The stickiness of negativity: Why a negative comment hogs your attention

Why is it so much easier to get stuck in negativity than board the pleasure cruise of positivity? How come a snarky comment affects us deeper than a compliment? The root of that lies way back but fortunately, the means to change this is under our control.

Let’s have a look at the nature of negativity for a change because we need to understand it first and then we can deal with it in a meaningful way.

Looking-glass World

Imagine you are doing a presentation and are speaking to a group of people. Looking at their faces, you can tell that they all are interested in your talk, some are even smiling. All, but one. One person looks really annoyed.

What are the odds that you solely focus on the annoyed person and completely overlook everybody else? How long until this one human throws you off course because you keep wondering what could be bothering them? Everyone in the group has a neutral to positive vibe and only one single human expresses negativity and bam! this one hogs all your attention.

Negative comments come with such force and get all the attention, while a kind word so easily gets lost in the hustle and bustle.

I know this mechanism all too well from teaching and speaking in front of a crowd. However, it is the same in everyday situations, isn’t it? We focus on the one little bump in the road and feed it with attention until it grows into a big drama that overshadows everything else. As a consequence, we miss all the stuff that goes well. Yikes!

Doesn’t that sound like a looking-glass world? Unfortunately, we didn’t fall through the rabbit hole. This is what happens daily in our lives in this world that we call normal that, when we take a good look at it, truly is upside down in many ways.

Oh so loud!

Let’s look at the comment sections on social media, shall we? This tendency to focus on the negative becomes very visible there, too. Have you ever noticed that the negative comments seem to have a higher noise level? It’s like they scream at us „Give me some attention! I want your attention!“. So needy. It is amazing how many people choose to only respond to negative comments, while the positive ones go unnoticed.

Negative comments come with such force – online as well as offline face to face – that we can be certain they get the attention they want. Unlike a kind word that so easily gets lost in the hustle and bustle.

Pretty persistent

Negative messages also seem to have a long life span. Great. You know the feeling, don’t you? You get a ton of positive feedback and are happy about it but if there’s one negative comment, it sticks with you for days. Or even longer.

Sometimes an insult in our childhood can change our whole lives. A nasty comment can break the delicate wings of a kid’s self-esteem or talent before they had the chance to learn how to fly. To make sure that this negativity doesn’t stick with us for years, we need lots of kindness and encouragement with a cherry on top.

Super sticky

It is truly amazing how positive feedback and kind words can slide off our self-awareness so effortlessly whereas negativity has an unpleasant stickiness that exhibits an astonishing ability to linger. 

We can try so hard to stop thinking about that negative thing but it keeps coming back. It uses its sticky fingers to tirelessly and repeatedly maneuver itself to the center of our attention again and again.

Why negativity comes easy to us

So what’s the reason for negativity’s loud, persistent and sticky nature? We can find it in our past. I’ve recently read that it used to be vital for survival. Before we began to build comfy and safe houses, we had to become aware and remain attentive of possible danger.

We are programmed to notice trouble right away and remain vigilant.

Back then, it would not have been helpful to shift our attention to something positive and say stuff like „I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about. Let’s forget about it and watch this beautiful sunset.“ It makes sense that we are programmed to notice trouble right away and remain vigilant.

The thing is, this instinct doesn’t distinguish between vital and small stuff. That’s why we fixate on negative things even though they have nothing to do with our survival.

Since the majority of humans nowadays doesn’t need to look over their shoulder in order to not end up as an afternoon snack, we can allow ourselves to re-program our brains.

Mental Fitness

We humans have done this before and we need to adapt constantly. In the past we were moving all the time but now we have to do sweaty workouts in order to keep our muscles happy and healthy. Similarly, we now need to work up a sweat on the inside and train our brain to focus on the positive.

Positivity isn’t given to a select lucky few.

Next time we will talk about simple and powerful strategies to bring more positivity into our lives. Here’s the good news upfront: Positivity isn’t something we are born with. It is not given to a select lucky few. You may know people who never seem to have problems, their life looks so easy and good things seem to just come to them, but that’s just your perception. A positive attitude is neither luck nor genes.

Everyone can access the power of positivity. Everyone can be this human who magically transforms obstacles into springboards. Everyone can train themselves to see amazing possibilities where they used to see problems. Tune in next time when I share my positivity strategies.

Comment below and share your views, worries, stories, positivity and thoughts with me. Or send me a DM on Instagram @suzannefreiherz