How about this frontal assault on your cerebral cortex: People who watch just three minutes of negative news in the morning have a whopping 27 percent greater likelihood of reporting their day as unhappy or depressing six to eight hours later.
Those were the words of positive psychology researchers Shawn Achor and his wife Michelle Gielan, as originally reported in Harvard Business Review.
What This Means for Work and Business
Achor says that the effect of watching negative news can also have a negative impact on work productivity. From HBR:
We believe 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. 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 essence, workers that consume negative news (as little as 3 minutes per day!) may potentially bring an unhappy and sluggish work ethic with them, slowing things down and affecting both individual and company goals from being met.
In an EntreLeadership podcast, Achor says that what we're doing in the morning is priming our brain to either have a good day or a bad day. With the exposure to negative news, our brains become conditioned to "delete opportunities when we think that the world is negative." That means we may not even be aware of new opportunities as they slip away.
The Good News: Optimism Changes Everything
The first step is acknowledging that being exposed to negative stimuli may be a factor in how work is conducted. Bosses take note: Is CNN or Fox News blaring from TV or computer monitors? Are people being fed doom and gloom on their mobile devices during the day? Are conversations in the break room and hallways centered around tragedy?
Reversing the effects from a steady influx of madness and mayhem can be as simple as choosing optimism. Check this out...
Achor says when we're optimistic -- in a positive state -- our brain thinks it has more resources to solve problems and come up with solutions, so it actually lets in more opportunities.
As it turns out, and here's the clincher, optimism is the greatest predictor of entrepreneurial success. This is because optimism allows the brain to actually see possibilities where no one else does.
Achor mentions classic research by Martin Seligman, considered the founder of positive psychology, where Seligman concluded that optimism is linked to higher performance. In his studies, he found that optimistic salespeople at Metropolitan Life outsold their pessimistic counterparts by 37 percent.
In another striking illustration, Achor's own client, Nationwide Insurance, saw a dramatic increase in gross revenues in just one year after employees implemented daily huddles to start their days optimistically by sharing good news and giving each other extra support.
3 Strategies to Counter Negativity
If you want to cut down the negative noise and become more optimistic, Achor suggests applying these quick strategies.
Turn off email or phone news alerts and push notifications for one week. Achor says these alerts distract us from being present with our work, which can lead to decreased performance.
Turn your brain into a noise-canceling machine. On your commute to work, avoid turning on the radio for the first five minutes of your commute, and be in the practice of meditation. Once you flip the radio back on, stay away from contentious talk radio, and mute at least one set of commercials per show. This trains the brain to cancel the noise we don't want and helps us to maintain our optimism.
Seek out news that empowers: While news-watching itself is not bad, Achor stresses the importance of starting the day listening to "solution-focused news." It's going to be a rare find, but seek out positive stories that "empower people with actions steps and potential solutions instead of just focusing on the problems." Achor mentions two possibilities to get you going: Huffington Post's new What's Working series or CNN's new Impact Your World series.
I know for some people, choosing to cut out negative news will be as hard as cutting off sugar from their diet. But think of the enormous possibilities for what learning optimism and bringing a positive mindset could mean for work and improving performance.
If the three strategies above pose as too high a mountain to climb, conquer a small mole hill with the first strategy. Then monitor your optimism after one week. Do you notice any changes to your performance? Are you more focused? Are your thoughts more positive? Now move to the next strategy. As Achor says, "control your news consumption instead of letting it control you."