A thought is a mental event that has form, energy, and content. Although there’s no conclusive evidence on how many thoughts an average person has in a day, possibly between 12,000 and 50,000, we do know that a significant number are negative; as a rule of thumb, we tend to have twice as many negative thoughts as positive ones. We also know from research that our mind wanders away from what we are doing around for almost half of our waking day and that people reported feeling more negative when their attention drifted off in automatic thoughts. So why do we have automatic negative thoughts and what can we do about it?
The primary reason we have more negative thoughts is that our attention and mental processing is prioritized towards things we perceive as a threat, rather than to things we see as safe. This “negativity bias”, which extends to thoughts that are negative, rather than positive or neutral, is hard-wired in the brain as part of our evolutionary inheritance. Although our negativity bias provides one answer, there are other reasons why automatic thoughts tend to drift toward the negative.
Another source, by way of a useful analogy, comes from advances in online technology. When you browse websites, have you ever wondered how that site knows that you’ve been looking for a bread-maker, as similar products keep appearing? Tracking data is used by algorithms to present relevant products. based on your previous browsing and shopping history. This machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence, has the goal of enticing your attention away from the page to click on a product or other content.