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Circular Twilight Glow at Sunrise, Eduard Pechuël-Loesche, 1884.(Watercolor of atmospheric phenomena following the Krakatoa eruption, viewed from Namibia.) Public domain.

You have all heard of the famous negativity bias, which is the brain’s habit of looking for what’s wrong rather than what’s right. As you know, it’s a survival tool, and when something really is wrong, well what a great system.

The trouble is, of course, that if we go looking for what’s wrong, what’s not enough, what’s displeasing…oh my. We find it. SO MUCH WRONG.

And then sometimes we dwell on it.

Everyone has this negativity bias, or we wouldn’t have made it out of the Pliocene. It won’t respond to attempts at negotiation. It can’t be surgically removed. (Alas.) And it’s running almost all the time.

What’s more, it’s collecting evidence. It’s forever building a file of negative experiences, each piece of which it catalogs and places in the doom-and-gloom evidence room.

Such a big archive! We really don’t need more examples of what can go wrong.

What we need is counter-examples. A good way to collect them is to get less fascinated with what’s wrong and start getting more interested in what’s right. We can start building a file of positive reference experiences.

Start as small as you need to. Give the little wins your positive attention. Nurture them. As a client observed the other day, if the good things need to be really big to get our attention, they might never get the attention they need to get big.

And when we say self-care “express…”

You can do this in a minute a day! I make notes in my Bullet Journal opposite my weekly tasks. It’s a simple running list of good things, as they occur, or as they occur to me later.

Here’s an example: I ran into someone in the street who intimidates me. Instead of hiding someplace where I have no business, like the “coastal” gift shop, I acted normal. I smiled and engaged. And it was fine! I made it out alive, contrary to biased predictions.

This totally belongs on the positive reference experience list: “Did not run and hide! Had a brief and entirely pleasant convo. Could fully see myself doing that again.”

Negativity bias would have put that win on the fail list. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory? It’s great at that. “Nope! You had a moment of fear, so…FAIL.”

Obviously, negativity bias leads to more hiding out, fewer pleasant encounters, and just more negativity all around. So please try this, if you haven’t. Draw a big marquee around what’s going right. I can think of very few things that pay off bigger and better than directing our brains to make note of what’s working.

Unless it’s making note and then telling somebody. We would love to read some of your wins below. We will rejoice with every single one.

About The Author

Max Daniels is a research-based life coach whose weekly emails make us laugh with recognition and rethink everything we thought we knew. Her new book is Meals at Mealtimes. What a concept!


  • Thank you, Max. I have tried so hard for many years to follow this advice, but in recent years it’s only gotten harder. Thanks for your inspiration to keep trying.

    • I couldn’t have said this better myself.

  • Love this, thanks. I learned of Felix’s bullet journal workshop on MDK. She suggests writing up your monthly wins. She also suggests having a symbol you print/draw to celebrate the good stuff. Mine is a heart I draw next to entries in my week. I love seeing my weekly pages peppered with positive hearts. Here’s to all the wins, big and small! (Insert heart emoji!)

  • It’s Monday morning, soon I will log into work, a place I have been for decades and join the song of complaints with my peers. Lots of transitions occurring at a harried pace. But what has been in my head this weekend is that work no longer brings out the best in me, which pains me. Reading this makes me realize I am likely missing the good bits because I am so focused on the irritants. Cleaning my glasses off to look for the positives this week and note them in my Bujo so I can see that there were moments of hope. Thank you!

    • That’s beautiful

      Have a great week

  • I love Jon Kabat-Zinn’s saying: if you’re breathing there’s a lot more right with you than wrong with you.

    • Love this!

    • Reminds me of something I once heard. Plants need carbon dioxide to survive. So no matter how bad you’ve been or sad you feel, remember that every time you breathe out you’ve made some little plant happy.

      • Yes!!! My sentiment exactly!! That should be written in everyone’s journal…or framed on a wall.

    • Love that!!

    • Amen to that!!!

      • I’m very old, and every day I wake up a bit depressed, lifelong thing, but once I’m on my feet I realize wow, another day, still moving, now to make breakfast! Trees and sunshine this morning, to watch while I drink my tea. Great stuff!

        • I live with my 90 year old mother. She looks for beauty and points it out every day.

        • Oh, yes, Liz! I try to find humor or a sense of proportion, since I do have food, clean clothes, electricity, hot water for a warm shower tonight. Yesterday I took a Bad Cold to an “urgent care” office in my town. Just getting dressed and into my car was an effort. I filled out papers and waited. Only to be told by a kid with big eyelashes that they don’t “see” veterans on Medicaid! I told them I can pay — have cash on me and a credit card. No, all about what they won’t do! Driving away, I realized I do love to drive. I thought about complaining somewhere blah blah. Stuart Wilde says to be humble and quiet — just back off. I add to this the idea that God was watching, etc. But my most fun trick was to envision a cartoon showing the worker at the window, staring down at a woman bleeding on the floor wearing parts of military uniform — and just gobs of $20 and $100 bills stuck all over her. My horrible day finished when I found on Netflix a film about the making of “We Are the World.” Oh boy!

  • This is a great idea – I will try something similar in my own bullet journal

  • I grew up with frugal, post depression parents who saved the best everything for a rainy day. This weekend I tapped my best yarn, opened new needles and got to work. It was great!

    • I love this. My parents were the same and I have things moldering away, waiting for an “appropriate” time. Whenever that is! Hope you are enjoying your knitting!

    • Yes! Life has been very trying the last few years, and I have decided that Life is Short; Knit the Good Yarn!

      • Ditto!

    • That is phenomenal…I recently started doing this too; my Granny saved everything( no wonder I’m a pack rat) given shortages during the war. While I save some stuff for the ‘right’ project (yarn vs fit/drape/purpose etc) I am less & less concerned with the good vs bad- it’s yarn, it makes me happy & right now is the right time.

  • Thanks to a previous MDK article, I started a “glimmer journal” in a beautiful purple journal given to me upon my retirement (how’s that for a whole lot of positive). Thanks for the reminder to recommit to entering even little bits. Like this morning is crisp and the light of the sun is golden, sky is blue, the frost is lifting, and my adult daughter is visiting. Life is really good at the moment.

    • Loved your thoughts on this topic. I’m about to retire and am thinking I need to add my daily glimmers starting now. Thanks!

    • Christie, you’re an angel ! My postmenopausal brain would NOT release the word “glimmer” or where I read about it. I saw fine snow blown off a branch into a sunbeam…the very definition of glimmer, but even that didn’t bring up the word itself. Thank you!

    • I lov d the article about glimmers, too! Similar topic… Searching for good things to feel gratitude for. They are there, even when you think there’s nothing good happening. Opening our eyes to the good things is really important ❤️

  • Thank you for your words of encouragement. Usually I am fairly positive, but when I’m not … well we will not go down that road. I think writing positive things helps us to remember. Thank you.

  • When things were very bad with work and family a few years ago, I’d lie awake at night, exhausted and unable to sleep, and worry. Eventually I made myself a rule that I had to name ten god things that had happened that day before I could start ruminating. Usually I fell asleep around number 6 or 7. The nights I did make it to ten, I found that worry didn’t take me in its grip like it had before. “Walking the dog” was always the first item I listed, and it is still one of my daily good things.

    • Excellent idea, thank you! I’m going to put this one in my back pocket. Or under my pillow 🙂

    • This is such a good idea!

    • I do the same thing—and it works! I, too, usually fall asleep before I finished naming what I was grateful for that day.

    • I do this too, after a fashion, like list the ten most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Or one memorable morning the 10 things that made me laugh the hardest. It took me a while to fall back asleep but it was with a grin.

  • What a great, practical thing to try. Thanks, Max.

  • Thanks, Max. This is just what I needed right now.

  • Yes! List the wins! The worst thing you can imagine could happen, but it possibly won’t. It’s what I learned from ditching an extremely worry-filled child and adulthood. I believed that you have to worry about things hard enough in order to create a personal ecosystem of protection, by telling others, asking for reassurance. But finally I discovered that supporting my worries only made them grow, and none of it helped me. I tried “How about if you go to the dentist without telling anyone? And come home also without telling anyone?” I learned that my precious worries did not help me. And that I could be brave. And that today is probably not the day the bridge will fall down. And at night if worry starts to eat up sleep, I say “Remember? We’re finished with that. It doesn’t help.”

  • Yesterday I went back to a ballroom dance social that I hadn’t been to in months. Afterwards I was upset with myself for dancing so poorly, since I know I can do better than that. But I went! I danced! I even asked a couple of men to dance! And they asked me too! So that’s a win – I can focus on the positive and remember that I am learning.

  • A big thank you for this small insight!

  • I have been writing down a delight every day since January 1st. Along with about a zillion other people who have read and appreciate Ross Gay. I find this much less stressful than a gratitude journal (is it wrong to write down that you are grateful for gigantic over the top front yard Christmas displays while not putting down that your children are healthy? Maybe, but it is fine to be delighted by them!). I find that just keeping an eye out for delights makes me notice them more and jotting one down each day makes them delightful all over again.
    Today’s delight was that they dropped off my new trash can and carted off the old one. The wheel fell off the old one at least twice during its weekly trip to the curb and it was never going to small remotely fresh again. Having a new one is a delight!

  • These days most of us have photos a click away & we usually take photos of things we like, people we like (even if no longer with us), when we’re having a good time. I’ll select “years” then scroll back & stop on something that catches my eye & look at all those photos. Always find that fun & uplifting.

  • The day before Valentine’s Day last week, I was able to tell someone about my beloved’s sudden and unexpected death on November 15th without crying. I was proud of myself. Course, later that same day I broke down in front of a Valentine’s display in Office Depot because my Valentine wouldn’t be waiting for me at home.

    Good days and bad days. Small wins while dealing with big losses.

    It’s the best I can do right now.

    • Mine died January 6th. It’s reasrring to hear some day I will have those days without tears again from someone who has been through it… I may “know it” but it is hard to feel it sometimes… me an my two kids still cry about it frequently…

    • That is a big, big win, being able to get through your story! My husband died 2 1/2 years ago and it took me so very long to be able to do what you just did (close to a year).

      And go ahead and cry in front of the Valentine’s display or wherever. It’s okay to not be okay. That’s a win, too, even if it feels awful.

  • Sometimes it is hard to get up, get going when my bed is feeling wonderful and sleep is needed, but then today on my way to work I needed SUNGLASSES!!! And I live in Wisconsin and it’s February. That was a woohoo moment! I say celebrate the little things because we would celebrate way too little if we waited for the big stuff. Use the good dishes, mail a note to someone-thank them for something they did a long time ago that still touches your heart. You will make their day and yours too.

  • Thank you!

  • Comparable, and equally successful, is Gratitude Journaling (a periodic listing of all the things that bring you feelings of gratitude). When I remember to do this, the sun always rises more beautifully and feels warmer on my shoulders, birds sing more joyfully, fruit tastes sweeter & juicier, my dog’s enthusiastic greetings make me smile more emphatically & cat snuggles feel extra “awwwww”.

  • I’ve been doing something like this for several years and it really is worth it. I do my Journalling of wins at the end of the day, right before I settle down to sleep. That means I end my day on a positive note. I’d never thought of doing it through the day, though. I’m going to try that! Thanks, Max!

  • Knit the luscious yarn, drink the special tea in a special cup, share the best wine and use the finest glass you have. The snow covered yard is lovely and the hawks are back and the cardinals and one of the amarylis has blossoms. Blessings too numerous to count. Thank you for reminding me!

  • I have a tendency toward the darkness. So when I give myself time to express my feelings in a journal, to accept them without judgement (as I would a child in distress)..when I ask for help..the answers come. Never ceases to amaze me when that happens.

  • Wow! Thank you, Max! I felt a shift in thinking as I read your article. I’ll give it a go.

  • When I was a teenager, I came across the quite, “Recognize joy when it arrives in the plain brown wrappings of everyday life.” (Judith Viorst) It has inspired me ever since, and is something I strive for. With a lot of hard work, my sister developed a similar attitude after her cancer diagnosis: “I woke up today. It’s already a good day.” It helped her cope with the fear, especially after the cancer returned with a vengeance.

    There are plenty of hard things in my life, as with anyone’s, but I try really hard to focus on the positive. I have a job that I truly love and am very good at, with amazing coworkers at a good company, doing work that actively helps people. My kids are wonderful. I have several fulfilling hobbies and a handful of good friends. I live in a peaceful rural area and regularly am blown away by the beauty of it when walking the dog every day. I have a body that allows me to exercise every morning as I work to become a better version of myself. I am so very lucky, and I’m grateful.

    • Yay!

  • I have come back to this post three times already this week – such good advice. So far I have only thought through the good things in my mind and that has helped. WIll try writing them down for extra impact.

  • We had so many interesting knitting stories and connections from the first 10 years of my knitting group, that I wanted to write them down, so that they would be remembered.
    I was telling a friend and she said that I should make them into a book.
    I said, “Nah. Who would want to read a book about my little knitting group?”
    She said, “Linda! There are knitters and knitting groups all over the world! DO IT!”
    So, I did!
    The result was “Closely Knit,” which turned out to be one of the best things I ever did.
    Linda Hart

  • I read this article last night. Today, through a series of unusual events, my purse went missing. I’m vacationing in a city far from home and all of my identification required by the airlines to travel home this week was in my purse. As was my phone, credit cards etc. I spent several hours canceling the cards, filing a police report and contacting the airlines.
    I returned to a place I’d been to earlier in the day and spotted my purse on a chair mostly covered with someone’s jacket. I immediately thought of Max’s article. This was a large win. Nothing was missing from the
    purse. I will remember to count both large and small wins. This is definitely a day to count things going right!
    Thanks for the reminder, Max.

    • Great story! Very glad for you 🙂

  • Great idea, kind of like a thankfulness journal

  • When anxiety tries to rear its nasty head, I remember that I have survived EVERY bad day and every stressful situation that has come my way. My Mom, at 86 years old, when asked how she’s doing, will reply, “I’m upright and b!tch!ng about it”. As long as I can get up, ambulate and smile, it’s a good day! I love some of the quotes and stories here. Thanks, Max for another needed reminder to find the joy and glimmers in life!

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