September 23, 2016

You Won't Believe What the News Is Doing to You

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Bet you pick to hear the bad news first—most of us do, but why?

We are wired to sense danger. Our brains are equipped with an early warning detector—the amygdala. The amygdala is part of the limbic system within the brain, which is responsible for emotions, survival instincts, and memory. The amygdala is always on high alert. 

While essential to your physical survival, the amygdala never shuts off and focuses on danger—bad news first. So, when we scan through the news our early warning detector goes on high alert drawing us to the negative stories. And the media takes advantage of it.

Thus we shouldn’t be surprised that we are 63% more likely to click on a negative headline in spite of its adverse effect on our well being. An HBR study concluded that negative news adversely impacts your emotional outlook. In fact, individuals who consumed just three minutes of negative news in the morning demonstrated a “whopping 27% greater likelihood of reporting their day as unhappy six to eight hours later compared to the positive condition.

Media studies show that bad news far outweighs good news by as much as seventeen negative news reports for every one good news report—17 to 1! Dr. Loretta Garziano Breuning, author of Meet Your Happy Chemicals, concludes the predominately negative focus of negative media gives rise to “profound anxiety”.

Dr. Jack Haskins, a professor at the University of Tennessee, conducted a 12-year study on the media’s effect on how people think. The study divided people into two groups. One group listened to negative stories for just five minutes a day. Another group listened to positive stories for the same five minutes. The impact difference was profound.

The people exposed to the negative news were:

  1. More depressed than before.
  2. Believed the world was a negative place.
  3. Were less likely to help others.
  4. Began to believe that the negative things they heard would soon happen to them.

Beyond watching television or listening to radio or podcast news we are getting bombarded with negative and emotionally charged missiles reflecting every imaginable agenda. This broad and shallow exposure to headlines, sound bites and opinions becomes a barrier that keeps us from focusing deeply on what truly matters to us.

We can consume nearly limitless quantities of news alerts, flashes and tidbits—like candy for the brain. Brain candy that short-circuits our ability to concentrate, focus and make decisions. As Mary McNaughton-Cassill, a professor at the University of Texas–San Antonio and leading researcher on the connection between media consumption and stress, “We need to stop consuming news like a hungry teenager wolfs down a Pop-Tart.” No more Pop-Tarts, sorry Kellogg’s.

Why I am giving up watching and reading the news?

  1. Most of it is irrelevant. Of course, someone will challenge this premise—“Goodness, I have to stay informed about what is going on.” In this case, be selective.  Choose news content and sources that are necessary to your performance or making decisions that affect you.
  2. It’s negative bias adversely affects my mood, outlook and performance. The data and research is overwhelming. A study by John Cacioppo, at Ohio State University, showed that our attitudes are more heavily influenced by bad news than good news.
  3. It leads to shallow thinking. Today’s news feed mechanisms feed an appetite for fast and convenient. A proven recipe that draws us in but leads to skimming and multitasking—ultimately weakening our power to concentrate. The inability to focus on meaningful work and projects limits our impact potential.
  4. It hurts memory retention. We have two types of memory—long-term and short-term. Your long-term memory is nearly infinite while your short-term memory is limited. Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence, points out that the transfer of good news from our short-term to long-term memory is a slippery slope. The journey takes 12 seconds (an eternity—just count it out) and if this transfer is disrupted it is lost. “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones,” Hanson says. News disrupts our concentration, clouds focus and ultimately weakens our learning and comprehension.
  5. It is displacing higher value work and experiences. At only 15 minutes a day, I would be investing 90 hours a year. If I add in the “attention residue” created by allowing it to creep into my routine it might be as high as 200 hours!

I know these are five compelling reasons to shut off the flood of media stories, but my early warning detector is still going off. Isn’t the world falling apart and don’t I need to stay on top of these unraveling developments. Steven Pinker had the same concern. “Using an evidence-based mindset,” he looked at a variety of major categories of violence and threats.

In the end, he shows convincingly that the trend lines do not match the headlines. The World is Not Falling Apart“Too much of our impression of the world comes from a misleading formula of journalistic narration.”

I know I can’t shut of my early warning detector and neither can you. But without the news candy we can quiet our alarm system.

What am I going to without the news?

  1. Follow critical thought leaders. I am going to seek out the people who are experts on the specific topics that help me learn, grow and perform in the critical roles in my life.
  2. Expand my commitment to reading important books. My focus will be to dive deep into key topics that grow my skills as a coach, author and speaker deliver valuable content to my readers. This will help me develop my concentration and focus skills.
  3. Focus on raising my engagement in causes that support the needs of people who are underserved and under supported.
  4. Spend more time deepening my walk with Christ—read, study, pray and listen.

So, let me start with the bad news first. Some people are telling me that writing and speaking about my faith will cost me readers—limit my reach as a coach, author and speaker.

Now here is the good news. Over the course of my journey for impact, I am never sure what a given day will bring. I have no idea of knowing how big my audience will be—a few or maybe a few million. But the good news is that at the end my or anyone’s limited view stands our limitless God. A God who has the only answer to a world filled with troubling news.

Today, I choose hope. Today, I will focus on maximizing my impact with the people I love and lead. I like the way A. W. Tozer frames is up, [shareable cite="A. W. Tozer"]“With sacred expectation, I will look for God in ALL the circumstances of my day. I pray you do too![/shareable]

4 comments on “You Won't Believe What the News Is Doing to You”

  1. A great piece that makes all the sense in the world, especially now in an age of pandemic where brokers of negative news are having a field day. We all would benefit greatly from putting guardrails on our minds.

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