Inspiration

Do You Know Grog and Thor?

Written by: Nick Ortner

To help you better understand why our brains are hard-wired for stress, I’ve pulled out Chapter 2 of my book, “The Tapping Solution for Manifesting Your Greatest Self”, for you to read. Enjoy!


Day 2 – Negativity, Hardwired: A Look at the Primitive Brain

Grog and Thor sit perched at the edge of their cave.

You know Grog, your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-ancestor. You’d recognize him; you both have the same nose. He’s waiting patiently but alertly with his friend Thor. They’ve been hearing some saber-toothed tiger sounds, not too far from their lovely abode.

Grog says, “Ughr all ogg ogg ralf woomr.” Oh, you don’t speak caveman? I’ll translate for you the rest of the way.

“I’m pretty nervous about that tiger. It sounds like a big one, and it’s coming our way.”

Thor, twiddling his thumbs, half meditating in a lotus position, says, “Brother man, there is nothing to worry about! The sun is shining, we’ve discovered fire and some basic tools, and this cave is luxurious. Bask in gratitude and the joy of life!”

Grog looks around nervously. It sounds like the tiger is getting closer, and quickly.

“Thor, I’m going to higher ground. We’re tiger meat in this spot, and I don’t think the two of us are going to be able to handle this guy.”

“Grog, you are so negative! Always talking about what could go wrong, always ‘moving to higher ground’ or worrying about this or that. You know, you’re just not going to attract what you want in your life with that attitude!”

Sensing the tiger’s approach, Grog scampers away at a full sprint toward higher ground, where the tiger can’t climb. He makes one last desperate call to Thor, “Please! Run!”

Thor continues his peaceful meditation.

And is swallowed almost whole by one of the largest saber-toothed tigers to roam the ancient world.

Well, at least Thor seemed happy until his untimely death.

Grog lives, and with him, his DNA. And partly because of his negative, pessimistic, cautious attitude, he survives.

Thor has vanished, along with his “happy” genes.

And so it goes, again and again and again and again . . .

And thus, the human brain evolved, literally clinging for dear life to something we call the “negativity bias.”

Your Brain’s Primitive Panic Button

Yesterday we looked at peace and panic, and we began using tapping to have a new experience.

Ever wondered why we even need to do that? Why there always seems to be something — or several things — standing between us and happiness, us and peace, us and fulfillment, and so on.

Why is it so much easier to choose panic over peace?

Sometimes it seems like our “default” setting is to be negative and fearful… and that’s because in large part it is.

For our own protection—cue Grog and the “negativity bias” that saved his life — the brain evolved to assume the worst. It’s biased toward negativity. In his book Hardwiring Happiness, Rick Hanson, Ph.D., explains this concept in more detail:

Our ancestors could make two kinds of mistakes:
(1) thinking there was a tiger in the bushes when there wasn’t one, and
(2) thinking there was no tiger in the bushes when there actually was one.

The cost of the first mistake was needless anxiety, while the cost of the second one was death.

Consequently, we evolved to make the first mistake a thousand times to avoid making the second mistake even once…

In general, the default setting of the brain is to overestimate threats, underestimate opportunities, and underestimate resources both for coping with threats and for fulfilling opportunities. Then we update these beliefs with information that confirms them, while ignoring or rejecting information that doesn’t. There are even regions in the amygdala, which an almond-shaped part of the mid-brain that’s intricately connected to the body’s “stress response” that’s specifically designed to prevent the unlearning of fear, especially from childhood experiences. As a result, we end up preoccupied by threats that are actually smaller or more manageable than we’d feared, while overlooking opportunities that are actually greater than we’d hoped for. In effect, we’ve got a brain that’s prone to “paper tiger paranoia.”

Most of us can recognize this experience in our daily lives. We get an e-mail or text that feels unclear, whether in meaning or tone. Immediately, we go to the negative. Or we get a call, and someone says something vague like, “Hey, do you have a minute? We need to talk.”

For most of us, it takes only a second or two to assume the worst. Without thinking, our brains translate “we need to talk” into “something’s wrong.” Similarly, rather than noticing that the text message we just received is unclear, we default to the negative—deciding, for instance, that it’s hurtful or insulting.

We then feel fearful, angry, sad—any number of negative emotions that reinforce our need to defend ourselves from (yet another) attack. Before we’ve even considered that the person may have been in a rush and carelessly worded the text message, we’re ready to retreat and/or attack him in return.

And because of how our brains have evolved, this process is so automatic that we often don’t even recognize when it’s happening.

When you really think about that, it’s pretty extreme. It’s also the reality of the human brain, which defaults to a negative lens so powerful that it easily and quickly taints our entire experience.

Tricky, Sneaky, and Subversive, Too

Sometimes the “negativity bias” is even subtler and harder to notice. For example, in the off-kilter morning I shared in Day 1, my negativity bias might look like me deciding that I can’t control my mornings, even if I don’t love how they feel.

Oftentimes we brush off these decisions casually.

“What are you gonna do?” we ask.

“It’s just life,” we say as we return to our to-do lists.

While it’s true that we often have limited control of the external world around us, these reactions can, at times, support us in lowering our expectations.

In tiny ways we don’t consciously recognize, we then give the brain’s negativity bias room to thrive.

Best-selling author Brené Brown sums it up this way: “We think if we can beat vulnerability to the punch by imagining loss, we’ll suffer less.”

We see this tendency to focus on negative experiences more than positive ones in research studies, as well. The psychologist Daniel Kahneman received the Nobel Prize in economics for showing that most people will do more to avoid loss than to benefit from an equivalent gain. In intimate relationships we typically need at least five positive interactions to counterbalance every negative one. And for people to begin to thrive in life, they usually need positive moments to outweigh negative ones by at least a three-to-one ratio.

I would argue that these numbers might be even larger than the research suggests. I know that one negative review of my books on Amazon can easily overwhelm 100 positive reviews — if I don’t tap on it, that is!


For people to begin to thrive in life, they usually need positive moments to outweigh negative ones by at least a three-to-one ratio.


So how can we reverse this “negativity bias” in the simple everyday ways that allow our greatest selves, and then our greatest lives, to emerge?

It starts with cultivating simple awareness about how those three pounds of gray matter that you’re carrying around (aka your brain) actually work. Just being aware of your brain’s negativity bias is a huge first step in overcoming it.

That basic understanding encourages us to view positivity as a practice rather than an attribute or personality trait.

Being positive then becomes a skill we can consciously choose to hone every day.

Day 2 Greatest Self Challenge: Redirecting Your Brain

So how do we actually bring positivity practice into our lives?

On a day-to-day, week-to-week basis, how can we reprogram our brains to recognize and accept positivity without becoming so detached from our surroundings that, like Thor, we’re prematurely devoured?

Start by simply noticing when you default to the negative.

Start with the little things, like that e-mail or text that feels unclear. Your brain’s natural bias will lead you to assume the worst. Your brain’s innate negativity bias will support you in feeling judged, accused, and so on.

Starting today, make a point of simply noticing when your brain’s “negativity bias” is being activated.

Remember, it’s a hardwired response that we all experience, so there’s no need to blame or shame yourself for it. Don’t stress or worry about it. Just notice it.

And once you see your brain’s negativity bias at work, pause and ask yourself: Could this be my brain’s negativity bias talking?

That’s it — just notice it for now, say hello, maybe introduce yourself, and we’ll use that awareness to build from in the coming days.

Make sure to take time to use the Day 2 Tapping Meditation: Turning toward the Positive to begin reorienting your primitive brain to notice and value the positive. (I’ve included a link to the transcript for now so that you can already start using it)

Day 2 Tapping Meditation: Turning Toward the Positive

You’re beginning to create an important foundation for choosing peace!


Can you relate to any part of this chapter? Please leave your comments below. I’d love to read them!



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23 Comments on this post

  1. Julie says:

    Thank you Nick.Great info and shows that watching our thoughts will bring awareness and ability to choose to the forefront of mind.

  2. Pat Kapphahn says:

    Nick, you take explaining to a higher level. Thank you for your very easy to understand way of explaining the negativity bias !! And thank you for your extreme generosity through the years. 😍

  3. Kristi McCracken says:

    As an instructional coach, I work with teachers on enhancing their craft. One of the tools I teach regularly is assuming positive intend. I work at a middle school with teenagers who can be very emotional. If a student rolls their eyes, the teacher can assume it’s disrespectful. The student may have been self-monitoring and this was better than lipping off and talking back. Taking time to reframe our assumptions and move toward the positive helps keep the environment safe so that the amygdalas of the rest of the students don’t get activated. Since emotions can feel contagious, it’s important to manage them efficiently. This negativity bias can shut down the prefrontal cortex thats needed to think about the new content for the day. Training teachers to assume positive intent and interject humor helps manage their stress and that of the teens they work with.

  4. Denise says:

    Always thought that to be Tor was the ultimate way to be. We need Grog also.
    Thank you for helping me to heal my relationship to my father. He was so severe. I know now he wanted the best for me. So happy I have lived that long. Now I know how to express my love unconditionaly.

  5. Annette says:

    I really love this article, it demonstrates so well how we end up in our negative responses and create threats in our mind, the healthy need for them – then gives us an opportunity to overcome perceived threats for what they are: mental creations. I copied both this article and the tapping sequence and passed it on to my friend to share this information in his addiction therapy program: Let’s hope they all turn into EFT believers and users – EFT to the rescue!

  6. Jannie says:

    I was very pleased to read that. It gave me a good introduction to what I’m going to discover in the book. I am eager to receive it! Many thanks for all what you do, Nick! Amazing work! It changed my life to a more positive direction.

  7. lolly says:

    You are the bomb, nick ortner. keeping tapping close has really helped me in so many ways; and with clients and friends. As an elder, tapping helps dramatically with the aging process and it’s many glitches, and daily aches and pains. Keep on getting it on nick ortner…….a million blessings, lolly

  8. Nancy Sabuda says:

    Great information! This is EXACTLY what I am currently studying. I really appreciate all of your work! Thank you!

  9. Melanie says:

    I can relate to this. I need retiring to he positive. I spend so much time wondering why I feel so unhappy because I have no need to and I think it’s just a long ingrained habit from my stressed out working life, which is now behind me. I tell myself frequently that it’s just a bad habit and have recently started tapping but days like today the tapping just didn’t work at all.

    • Nick Ortner says:

      We are sorry to hear the tapping didn’t work. Sometimes our bodies and our energy need some time to shift so keep on tapping and trusting the process. Stay hydrated before, during and after tapping to help shift the energy. Get plenty of rest and listen to what your body needs to process the energy shifts and feel your best. Some days we feel more of a shift than others but these steps can help. Wishing you all the best! 🙂

  10. Barbara says:

    Loved what I read … not surprisingly coming from you …. can’t wait to get your book… best regards to
    You. Nick and thanks for all you do!

  11. Janis Huey says:

    As I’m reading this article, I’m sitting in my doctor’s waiting room. This appointment has already taken a slight southward turn, because my appointment time is in question. It’s their mistake, but I’m already feeling defensive, especially since the waiting room has emptied and here I still sit. My negativity bias is hard at work.

  12. Stephanie says:

    Throughout this week, I’ve been trying on new ideas and perspectives. Allowing myself to see the negativity I’ve witnessed in myself and my family as the result of hard-wiring and life experience has been challenging and liberating. I now see that positivity is a choice, not an attribute or inherent personality quirk to judge or control. Also, this is the second time today that I’ve read or heard mention of the vital importance of paying attention to “warning signals” and how I respond to them. Seeing the light and shadow in a situation isn’t bad or negative. It’s how we humans ensure that we remain safe and secure. And, choosing to practice a positive mindset is also a skill. It affects how one interprets and ultimately responds to a situation. Thank you for your chapter email, and I look forward to reading and learning more!

    Because each of us is operating from the realm of perspective and experience, I’m discovering the truth in the phrase, “We see the world as we are, not as the world as it is.”

  13. Dena says:

    Nice chapter. I tend to be negative and believe that Inonly have limited job opportunities. I need to be positive and at the same time take action to update my skills to increase my opportunities.

  14. Marcia Marçal Persiano says:

    I found your article on the brain’s negative bias very revealing to me. I often wondered why negative thoughts so easily occupy our brains, every day, and why we have to work so hard to attain, and keep, positive thoughts. If the brain has this negative bias as the default, we start out in life at a great disadvantage. But now, at least, if what you say is true for all of us, I understand why I have to struggle so hard, every day, to keep negative thoughts at bay. I have tried tapping, with help from your online videos, but I struggle with knowing what words I should say, while tapping, in order to get the benefits from tapping. Can you get the benefits from tapping, without having to talk while you’re tapping? I have difficulty doing 2 things at the same time, so tapping and talking are difficult for me. Can I still get the benefit of tapping without talking during tapping? Thanks for your Positivity, Marcia

    • Nick Ortner says:

      Hi Marcia. Yes, in addition to tapping along to our videos, you can still get benefits without tapping and talking at the same time. The most important thing is to be tuned into your body and how you are feeling. If you don’t have the words or if it is too much to do both at once, tune in, feel what you are feeling and tap through the points until you feel a shift. We hope that helps. 🙂

  15. Peter Hagemann says:

    You are so right. If you see facts realistic you can never fail. Positiv must not neglect facts. Why dying just for fun like Thor? Yours sincerely, Peter

  16. Christiana Harkins says:

    Right on Nick! A great slant on the brain and negativity. Am working on this part of brain last few months- at the “noticing” stage; and also noticing some changes (-:
    Thanks!

  17. Eli Gaskill says:

    Last year I had a boss who I liked very much, but couldn’t read easily. She would make a comment, which by itself was neutral – an observation – and I would automatically take it critically. It took months before I understood that she was trying to be helpful, rather than critical.

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