I hope your heart is filled with feelings of love after spending time over the Thanksgiving holiday with the people you care about most. Want to hold onto those good feelings? Then stop force feeding yourself bad news. Watching the news on TV will destroy your positive mood, erode your good memories, and adversely affect your performance at work.
Psychologists have known for some time that viewing horrible images of death and destruction puts you in a bad mood, eliciting feelings of anxiety, anger, sadness, and disgust. Evoking a negative emotional state affects how you react to the stressful events occurring in your life. You’re prone to primal fight or flight reactions rather than using optimistic thinking when responding to problems. In addition, your negativity will linger as a result of your brain being filled with stress chemicals that cause you to worry.
Consuming just a few minutes of negative news first thing in the morning is likely to put you into a downward emotional trajectory for the rest of your day, making you far less effective at work. In the September 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review, positive psychologists Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan published a study comparing people who watched just 3 minutes of negative news in the morning with another group who watched 3 minutes of stories about people who were solving problems in the world. Following up 6-8 hours later revealed a 27% greater likelihood that the negative news group was having an unhappy day compared to their positive news counterparts.
“We believe,” wrote Achor and Gielan, “that negative news influences how we approach our work and the challenges we encounter at the office because it shows us a picture of life in which our behavior does not matter. The majority of news stories showcase problems in our world that we can do little or nothing about. We see the market dropping 500 points or ISIS poised to attack, and we feel powerless to change those outcomes. In psychology, believing our behavior is irrelevant in the face of challenges is called ‘learned helplessness,’ which has been connected with low performance and higher likelihood of depression.”
In contrast, the authors describe a 2012 study in which 11,000 doctors, nurses and staff were encouraged to make eye contact and smile at people walking within 10 feet of them in the hallways of their hospitals. Within 6 months there was a significant increase in the number of patients visiting those hospitals, an increased likelihood of patients referring to those hospitals based on the quality of care received, and elevated engagement levels for the employees. This free one-second behavioral change taught the healthcare providers that their mindset can make a difference. Their new attitude: we are connected and our positive behavior can have a real impact on others.
It’s impossible to tune out all of the negative news about what’s going on in the world. But there are 3 proven strategies you can employ to minimize the ill effects it will likely have on your mood and performance.
First, turn off breaking news alerts. These bring negativity into to your day and disrupt your ability to maintain a positive focus on working with others to make progress toward your goals. Shut off notifications to your smartphone and emails. If there’s really something important that you need to know, someone will tell you about it soon enough.
Second, change the background noise. Don’t listen to talk radio, change the channel when the news comes on, and hit the mute button when partisan political attack ads blast you with how a candidate will ruin your life. Instead, practice picturing positive outcomes. Meditation in the morning can help you see what it will look like when things turn out well. Studies show that the best performers in any profession start their day focusing on how they want to feel at the end of the day when they’ve made progress toward their goals. What do you think about on the way to work?
Third, pay attention to what works well. Seek out sources of good news, such as the Huffington Post’s What’s Working series or CNN’s Impact Your World site where you can learn about how you can make a positive contribution to the problems of the world. Listen to a talk from an inspirational leader that you’ve downloaded onto your phone.
You’ll have better days, Achor and Gieland say, “only if you control your news consumption rather than letting it control you.”