“The evening news is so uplifting! My faith in humanity is restored every time I watch it.”
-No One Ever
Have you ever noticed that there seems to be a gas station (or two) on every corner? And have you noticed that those same gas stations magically cease to exist at precisely the moment when that cute little fuel light on your dash decides to start flashing? And have you further wondered why, when you find yourself in this situation, you don’t just go ahead and fill up the tank with what’s left of that Slurpee/latte/Gatorade in your cup holder??
Maybe you haven’t wondered this at all because you know it would be ridiculous. It wouldn’t work! And even if your car could run on Slurpee sludge (doubtful), it certainly wouldn’t be operating at peak performance. We know this to be true for our cars, and we know it to be true for our bodies — I have yet to hear of a single Olympic athlete espousing the benefits of the Twinkies-and-Pepsi diet. So why don’t we give more thought to the possibility that the old “garbage in = garbage out” formula might apply to our minds, too?
Just like the foods we eat help shape our physical bodies, the information we feed our minds helps shape the lens through which we view and experience the world. Whether we’re aware of it or not, the words and images we allow into our headspace directly impact our mental and physical health. Every scary news story, every negativity-laced post in our social media feed, and every cruel word we say to ourselves or someone else (aloud or not) does its part to chip away at our ability to function optimally. Think of this stuff as the mental Twinkies-and-Pepsi diet.
Many of us are consuming way too many Twinkies without even realizing it. We watch (and read) the news morning, noon and night, all the while failing to notice that the ratio of bad news reported to good news reported is somewhere in the neighborhood of 17:1. Instead of expanding our waistline or rotting our teeth, these mental Twinkies can lead to stress, anxiety, depression and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Talk about bad news!
We scroll through Facebook and see image after image attached to frightening words describing horrific things happening in the world - politics! natural disasters! violence! disease! Even seemingly innocuous posts from “happy” friends can leave us feeling down.
We take a casual glance in the mirror, quietly berating ourselves for whatever perceived flaws we can pick out. Ugh, crows feet! Yuck, a millimeter of fat on my thighs!! Guess what - your body is listening.
Starting to see how the negativity builds up so quickly? Ready for some good news?? We can overcome the harmful effects of the negative inputs in our lives by counteracting them with positive inputs — happy words, thoughts, feelings, and images. The only catch is that it takes about 3 - 5 positive thoughts to recover from one negative expression. This is due to our negativity bias, which is just a fancy way of saying our brains are wired to respond more to negative inputs than positive. This was helpful in the distant past for avoiding uncomfortable situations like Saber-tooth Tiger attacks and Mastodon stampedes. Now it just means we have to work a little bit harder to keep our feet on the sunny side of the (freshly paved, tiger-free) street.
Luckily, we can significantly reduce a number of smiles and gleeful hoorays - mental green juice! - needed to reach our peak performance levels by taking a look at the inputs in our lives and minimizing those negative messages wherever possible.
Ready to start your negativity cleanse? Here’s how:
Don’t watch - or read - the news for a week. If something truly relevant to your life happens, someone will tell you. I promise.
Scroll through your social media feeds and block/unfollow/hide any posts/people/organizations that don’t make you feel good. More puppies, less fear-mongering. That tiny arrow in the upper-right corner of every post is your new best friend.
Avoid spending time with (or minimize time spent with) any Negative Nancy characters in your life. Bonus points if you can spend extra time with any super-positive folks you know.
Be nice to yourself. Try talking to yourself the way you would talk to your best friend. My, how your eyes sparkle in those new glasses! Easy, peasy.
Mental twinkles or psychological kale: the choice is yours. Feeling drunk with power? GOOD.