Velcro + Teflon -What’s new + good?
Like many health coaches, I offer a free initial consultation—I call mine a YOURstory session (like HIStory, but we live in a world where “gendering” has become a frowned-upon practice, so….)
In this session, in which we explore your health history from a holistic perspective, the first question I ask—”What’s new and good?”—often causes some surprise, and it’s really meant to put you in a more positive mental space.
It may sound odd, but it really does work.
And when you decide to hire me, be prepared: it’s the first question I ask at every one of our sessions!
I’ve had clients tell me that until they get used to being in that positive space more often, they find themselves scrambling right before our sessions: “Oh no—she’s going to ask me what’s new and good! I’d better come up with something….”
It’s a testament to our negativity bias that the two most common responses are:
- What do you mean, what’s new and good? If things were good, I wouldn’t be doing this consultation!
- Oh! This is what’s new and good…but then this, this, and this terrible thing happened.
There’s evidence that this tendency toward the negative is a hard-wired survival instinct: Rick Hanson writes in Psychology Today that “the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.”
Like the fight-flight-freeze instinct that used to serve our ancestors so well when dodging predators and has now started to cause us chronic stress, negativity bias can take over our perspective and color our every thought and interaction.
As the parent of teens, I watch as wonderful opportunities come their way, only to be marred by a stream of “but what ifs…?” and I remember going through this same thought process at their age.
- They may get great feedback on a project … and the one comment that sticks is the negative one.
- They may get wonderful grades … and the one they consider is the lowest one.
- They may have a large group of friends … and the one person they worry about is the one that doesn’t like them.
And as we age, this bias does not go away: we play it out over and over again in our homes and at work, with our family and coworkers, friends and bosses, and it becomes entrenched.
I can’t help but think that this constant negativity has got to be bad for our health—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. It may well be the reason that we so often feel “stuck” and “broken” and “having problems.”
In my work as a grant writer, I’ve learned to reframe “problems” as “opportunities.” A little idealistic? Maybe.
Think about the energy of these two words: a problem feels negative and heavy, an opportunity feels much more positive, much lighter, more hopeful, and more expansive.
What does all this have to do with health and health coaching?
I find that clients who see their symptom or illness as a problem also view diet and lifestyle changes as burdensome and are very likely to fall back into their old habits once the “problem” has been “fixed.”
Those who view a health issue as an opportunity are much more likely to succeed—not only in making the small shifts we identify but also in finding ways to sustain these changes over the long term, very often discovering a cascade of benefits they didn’t expect in the process.
This week, I challenge you to pay close attention to your own thought processes: How often do you stray into negativity? How would the situation look or feel if you resisted the impulse or reframed it positively? It’s sometimes easier to see this in others first: How did they react to a situation? What did they say? How would it look or feel if they had reacted positively?