By now you know by now how much I love contemplating how the great Greek Stoic philosophers’ thinking applies to 21st century living.
“Everything has two handles” is a metaphor originating with Epictecus. He contends that in every situation there are both positive and negative interpretations. The implication is that you always have a choice as to how to interpret any situation.
How do you choose to make sense of your life’s circumstances?
Are you grabbing the handle that holds the weight of the positive, or the one that doesn’t? Are you looking at the jug as half full or half empty?
I like to think of the earthenware jug as a symbol of your relationships.
Whether it’s with your husband, your mother-in-law, your sister-in-law, your stepchild, your friend, it is the vessel that holds your relationship history.
It is, all at once, both strong and fragile. But grab it by the wrong handle and it can slip from your grasp and shatter on the floor.
While you can make repairs, and sometimes they hold, some relationships are beyond repair.
Either you have to begin again and build a new vessel to hold a new and improved version of your relationship, or you let go of the relationship and sweep away the shards.
The choice is always yours.
Life is expert at delivering circumstances to us that are beyond our control.
How you choose to think about them will generate your feelings about it which motivate your actions and determine which handle you grab.
You can choose to grab hold of the handle that allows you to view a circumstance with curiosity, compassion, forgiveness and acceptance. Or, you can grab hold of the handle that is constructed of blame, judgement, accusations, frustration and anger.
While this metaphor is easy to understand, it’s often challenging to grab the handle that serves us best because of our inherent negativity bias.
A better understanding of the power of negativity bias can help you overcome its pull toward toward the handle that leads to increased problems in your life.
Negativity bias has a strong neurological foothold.
We’ve got our cave-dwelling ancestors to thank for this evolutionary tendency.
Our ability to detect danger was a matter of life and death.
We’ve inherited genes which predispose us to pay closer attention to anything in our environments that could hurt us. This hyper-alertness is always working to keep us safe.
So, so good. Until it’s not.
Negative emotions send off alarm bells in the amygdala which only wants to save your life.
This primitive part of your brain is primed to detect negative events and experiences. It quickly stores them into memory, lest we forget and get and run the risk of being ambushed by them again.
You’re more likely to remember an insult or negative event than you are to take in a compliment or recall details of a happy occasion.
Negativity bias can cause you to focus on that one negative thing someone said or did, even if it was an insignificant part of an overall positive experience.
For example, haven’t you wasted time ruminating about who didn’t send you a birthday greeting? Instead of feeling gratitude for all the loving calls, cards and social media posts you did receive, your brain latched onto what was missing.
Redirect your focus to the positive to overcome the negativity bias.
How you talk to yourself matters.
Negativity bias is strengthened through default, repetitious negative self-talk which exacerbates negative emotions.
It is not Pollyanna-ish to make a conscious effort to focus on the good. It is healthy self care to intentionally manage your thinking.
You can interrupt a negative feedback loop and override it on purpose.
- Show gratitude for all the good in your life, all the things, both big and little.
- Interrupt your default tendency to over-analyze situations or conversations with reminders that redirect.
- Respond to your default tendency to grab the handle that holds no weight without a barrage of negative self-talk.
- Consider alternative interpretations for any situation with openness and curiosity.
- Advise yourself as you would a dear and beloved friend, with kindness and compassion.
- Celebrate progress, that’s what you’re after, not perfection.
What handle are you grabbing in your relationship?
Is negativity bias interfering with your ability to enjoy your marriage or other relationships in your stepfamily?
Is negative self-talk dominating your internal dialogue?
I can teach you skills to pull the plug on all that negativity.
With awareness and intentionality, you can override your inherent negativity bias.