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Negativity Bias


My mind shows signs of wear.

My body is sore, achy, and tired.

But these are just effects of work. They are not inherently "good" or "bad." They just are...

And not only did I sign up for them, but I did so with the expectation that they would be part of the process. And so, I am far more willing to work through these sensations of body and mind.

Yesterday, my thought around mile 5 was, "This is the hardest run and the worst I've felt in a while..." Then I smiled, chuckling to myself, and thought, "Well, if this is the worst that it is, I'm good to go. I can handle it."

It's never really as bad as our mind wants us to initially believe. But as humans, it's so much easier to talk ourselves out of doing something hard, instead of staying the course and working through the difficulty. We have the tendency to believe that difficult = negative.

And that's just not true.

Have you ever heard of negativity bias?

I've heard the same story from several meditation practitioners, mindfulness educators, and positive psychologists. It goes something like this...

In the age of cave men, two cave people were out wandering around, hunting for food for their village. They came upon a cave. It was dark, cold, and ominous. One cave person said, "we should go in! There's bound to be something good inside, something in which we can feed our family's." The other cave person looked back, perplexingly, and responded, "are you kidding? It is cold and dark and scary in there. What if there's a bear or a lion and we get eaten? There's no way I'm going in that cave." And so, they agreed to disagree. The first cave person ventured into the cave, was immediately eaten by a lion, and the second cave person heard him screaming the whole time. He went back to the village and explained to the other cave people what had happened and scared the entire community from ever venturing into a dark, scary cave in the future.

And then, the cave people that heard the story of this one instance, continued teaching their children of the dangers of caves, and the children their children, and so on so forth. So much so, that even to this day, some of us are scared to go into a cave because of the fear associated with this one, single story, shared from generation to generation to generation.

Did this story actually happen? Who knows... But it's not actually about the story. It's about the perceptions we build in our lives and how susceptible we are to believe negativity from fear or doubt or unease. We all have this extreme tendency to believe that fear is bad, pain shouldn't happen, and the unknown should never be explored or realized.

Since running discovered me back in 2017, I've often thought about how running was implemented within the realms of all the sports I played as a child. It was nearly always punishment. Mess up on a drill in soccer? Take a lap. Goofing off during 7th grade basketball practice? Go to the other gym and run until I tell you to stop. Ever heard of "Suicides?" Suicides are a drill performed in many sports, but I mainly remember them from basketball. It involves sprinting from baseline to foul line to baseline to 3-point line to baseline to half court line... you get the picture. Suicides were used in conditioning, but they were also used as punishment.

First off, if you're a coach and you're still using the term "Suicide" during practice... STOP. There is no need to continually use this term to slander mental health victims. Secondly, if you're a coach that is still using running as punishment, STOP IT! Running should not be punishment. EVER. Running is one of the healthiest forms of exercise in which any person can engage. You are scaring kids and impeding their ability to recognize, early in life, that running is a healthy, fun activity.

You want to punish your student-athlete? Take some playing time away from them during a game. Do it regardless of who they are, or how good they are. Star player shows up 10 minutes late to practice? Great. Star players loses 10 minutes of game time. They will learn that if they want to play the game, they have to take the entire process seriously. Don't like that punishment? Ok- use sitting as punishment. Sitting is one of the most silent killers in our society. We sit and become lethargic to the point that standing and walking hurts. Whatever you do, just stop punishing children with exercise. Exercise is necessary for everyone for the entirety of life.

Negativity bias is our choice to believe the negative before a neutral or positive. It is a choice to not engage in a practice or experience because of belief, not because we formed the opinion on our own experience. This is an unfair-to-you way to live your life.

Don't put the ass in assumption. If there's something you've always wanted to do, but you're scared or unsure if you can do it, DO IT! Even if you fail, you will learn, and from that education, you can form your own opinion on the experience. Then, you can decide if you will do it again. If you do, you can apply the lessons learned from the first experience and knock it out of the park the second time.

Give yourself the opportunity to grow by taking chances on yourself. Fear is not bad. Fear is normal. If there's actually a bear or lion in front of you, maybe listen to that fear and don't proceed. But if the fear is simply from a mental block, or a story you heard from your parent or neighbor, knock that shit off and go experience a life that encourages you to live. Because right now, we are all alive.

Take the chance. Go for it! You'll be glad you did.

All this to say, I'm incredibly fortunate to experience pain. I love that I am able to experience fear. The fact that I can choose to overcome these sensations and perceptions by doing something as simple as running is pretty damn cool. At least I think it is. And it reapplies to mental and physical health, to other adventures and explorations, to love and relationships, to everyday life kind of experiences. It is all valuable in our bank of "shit I've overcome, persevered, and prospered anyway."

Don't believe the negativity bias in your brain. Give yourself the opportunity to experience the life you desire to live.

Patrick Messenger


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