Worry is The Brain’s Default Position

woman focuses on working on laptop in office
The Author
Anne McKeown

With nothing to do, the mind is unable to prevent negative thoughts from elbowing their way to centre stage – worries about one’s love life, health, investments, family and job are always hovering at the periphery of attention, waiting until there is nothing pressing that demands concentration.  As soon as the mind is relaxed, the potential problems that were waiting in the wings take over.  ~  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 1990

Evolution has ensured that we are quick to attend to potential threats around us by providing us with an attention system, which orientates to the negative aspects of our environment.  As is clear from the quote above, Csikszentmihalyi believes that, unless we are occupied with other thoughts worrying is the brain’s default position. He states that we must constantly strive to escape such ‘psychic entropy’ by learning to control our consciousness and direct our attention to activities which give positive feedback and strengthen our sense of purpose and achievement.

Seligman a partner in the positive psychology movement, argues that the brain is ‘hard-wired’ to be negative. It is almost automatic for the brain to concentrate on worries and fears and for gloomy thoughts to dominate.  From a survival point of view it makes sense for our brains to prioritise negative information rather than positive. However, this unfortunately means that we pay much more attention to criticism than praise.  We have greater negative emotion if we lose $100 than positive emotion if we win $100.  It is also why bad news can easily undermine a good mood whereas good news rarely has the capacity to eliminate a bad mood. In summary, negative emotion has the ability to trump positive emotion every time.  Now that we know this we have to learn to keep negative emotions in check and amplify positive feelings.

Can you do it? Try this week and let me know how you get on…

To learn more about emotions see: Reignite your Spark

2 thoughts on “Worry is The Brain’s Default Position”

  1. Deborah Fairfull
    Deborah Fairfull

    Love the challenge Anne, yes making choices around our emotions is the key to emotional mastery.

  2. Sophie Hawkins

    I’ll definitely take the challenge of trying to focus on positive emotions for this week. I know I am prone to focusing on negative experiences, so it’ll be interesting to see how this goes for myself.

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