Motivating Through the Negativity Bias

When a goal seems out of reach, we can become flustered and discouraged, and give up instead of pressing forward. Unfortunately, most of what is posted on social media is framed in a way that can make us feel inadequate to our peers. That is because instead of Carol posting about every interview that she went to and then never heard from, she will only be posting about the dream job that she just landed. While the availability and scope of information that is readily available to us has, in many ways, enhanced our lives, much of what we see, hear, and read about can in fact be harmful to our productivity and view of our self.

It’s human nature to compare ourselves to other people to gauge how we are doing, but thanks to the accessibility of the internet, we have now started to unrealistically compare ourselves to goals that seem so out of reach that we feel discouraged.

What is affecting your employees’ in their personal lives also affects their work life and productivity at work. Resiliency training helps us to uncover biases that impair our ability to succeed. By empowering your workforce with the tools to combat negative thinking and uncover these biases, we can then adapt our thinking to me more logical and helpful.

Throughout our lives we generate many biases, and many of these biases we are completely unaware of.  A reference bias is developed when we are comparing ourselves to an unattainable goal, but we view this goal as the norm.

A recent National Public Radio story discusses the reference bias. The story explains a study which looked at students in a massive open online course or a MOOC who were grading each other’s papers and tests. When an average student was partnered with an extraordinary student, rather than the average student feeling motivated by the extraordinary student, they felt the opposite, and the average student was far more likely to quit the course.

According to Todd Rogers, a professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, “You interpret that as meaning everyone who’s participating in this course is that good. The problem is that people don’t realize these are atypical. This kind of process is called reference bias. They just – they shift who they think the reference group is, and they think this is what their peers are like.”

The reference bias is only exacerbated by another bias that nearly everyone has – the negativity bias. The negativity bias is what gets in the way of our logical and optimistic thinking. Instead of feeling motivated to catch up to the extraordinary student, our negativity bias kicks in, telling us we can never catch up and we’ll never be good enough. We feel threatened and intimidated and want to alleviate ourselves from a situation where we might become embarrassed or emotionally harmed.

According to Psychology Today article titled “Declining Student Resilience: A Serious Problem for Colleges”, students’ resiliency skills are floundering as “emergency calls to Counseling had more than doubled over the past five years and students are increasingly seeking help for, and apparently having emotional crises over, problems of everyday life.”

And it’s no wonder. The majority of people are not given proper training in resiliency to manage the chaos and complexity of the world that we have created for ourselves. Students are constantly comparing themselves to their peers who are parading their 4.0 GPA on Facebook or announcing their new internship with the Fortune 500 company on Twitter. Social media allows us to not only filter our pictures, it allows us to filter our lives. We portray only the most impressive aspects of our lives to our the thousands for people that we barely speak to or come in contact with.

As these students graduate and become the emergent workforce, resiliency will be a necessary skill to facilitate a prosperous work environment. Resiliency training gives learners the tools to set appropriate and achievable goals, to look at the big picture and not become overwhelmed, but rather feel inspired and to bounce forward from failures.

When we adapt our minds to combat the negativity bias, we foster a more creative and collaborative work environment, enhance engagement and productivity, and reduce inefficiencies.

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