Why So Negative?

Ever wonder why people focus on, and in fact seek out, the negative in things?  This trait was set into motion some tens of thousands of years ago as our brains evolved to help us survive in world full of predators.

What is it about the negative that engulfs our attention as human beings?  I can write and publish an article online with a positive headline and three or four hundred may read it, but if I publish an article with a negative sounding headline I often see several thousand people reading it. It is something I wondered about for years until I began developing Leadership Development programs employing horses for experiential learning nearly four years ago.

In our professional development programs we spend a fair amount of time exploring the recent stream of research from the field of neuroscience to help clients understand how we connect, engage, and motivate those around us.

Delving into this research, in combination with specific, ground-based exercises with horses, allows greater self awareness and social awareness to emerge; two fundamental competencies of Emotional Intelligence (both of which contribute to improvements in self management and relationship management capabilities).  Research demonstrates that 80% of success in life, regardless of the endeavour, can be traced to our level of Emotional Intelligence.

The remaining 20% is based upon our level of cognitive ability.  When we integrate this perspective with research from the field of Applied Behavioural Economics, a very different picture of human beings, prospects, and markets emerges.

So what is it about our human nature that draws us to the negative with such fervour?  It turns out an ancient part of our brain, the amygdala, continues to play its role as our primary sentinel when it comes to sensing danger to our survival.  Even if today’s threats are no longer represented by a stalking, sabre-toothed tiger looking for its next meal.  This ancient part of our brain is a key trigger for our survival mechanisms, and it cannot discern between a real threat of danger (the tiger) or a symbolic threat from our contemporary times.

Research shows that when we feel fear, what is known as the amygdala hijack occurs (think of road rage as a great example).  When this happens a cascade of biochemicals is released that prepares us for flight, fight, or freeze response to the perceived danger.  When this occurs, all of our cognitive abilities shift to focus on the threat.  The higher functioning parts of our brain are all drawn to the task of survival.  Our ability to create, connect, adapt, and quite literally think clearly evaporates in an instant.

Unfortunately, our culture relishes fear.  It is used to motivate and manipulate us in politics, advertising, the media, and quite often, within companies.  It is, to a great extent, what has brought us to the place we are today.  We’re truly at a threshold.  We stand at the nexus of history where we can consciously choose the path we wish to take going forward.  We can stay the course and continue to see our environment, society, and economy losing ground for the benefit of a select few.  Or we can choose a new path; one that engages and supports a sustainable, thriving future for us all.

Each of us has the power to initiate this shift in perspective, but we must break the cycle of fear.  Fear begets fear, and research from Developmental Biology demonstrates a shocking fact.  When an expecting mother is under emotional stress, the fetus will compensate for this emotional and associated hormonal environment by developing a larger hind brain (our ancient, survival driven brain) and a larger body.

When an expecting mother is nurtured, supported, and happy, the fetus will develop a larger fore-brain (the higher functioning, cognitive brain) and a smaller body.  Nature’s wondrous blueprint for us, an intelligence beyond our comprehension, can adapt in real-time, and in times of duress, can actually enable us to take a step backward, evolutionary speaking, in order that a subsequent generation may take a giant leap forward.

Why is this important for entrepreneurs?  We are the leaders of our endeavours.  We set the tone for how we do business and why we’re in business.  With our success comes a responsibility towards all that we encounter.  Moving our selves and our businesses beyond the manipulative and destructive use of fear inevitably benefits us all.

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