The Negativity Bias and Jiu Jitsu

“The negativity bias, also known as the negativity effect, is the notion that, even when of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature (e.g. unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions; harmful/traumatic events) have a greater effect on one’s psychological state and processes than neutral or positive things. In other words, something very positive will generally have less of an impact on a person’s behavior and cognition than something equally emotional but negative.” – Wikipedia

Our negativity bias shows up in many ways in Jiu-Jitsu. Think about how many times have you had a killer round. You did really really well the entire round but you get tapped right before the timer went off. What do you think about the rest of the night? Do you think about that awesome sweep that you had one minute into the round? Do you think about that great pass that you had when you used misdirection to put your opponent in a weird spot? Probably not. What you probably think about is the submission you got caught in and the fact that you tapped out. Instead of analyzing how you were able to get the sweep or how you set up the pass you spend your time focusing on the submission that you got caught in. While this is an important thing to focus on because it helps us be aware of possible holes in our game, it should not be our only focus. When we only focus on the negative it can be very discouraging and create avoidance behaviors. Maybe we won’t roll with that person anymore. Maybe we will refuse to tap to that particular submission no matter the pain or damage it causes. Or sadly maybe we just end up quitting and not coming back.

So how can we combat this? I am a big fan of reflecting on my night as I drive home. (If you are not doing this I highly suggest doing it. Numerous studies are out there about the power of reflection and how it can be helpful for increasing your knowledge of a subject.) When reviewing your night think about what went wrong that you want to work on and also think about what went well that you can build on. Reflecting on your strengths can help us see areas of our game that we didn’t think we were necessarily good in that we are.

This happened to me a few years ago after I was reflecting on a few rolls and started to realize that I pulled a half guard a lot. Why did I pull half guard? Well, I felt comfortable with it and I had some options from it. So what did I do? Did I run away from half guard? No way. Being aware of my strengths made half guard a bigger part of my game. I started researching to see how I can continue to strengthen this aspect of my game and now I like to think that half guard is one of the stronger aspects of my offensive game.

So the next time you have a bad night I challenge you to avoid the negativity bias and not let one or two bad things weigh out the great things that happened. If the whole night was bad, think about the entire week. Was the entire week bad? Probably not. You can probably find one or two things that went well that you can build on.

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