Have you ever had a day when you just were in a funk, and nothing seemed to go right? I had one of those days last week. I hadn’t slept well the night before, and my day just got off on the wrong foot. I wasn’t feeling well, was short with people I interacted with, and was overall just in a grumpy mood. Everything seemed to go wrong. For example, I was randomly selected for an extra service committee position at work, and there was an accident that caused a big backup on my commute home. All these things worsened my mood.
Negative Sentiment Override
There’s something in psychology called Negative Sentiment Override (NSO) that can help us understand days like the one I had. NSO originated in research on married couples. Researcher John Gottman found that some couples were stuck in NSO—they had a negative lens with which they viewed their relationship. Because of their negative lens, they were more likely to notice negative events than positive events. They also spent more time ruminating on the negative aspects of their relationship.
I think a similar thing happens in our individual lives. Sometimes NSO is caused by a physical trigger. For me, I didn’t sleep well and woke up not feeling very well. From the start of my day, I was in NSO. I was more likely to notice and focus on the negative things that happened to me. When something negative did happen (e.g., accident causing bad traffic), I had a hard time shaking it off. I zeroed in on the negative event, which exacerbated my negative mood.
3 Ways to Deal with NSO
So, what can we do in our lives to get out of NSO? Here are 3 suggestions I have found helpful:
- Take care of your body. There’s a close connection between our physical bodies and our emotional state. When we aren’t feeling well, this can be a powerful cause of NSO. Because of this, it’s important to take care of your body. Make your health a priority. Get enough sleep. Exercise regularly. Eat breakfast. Eat nutritious food throughout your day. Don’t drink so much that you feel hungover the next day.
- Schedule in positive mood-boosters. I remember working with a depressed client, who found it helpful to watch Disney movies. The movie would put her in a positive mood, which helped her find the energy and motivation to get up and navigate her day. What puts you in a positive mood? Maybe it’s watching a TV show, or listening to a certain kind of music, or going for a run. Schedule in these positive mood-boosters throughout your day to combat NSO.
- Practice gratitude. We tend to focus on the negative. The bad is stronger than the good. To combat this natural tendency, practice gratitude. Do one thing each day that intentionally turns your focus toward something good that is happening in your life.
What do you think of the idea of NSO? What practices have you found to be most effective in shifting you out of a negative mindset?