How do you know if you’re engaging emotionally manipulative content? Content that mindfulness could help you with? Well, do any of these reactions to media or information ring a bell?
“Christ. WTF did they do now!?”
One of those is usually the last burst of thought that hits us before we click on that news or gossip story notification on our smartphone or turn up the TV after reading the news Chyron.
Our lives are constantly interrupted by these emotional alarms of drama and stress going off in our content notifications. Alarms that we feel, spike emotions and we stop whatever we’re doing in order to respond to them.
When that happens, you’re not in control your consumption of content. Your consumption of content is controlling you.
Upon hearing the news alert of your phone, how often do you find yourself suddenly pulled into a news story. Either sneaking onto the Internet or looking at your phone at when you should be doing work or paying attention to your family? And it doesn’t just happen once. The cycle continues. The media spits out a sensational headline and you stop what you’re doing to look at it.
Does Pavlov’s dog ring any bells at this point?
Mindfulness can help you break the reactive cycle of manipulative content.
If you want to understand how to use mindfulness to help you cope with being reactive to content, it helps to first understand the principles behind a similar phenomenon, road rage.
Road rage is what can turn a calm driver into a snarling, growling beast that’s hurling angry words, offensive gestures and even violence towards another person or their property. All it takes is something as small as driving too slow or one car cutting off another to turn a care-free dad or mom into Mad Max the road warrior.
What’s the underlying cause?
People I know have described their moments of rage as an out-of-body experience. In my younger days, I had that experience, too. It’s as if, after a perceived slight, another person inside takes their hand and pushes your conscious, rational self aside and says to you, “I’ll handle this.” Suddenly, you’re watching yourself, from an almost out-of-body point of view, do something angry, stupid or revengeful. Acts that you know, in the very moment, is acting recklessly, even dangerously.
Depending on the event that triggers it, I’d point to one of three people within you pushing you aside. I call them Rage, Fear and Greed.
Rage. Fear. Greed. The emotions that use you to act against your best interests.
How do they take over? Stressful and emotional situations stir them up and make them more vocal in your head. They’re able to dominate you and the situation when they are able to get move your mental focus away from the present and available facts and towards the future, old emotional wounds or uncertainty.
A driver swerves into your lane. “Hey! That guy cut me off! He’s an A-hole!” A conclusion you might tell yourself having decided, without proof, this action was on purpose. A projection that may have ignored any other possible and alternative theories. Perhaps, they just didn’t see you. Maybe they were avoiding an object in their lane and you were the least bad option.
Either way, your guesstimate then crystallizes into a wave of grievance or fear reduces your resistance to Rage, Greed or Fear. That’s when they say to you, “I got this, let me handle this.” And they react for you.
Our tendency to prematurely surrender to emotional reactions to an event is what mindfulness helps us to avoid.
Mindfulness? Far out man! Tell me when the space shuttle lands.
Though mindfulness gets equated with spiritual matters and crystals, it’s not. Think of more like a gym more than a church. It’s essentially teaching your brain how to be aware when your emotions are trying to dominate how you process information and events. You’re building cognitive muscle to give the mind more strength to co-exist with your emotions while not being pushed around or used by them.
Mindfulness is the psychological process of training and bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. Being present is the key.
Emotions like fear and anxiety come from focusing on the future. Focusing on the past also feeds controlling emotions. Usually driving the inability to learn or move on because you won’t let something go. The most pleasure and contentment exists when enjoying and living the present. Being mindful and staying in the present helps you to anchor yourself from being pulled and used by your feelings.
How does this speak to engaging content?
The need to live in the present and manage our emotions is becoming critical in the age of commercialism. A time where content is crafted and designed to create a response or drive you to a conclusion beyond the existing set of verifiable information or available facts. Through emotionally laced pitches, more content is attempting to speak to Rage, Fear and Greed to hijack your brain and drive you to respond.
POLITICAL AD: Those Fat Cats in Washington Wants to Cut Your Benefits.
RAGE: I can’t stand those guys!
NEWSCASTER. The Dow drops 100 points. Is the end of the bull run?
FEAR: Sell! Sell! Sell!
SALES AD. These great deals won’t last forever.
GREED: We can’t wait. Let’s go, now. Now. Now!
Emotionally driven conclusions make it seem like taking an action is incredibly obvious. It’s not. That political ad statement may not be true (yes shocking, political ads fudge truth sometimes). The Dow Jones could recover and then some tomorrow. So selling may be premature. And that deal that ad claimed, “won’t last forever?” Last time I checked, forever is not tomorrow. There’s probably time to think it through.
Practicing and building mindfulness is simply enabling you to be able to know what’s happening to you more objectively when you receive those types of messaging rather than simply being caught up in the drama.
I’ll tell you what it’s like when it happens to me. You can feel the stimulus in the content that is making your angry, fearful or greedy. I don’t kill the emotion or stop myself from being able to feel it, its more that I acknowledge it (otherwise you’re repressing your feelings) and methodically you become comfortable just being one of the voices in your head. You’re building a resistance to its reactionary demands.
PANIC: “You are going to fail. It’s going to get you.”
MINDFUL YOU: I want to give the speech. I’m okay with any outcome.
RAGE: “Are you going to put up with that?”
MINDFUL YOU: No. I will stand my ground and assert myself without leading with my fist.
GREED: That’s a great deal. Get it now. Get it now!
MINDFUL YOU: Maybe. Let me see if I need another one.
As mindfulness robs those voices inside you of the power to control, it robs victory from the content developers who craft-button-pushing content that seek to influence you. Learning to free yourself from those provocations helps starve Rage, Greed, and Fear. It also prevents you from being further seduced into a cycle where you keep taking in content that simply feeds Rage, Fear and Greed.
If you fail to break that cycle, it’s not unusual to find yourself hate-watching programs like CNN or Fox News or CNBC. Sure, they make you feel bad or angry but you keep watching them anyway.
That fear or greed you feel is fed by the inflammatory content and like an addiction, you seek out more of it. That’s when the content really controls you.
I see it in my family and friends who keep their TVs glued on the news channels or click to read every “guess what so-and-so did” notification of their phone and grumble the rest of the day as they wrestle with how the content makes them feel.
Does that mean you ignore news or avoid all content?
Of course not. Mindfulness helps you choose what content better helps you learn rather than what ticks you off or worries you.
I’ll admit mindfulness doesn’t make me perfect or will make you perfect. I still get sucked into an occasional anger inducting article that it takes a moment to shake off it and bring my back to the present. However I will attest, it does make me a better content consumer, no doubt.