīkana Whakatutuki logo on the left-hand side and the Te Kāwanatanga o Aotearoa, New Zealand Government logo on the right-hand side.]
[Video ends]
Tip: Overcoming negativity bias with mental flexibility

Tip: Overcoming negativity bias with mental flexibility

You CAN be mentally flexible. Read an example of the CAN method, then answer several questions when you face a challenge.

Become mentally flexible with CAN

Back to the e-learning series

“Return to the “Mental flexibility” e-learning series for more on how you can introduce flexible thinking in your business and in your life.

Mental flexibility e-learning series

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