The bad stuff is easier to remember...

The other day a friend reminded me of that scene in the
 movie Pretty Woman when Vivian and Edward are lying in bed and Edward says to
 Vivian “I think you are a very bright special woman,” and she responds “the bad 
stuff is easier to believe, you ever notice that?”

I have.

You may already know, from a previous post, that I spent an
 alarming number of years trying to prove to the world my intelligence. I read
 things like Foreign Policy Journal, learned
 how to speak Japanese, figured out computer programming, got a Masters degree 
and even considered a career in policy analysis.

Despite the awards, the compliments, the looks of bewildered 
surprise (my  favorite), all of which would satisfy me momentarily, I 
still doubted myself.

I can’t pinpoint how I came to the conclusion I
 was such a dummie… But as the saying goes, it doesn’t matter where the belief 
comes from, it just matters where it takes you.

It’s not only me and Vivian who believe the bad stuff. Psychologists
 call it negativity bias. It’s our tendency give more weight to the negative and
less weight to the positive. Wikipedia says, for example, that “when given a
piece of positive information and a piece of negative information about a
stranger, people’s judgment of the stranger will be negative, rather than
neutral.” I think we do this to ourselves as well. If you hear three
compliments and a criticism today, which do you think you’ll remember? Negative
information just has more impact on us. As Martha Beck likes to say, “you 
throw ten puppies and a cobra in the room, what are you going to notice?”

The problem is, quoting Brooke Castillo, “we have many
illogical beliefs that drive us.” She says, “If you want to know what your 
beliefs are, take a look at your life. Your life is your beliefs manifested.  
Our beliefs encompass what we do, what we say and how we act.” It’s not logical 
to believe the bad stuff over the good, but we do it anyway. And then these 
beliefs shape our lives.

Sometimes we give up and resign ourselves to a life of 
prostitution. Other times, we decide to go with the opposite strategy – we 
fight like hell to prove the thing we want everyone to believe about us so
that we might be able to
 believe it about ourselves.

A  couple of
 examples of how negativity bias can get the better of us…

I know an incredibly charming, funny, and charismatic person
 who has adopted the belief that she is fundamentally unlovable, that basically
 something is really, really wrong with her. Because she believes this crappy 
thought, she finds herself in one toxic relationship after another because she
doesn’t think she can get any better.

I know another person who just cannot bring herself to believe she’s attractive,
 despite all evidence to the contrary (trust me she’s a fox). She spends much of her time obsessed with the next best diet, a
great deal of money on the latest and greatest beauty product and is 
considering plastic surgery, all because, we came to discover, some kid on the 
playground years ago told her she was ugly.

One way to figure out if negativity bias is mucking up your
life is to ask yourself “what am I trying to prove?” I know, for example, when
I’m feeling the need to prove myself, it’s usually because
  there’s a little voice inside my head whispering, “Amy, you’re not worthy,
you’re not smart enough, you’ll never be able to do it” or something along these lines.

Quoting Brooke again, “anything you want to change in your life must be changed from the belief level if you want the change to be permanent … you must dig deep and
get to the belief that caused you to get there in the first place.”

 my case, I am a much happier person, free from the 
compulsion to prove my intelligence. Ironically, although I managed to
out some pretty good grades in grad school, I was pretty mediocre at
 all of the
things I did to prove my smarts, which just served to prove the crappy
 that I wasn’t smart enough. Now that I have changed my thinking, I get
to do
 what I want and I’ve discovered that when I believe the good stuff
 about myself, I am the amazing person I always wanted to be. Funny how 
that works.

Negativity bias turning up in your life? Tell us!

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3 Responses

  1. Julie-Anne Richards says:

    Ah Amy, you speak my language! I confess. I too have spent way too much of my life trying to prove (to myself and my family primarily) that I am intelligent. No, make that “brilliant”.
    Pigeon-holed by my family as “the pretty, popular one” in contrast to my brother – “the brilliant, introverted one”, I set out (at an early age) on a hell-bent mission to get myself out of that role. Little did I know, a role only fits if you decide to wear it!
    Three degrees, world travel, three languages, a professional career…. blah, blah, blah…. My family still insists that my brother is the “brilliant” one. (However, I have been upgraded to being “intelligent” and someone who has “good common sense” Ha!). I suppose my badge of “common sense” was in contrast to my brother’s horrific history of seriously poor choices. It’s enough to drive you insane. If you let it.
    Too often, I let it. I must take full ownership of my actions, feelings and thoughts. This striving for brilliance (or recognition thereof) is my own ridiculous doing. Sibling rivalry, base competition, run-of-the-mill insecurities… check, check, check! Ah, how embarrassing to be so predictably human!
    On my good days, not only do I know that I am intelligent, I know that “intelligent” is not all that I am, nor even the best part of me.
    This, I believe is part two of the story – to ask ourselves, not only what we are trying to prove, but why proving that at all is so obsessively important to us. Are we not the sum of many valuable, blissfully flawed and beautiful parts? So, maybe I am brilliant. Maybe I am not. Who cares?! Let me get on with living all of who I am – for me, not for anybody else.
    Let’s face it,the hilarious part of all this is that most people (those who’s approval we are seeking) are neither for you nor against you – they are busy thinking about themselves!
    Therefore, I hereby vow to stop wasting time and energy trying to prove myself to anyone. (OK, so you did think this comment was “brilliant” didn’t you?!?) Seriously. I’m stopping now. I promise.

  2. Amy Pearson says:

    OMG Julie-Anne thank you for your wonderful (and brilliant) comment and for your willingness to share. And thank you for supplying a part two. It is such a relief to move on. Even though I know nothing is really a waste, I think of all those years I spent trying to prove myself. What if I would have just believed in myself and accepted myself? What if I was able to acknowledge and appreciate all the other wonderful things about myself instead of obsessing over the things I wanted everyone else to see? I wonder what those years would have been like then… Ahh luckily I have many years and many lifetimes left :-)

  3. Awesome post Amy! I am reading the book, Mindset by Carol Dweck and it relates so much to this!

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