All You Notice is Where You Focus

Sarah McMahon
4 min readMar 10

[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]

“Wasn’t she being a bitch?” my friend asked me. We were standing outside of David’s Bridal, in a sprawling mall that is egregiously large and difficult to navigate. There are escalators and smoothie shops and a Wetzel’s Pretzel sandwiched in between the Container Store and Best Buy and Baskin Robins. Spend money, says the mall, on all of these things you’ll never need, not even once. My friend was referring to the associate who was helping her try on wedding dresses. “Not really,” I answered, “she seemed perfectly nice to me.”

My friend proceeded to list the many imagined slights that the store associate made, from facial expressions to words to the way she modified the wedding dresses. It was almost as if my friend wanted to be bitched at, or like she picked out the worst in a woman whose side job it was to rush around helping soon-to-be-brides try on dresses that may or may not be wildly overpriced and exceedingly hard to look at. Maybe it was the nerves that come alongside getting married. Maybe it was the nerves that come alongside spending too much money on a one-day dress. Maybe my friend, like all of us, has a tendency to look for worst-in people, in scenarios, in items, in food, in life.

For all the nice comments I receive about my writing, the few scattered negative comments stick the most. Not because I believe the mean comments, but because our brains are hardwired to focus on negative events more so than positive ones. Neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hanson said, “The mind is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.” Our brains are more active when we focus on negative stimuli, and we’re more likely to remember negative experiences. The tendency to focus on the negative is called the Negativity Effect, and it can look like the following:

- Noticing negative events and recalling them more vividly than positive ones

- Dwelling on negative events, even when daydreaming

- Assigning greater importance/weight to negative events

- Focusing on even the smallest, most meaningless negative event

- Remembering insults and criticism more than praise

Sarah McMahon

Blogger | Poet | Freelancer | Ultra Runner IG: @mcmountain email: