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Why We Seek Out The Negative

Just as we are all different from one other, so are our cravings. The same situation can make two people react very differently. For example, playing the slots at a casino will give some people a hit of dopamine in anticipation of a win. For others it triggers cortisol/anxiety because they anticipate a loss.

Two siblings are dreading a big report soon due at school. At the mere thought of starting it, both feel anxious. But one will avoid it and procrastinate, putting off the anxiety. The other child, although anxious, knows that completing the project will alleviate her anxiety, and the thought of that triggers dopamine, so that child starts the project right away. If you are a parent it can help seeing much of your children’s behavior from this standpoint as it will aid you greatly in understanding them not to mention helping them to understand themselves.

For the past ten thousand years, the threat of danger had more impact on our survival than good experiences; therefore, our amygdala was primed to label most experiences as dangerous and has continued to do so right up until present day. We were built to last, not for lasting happiness, which is why we learn faster from pain than from pleasure. Each time something happens that we don’t like, cortisol magnifies the feeling, embedding it into our memory as a threat of some kind.

For example, your boss gives you a stellar review, but at the very end, he says, “The only thing I would like to see improved is_______.” Yet after your meeting, all your brain focuses on is the one thing he wants you to improve.

We all tend to do this, regardless of the feedback or the source of it. The brain digs out the negative comment; sometimes it may even dig through a positive one and think, “Hmm, but what was he really trying to say?” We tell ourselves that we do this because we just want to improve but that is contrived crap! The real reason we do it is that the brain interprets any slightly negative feedback from another person as us being at risk for being “kicked out of the tribe.”

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