The Bad Stuff is Easier to Believe, You Ever Notice That?

Published: 19th March 2010
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The other day a friend reminded me of that scene in the movie Pretty Woman when Vivian and Edward are lying in bed and Edward says to Vivian "I think you are a very bright special woman," and she responds "the bad stuff is easier to believe, you ever notice that?"

I have.

I spent an alarming number of years trying to prove to the world my intelligence. I read things like Foreign Policy Journal, learned how to speak Japanese, figured out computer programming, got a Masters degree and even considered a career in policy analysis.

Despite the awards, the compliments, the looks of bewildered surprise (my favorite), all of which would satisfy me momentarily, I still doubted myself.

I can't pinpoint how I came to the conclusion I was such a dummie... But as the saying goes, it doesn't matter where the belief comes from, it just matters where it takes you.

It's not only me and Vivian who believe the bad stuff. Psychologists call it negativity bias. It's our tendency give more weight to the negative and less weight to the positive. Wikipedia says, for example, that "when given a piece of positive information and a piece of negative information about a stranger, people's judgment of the stranger will be negative, rather than neutral." I think we do this to ourselves as well. If you hear three compliments and a criticism today, which do you think you'll remember? Negative information just has more impact on us. As Martha Beck likes to say, "you throw ten puppies and a cobra in the room, what are you going to notice?"

The problem is, quoting Brooke Castillo, "we have many illogical beliefs that drive us." She says, "If you want to know what your beliefs are, take a look at your life. Your life is your beliefs manifested. Our beliefs encompass what we do, what we say and how we act." It's not logical to believe the bad stuff over the good, but we do it anyway. And then these beliefs shape our lives.

Sometimes we give up and resign ourselves to a life of prostitution. Other times, we decide to go with the opposite strategy - we fight like hell to prove the thing we want everyone to believe about us so that we might be able to believe it about ourselves.

A couple of examples of how negativity bias can get the better of us...

I know an incredibly charming, funny, and charismatic person who has adopted the belief that she is fundamentally unlovable, that basically something is really, really wrong with her. Because she believes this crappy thought, she finds herself in one toxic relationship after another because she doesn't think she can get any better.

I know another person who just cannot bring herself to believe she's attractive, despite all evidence to the contrary (trust me she's a fox). She spends much of her time obsessed with the next best diet, a great deal of money on the latest and greatest beauty product and is considering plastic surgery, all because, we came to discover, some kid on the playground years ago told her she was ugly.

One way to figure out if negativity bias is mucking up your life is to ask yourself "what am I trying to prove?" I know, for example, when I'm feeling the need to prove myself, it's usually because there's a little voice inside my head whispering, "Amy, you're not worthy, you're not smart enough, you'll never be able to do it" or something along these lines.

Quoting Brooke again, "anything you want to change in your life must be changed from the belief level if you want the change to be permanent ... you must dig deep and get to the belief that caused you to get there in the first place."

In my case, I am a much happier person, free from the compulsion to prove my intelligence. Ironically, although I managed to churn out some pretty good grades in grad school, I was pretty mediocre at all of the things I did to prove my smarts, which just served to prove the crappy belief that I wasn't smart enough. Now that I have changed my thinking, I get to do what I want and I've discovered that when I believe the good stuff about myself, I am the amazing person I always wanted to be. Funny how that works.


Amy Pearson is a certified Martha Beck life coach. She helps people get unstuck and also specializes in fertility and weight loss coaching. Find out more about Amy at

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