Many of us have heard about the velcro/teflon mind – that we have a velcro mind for negativity and teflon mind for positivity. Our attention can go in one of three ways: negative, neutral (it has no emotional weight to it) or can go to the positive which helps us reap resilient benefits. Attention has been defined as that which takes possession of our mind, the focal point of our consciousness. We can think about all the different things that are happening around us right now, but we’re paying attention to something specific. Hopefully it’s me introducing our weekly theme which is “paying attention to the positive”.
Researchers have estimated that out of the 20,000 or so thoughts that we attend to each day, we pay attention to the negative more than the positive. Why? Because we are hardwired to attend to the negative, such as stressful, harmful, dangerous situations, which enhanced our ancestors’ survival. So over time we are more prone to pay attention to the negative aspects of what’s happening in our lives. Research by Roy Baumeister has demonstrated that in interactions with others, we pay more attention to what we don’t like, what the person did wrong than what the person did well, what we like about them. Also, in our own experiences, we are more likely to look at the negative aspects of our performance versus finding the silver linings.
This tendency for negative attention has implications for how we feel. So how can we gain control of our attention and focus on paying more attention to the positive aspects of our lives? The answer, that’s been recently subject to research, is called selective attention. At a cocktail party where there are numerous people, the volume of different chatter in the room can be distracting but we have the ability to get into a more intimate conversation and pay attention selectively to one person. Perhaps we can say out loud: “We are not victims of our attention.” We have the ability to effortfully control what we do with our attention. We may not be able to control what captivates our attention, but through awareness, we can notice and divert our attention to more positive and uplifting ideas that cause us to feel better, and ultimately behave better.
We have the ability to intentionally choose to pay more attention to positive things and when we do so, we rewire the circuitry of our brain. Additionally research has shown that there are range of psychological and physical benefits that lead to resilience when we choose to focus on the positive things.
If we were to receive 10 compliments and 1 comment we took to be a “criticism” in a day, it’s likely that the thing we would go home remembering would be the perceived criticism. I offer you the intention to cultivate a reverse velcro/teflon mind – those positive compliments, thoughts and experiences are going to stick and the negativity is going to slide right off!
Jean-Paul Sartre is sitting at a French cafe, revising his draft of Being and Nothingness. He says to the waitress, “I’d like a cup of coffee, please, with no cream.” The waitress replies, “I’m sorry, Monsieur, but we’re out of cream. How about with no milk?”