Do you feel swamped with bad news?

badnews Do you feel swamped with bad news?

The Practice:
Find the good news.

Why?

“Tell the truth.” It’s the foundation of science – and the foundation of healthy relationships, communities, and countries.

But the truth of things is complicated. To simplify, there is the good of things that are enjoyable and helpful, the bad of things that are painful and harmful, and the neutral of things that are neither.

We need to recognize genuinely bad news for our own sake and to take care of others. But we also need to recognize good news: things that are useful, reassuring, inspiring, opportunities, solutions, etc.

The Brain’s Negativity Bias

Unfortunately, we have a brain that generally fixates on bad news and brushes past good news. Over the 600 hundred million year evolution of the nervous system, our ancestors:

  • Had to avoid two kinds of mistakes: (1) thinking that there’s a tiger in the bushes but actually all is well, or (2) thinking that all is well while actually there is a tiger about to pounce. What’s the cost of the first mistake? Just needless worry. But what’s the potential cost of the second mistake? Ulp, no more mistakes . . . forever. So we have a brain that tends to make the first mistake again and again to avoid ever making the second one.
  • Had to get “carrots” such as food and avoid “sticks” such as predators. Imagine living back in the Stone Age – or even Jurassic Park. If you didn’t get a carrot today, you’d have another chance tomorrow. But if you didn’t avoid every single stick today, game over. Consequently, negative experiences are fast-tracked into memory – “once burned, twice shy” – while most positive experiences slip through the brain like water through a sieve. In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.

As a result, we routinely overestimate threats while underestimating opportunities and resources. Some people have an “optimism bias” in what they say. But in their actions, studies show that most people work harder to avoid pain than to get pleasure and remember failures and rejections more than successes and kindness from others. One result is that the media focuses on bad news, because that’s what people pay attention to; thus, the saying in journalism, “if it bleeds, it leads.”

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The Power of the Moment

maria-shriver-power-of-the-moment

The other day, I was sitting at lunch with my kids as they started to discuss the Texas shooting and started to wonder why the news had moved on from this story so quickly.


My son said, “Wow, that Texas story was wild. Why aren’t more people talking about that? Isn’t it weird that it just came and went?”


I thought about that. Stories used to stop us all cold in our tracks. Now, they just seem to come and go. Moments that used to bring a collective sense of grief—a collective sense of oneness—now seem to come and go without landing.

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