Going through my Facebook newsfeed this morning, I noticed how almost every post's headline screamed out something negative, to make me feel so indignant and frightened that I would not be able to resist clicking. Due to the way in which our brains are innately wired, negative posts that make us feel anger or fear are far more likely to catch our attention than posts that make us think or provide non-emotive information. This is why negativity is a powerful clickbait technique used by advertisers. There are 2 'hotspots' in our brain that advertisers target. One hotspot is our reward circuit which responds to sex or food cues. The other hotspot is our emotional brain that responds to stimuli that make us angry or scared.
If you are exposed to only 4.34% more negative posts on social media, you are more likely to make a negative post yourself. If you are exposed to only 4.5% more positive posts, you are likely to post something positive. After reading 20% more negative posts than positive ones this morning, I am more likely to make a negative post on social media. Reading it will make at least two people feel negative. They will pass that negativity on to at least four people. The negativity of my single post will be magnified and propagated across swathes of cyberspace. Strangely, the content of my post will disappear into oblivion, while its negativity snowballs into an avalanche.
It is not just negativity that my post will trigger. Every time a post induces anger or indignation, it also triggers a stress response. As negativity splurges across cyberspace, it ignites stress in every individual it contaminates. In spreading negativity, my single post is spreading a stress contagion. Every negative clickbait post contributes to an individual's stress-load. Social media may be the single biggest source of daily stress to us, even if everything else in our lives is going well.
The flip side is, this contagious disease works both ways. Just like negativity breeds and spreads negativity, positivity breeds and spreads positivity. Reading neutral or educational social media posts stimulates the prefrontal cortex (your ‘rational’ brain circuits) and keeps the emotional brain quiet. If you pass on your positivity to a handful of people and they do the same, you will blow away dark clouds across a vast section of cyberspace by creating a ripple of good humour. Negativity is quite literally a contagion. So is positivity. You can decide which virus you want to catch and spread within social media.
You can give your mind an hour of 'protected positivity' when you wake up, every morning by noticing and dwelling on every positive feeling, sensation and thought floating into your mind, from the moment you wake up. Actively notice the smell of your coffee or how that steaming hot shower feels on your skin. As you look at your phone or computer, filter out things that will subconsciously trigger your stress response and fuel your negativity. Focus on the things without any emotional baggage - or on things that make you smile.
Doing this will set you up for the whole day. Don’t forget to keep propagating that positivity virus all day – throw some positivity contagion into cyberspace, laugh at every opportunity and surround yourself with positive people and things. You will make someone else catch your happiness bug and pass it on!
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