As I stood in line outside Whole Foods—masked, gloved, six feet apart—there was a quiet camaraderie.

But mostly I felt wary: STAY AWAY FROM ME!

An employee guarded the door to limit the number of shoppers. When it was my turn to enter, I thanked her for being there; her front-line service—everyone’s front-line service—is heroic. Then I hurried in, to get as far away from her as possible.

Being with others has gotten more complicated.

Negativity bias—the way our attention gets kidnapped, again and again, by negative events and information—is nothing new.

The other day, my wife and I saw two white swan land in the pond outside our house. We watched in awe. “In 20 years,” a neighbor emailed, “I’ve never seen swan here.”

The next day, the swan were gone. But suppose they’d stayed. How long before we would have stopped really appreciating, or even noticing, those swan?  

Negative experiences are different. We’re in a “black swan” event right now and, even if it ended tomorrow, we’d still remember it forever.

When you go out these days, a little negativity bias goes a long way. It gets you masked, gloved and six feet apart.

It’s hardwired into survival, and always has been. Imagine living in the wild. One day, you hear a rustling in the bushes—what’s that??? Better to be negative (RUN!), than upbeat (I’m sure it’s nothing, honey).

The latter is my tendency. “You wouldn’t last 5 seconds in the jungle,” my wife says. But she appreciates, as I do, how our marriage has lasted.

Whether or not you’re married, negativity bias means that critical comments pack more weight than positive ones. So we need more positive interactions to balance things out.

Five to one—that’s the optimal ratio, positive to negative, according to John Gottman, an expert on what makes/breaks marriages.

Something similar applies to daily life now, what we choose to focus on, what we choose to ignore.

What’s your ratio?

During the day, how much do you focus on what’s wrong—with you, your friends, your colleagues, this galaxy—versus what’s right?

Tip: Watch your balance.

Our pond no longer has swan. But the pond is still there, waiting to be noticed.

P.S. 10 webinars: Would your team appreciate a dynamic webinar, e.g. Resilience @ Work, or Your Point?, or Smart Questions? Here are  10 webinars  to sharpen your team’s skills, for now and later. Please email or call 508-879-0934 for more info.

P.P.S. Rather just read a book? Try my latest, You’ve Got 8 Seconds: Communication Secrets for a Distracted World.  Named one of the best biz books of the year by an obscure, but obviously brilliant, Canadian newspaper. Available in print, kindle & audio.

“EVERYONE should read this book. It doesn’t matter what your profession is, you will need to convince people that you and/or your ideas are the best path forward. I am a research scientist (MD, PhD) and have presented more than 139 lectures over the past 7 years. Paul’s advice is invaluable. And it’s sprinkled with humor—I laughed out loud at many passages. I LOVE this book, it is my Bible for presentations.” —Nancy Richert, MRI Acquisition and Analysis Expert, NeuroRx

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PAUL HELLMAN consults & speaks internationally on how to make your point—fast, focused, powerful.

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