Sunday, August 31, 2014

Getting Past Negativity Bias - the Beachy Way

by @JeffeKennedy

This week's topic in the Bordello is Measuring Success (and Failures): How, When, and Then What?

Since I'm lucky enough to be at the beach this weekend, I think I'd measure that as a success.

Shortest blog post ever!

Okay, okay - but only because it's too foggy yet to go boogie boarding...

Getting a grip on measuring success and failure - and learning how to handle both - is key to personal happiness, in my opinion. Note that I'm not counting "Being Happy" as a goal that be attained, which many people do. Instead, for me, happiness is a way of living life. I make a lot of deliberate choices to preserve my personal happiness, which is a top priority for me. I'm blessed to have fortunate chemistry that predisposes me to be happy, but I also avoid things that impede my happiness - something other people don't always approve of. I don't watch the news, or much TV at all besides carefully chosen shows. I don't worry about how clean my house is or whether the dishes are done. I don't do things for other people unless I want to.

The difference in thinking here is that many people - myself included, if I lose sight of this perspective - see success as something that leads to happiness and failure as something that leads away.

This isn't true at all. And, in fact, is a sure recipe for misery.


Two things are working against us here. First of all, lots of good research has shown that our brains have a Negativity Bias. We are far more likely to remember negative emotional events, in far greater detail and clarity, than positive ones. Extremely useful for learning to avoid saber-tooth tigers. Not so great for convincing ourselves that the one snarky review means nothing. The other is that success is transitory and comes with no guarantees. It's like counting on a particular bird flying by to instill happiness. We can put out birdseed, sure - but a lot is up to chance.

Besides, there's nothing negative about failure.


Failure isn't the opposite of a happy outcome, it's just an other outcome. We've just conditioned ourselves - particularly in American culture - to see anything other than success as a negative.

So, here's my beach analogy for you.

For the last couple of days, I've been getting to spend time doing boogie boarding. For those who don't know, a boogie board is kind of like those paddle boards we used in swimming. You lay your upper body over it and ride the waves into shore. It's like surfing, without the athletic skill required, which puts it right up my alley. My surf-beach equivalent to snorkeling. Both are low-key activities that require little equipment and no classes, certification or training (not like scuba-diving might). All of these things up my happiness quotient by keeping the pressure off.

Like surfing, boogie boarding means waiting for the right wave. You swim out there and watch the swells, picking out the one that looks to be breaking exactly right for the best ride. Sometimes you miss a good one. Sometimes you get swamped by one you didn't see coming. Sometimes a promising wave peters out and you go a short distance before having to swim back out again. Sometimes a wave turns vicious and takes you over, pounding you against the sand and filling your sinuses with salt. Every once in a while, you catch one exactly right and ride it like a rocket all the way to the shore.

And it's awesome.

But that's not one success out of many failures, as we'd be tempted to paint it. Why?


What is not wonderful about swimming in the ocean on a brilliantly sunny day, playing around with a boogie board? Likewise, what is not TOTALLY AMAZING about spending our days telling stories, creating worlds and people from thin air? Writers like to focus on the emo aspects of the life - one of my loops is talking about the BCoD (black cloud of doom) right now - but how incredible is it that we get to do this and people actually pay us? Don't tell me you don't get paid enough. That's like saying the last wave only carried you twenty feet. You're playing in the fucking ocean of stories! It just doesn't get better than that.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some waves to ride.

Happy Sunday everyone!


  1. I like your boogie board analogy! Being positive is a choice I try to make everyday, though today riding a boogie board would make that choice much easier than trying to fix this chapter...