‘Take control of our attention with intention’ is a powerful piece of advice from Dr Sean O’Connor, Director of the Coaching Psychology Unit, University of Sydney. He was recently addressing a panel question at the Flourish 2020 Summit about what effect the media and news cycles have on our wellbeing, particularly in light of events this year.
The negative attention-grabbing clickbait headlines and the speed at which the news cycles move, has not only reduced our attention span it has also impacted our ability to expand our own thoughts for creative solution-focused thinking.
Research shows that our brain responds more intensely to negative stimuli. Our in-built ‘negativity bias’ directs our attention towards negative events rather than positive ones. It has us ruminating and dwelling on the bad things and paying far less attention to the good things that are happening.
Dr O’Connor suggests that we start ‘curating our own experience’ by not relying on the media’s negative coverage. Instead we can intentionally choose where our attention is being directed and control the effect that has on our emotions, thoughts and actions.
Refocussing our attention towards positive events and interactions increases the ratio of positive to negative emotions that we experience and helps to counter-balance the lopsided negativity bias.
Numerous studies of Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build Theory show that positive emotions have a strengthening effect on our brain and body, allowing our bodies to heal, improving our immunity and calming our nervous system. Positive emotions also provide the fuel our brain needs to think clearly, expand our thinking and help us to generate new ideas.
So next time you’re about to be hooked into negative news story, perhaps take a second to pause and ask yourself if it’s really worth your attention.