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Shift Negativity Bias with Outcome Thinking

Updated: Apr 22, 2019

What is Negativity Bias?

Your brain is hardwired to go negative. Evolutionary psychologists would argue that this feature allowed our species to survive; for example the guy who patted the saber tooth tiger is no longer in the gene pool.

However, in most situations today we no longer need to be in survival mode, yet we carry this hardwired negativity bias. It is this bias that keeps people and groups stuck in the now and the current set of problems.

There has been much research on Brain Negativity Bias.

“Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, PhD, University of California, Berkeley, explains how our amygdala uses about two-thirds of its neurons to detect negativity and then quickly stores it into long-term memory. Imagine this, two thirds of your emotions and motivation regulator is designed to focus primarily on the negative.” *

As Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “We can not solve our problems with the same thinking that we used to create them.”

Using Outcome Thinking as a tool

Outcome Thinking is a circuit breaker to the current negative thinking. It can be as simple as asking “What would it look like if it worked?”

Having asked thousands of groups this question, I am always interested in the delay before they can answer the question. My hypothesis is they have never fired a single positive neuron about the subject before.

Once the group have articulated a desired future state, they are in a more productive place to generate options and own the actions.

Waterfield have captured this approach in a process called the Four Seasons which we use extensively and train people in through the RapidConsensus Workshop.

The Four Seasons are:

Season 1: A cathartic moan and groan about the current scenario

Season 2: Articulating the preferred outcome

Season 3: Generating options to realise the preferred outcome

Season 4: Developing actions to deliver the desired result 

So the next time you or your group get stuck, ask the positive outcome based question “What would it look like if it worked?” to circuit break the brain's natural tendency to stay negative.

Kevin Nuttall,

Director, Waterfield

*Referenced from article ‘Why does your brain love negativity?’


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