Protect Yourself From Negativity

Iceberg drawing
Iceberg by Moteoo at Pixabay

Our last post covered the negativity tendency or instinct which is one of the ten reasons Hans Rosling gives to explain why many people mistakenly think the world is getting worse. He proposed three main reasons for this negativity instinct.

    • We selectively remember the past.
    • The news media and activists selectively report events.
    • It would be “heartless” to say (or think) that things are getting better when there are still a lot of bad things going on in the world.  

We ended that post by saying that, after reviewing the facts, many of us might rationally accept that by many measures the world is getting better for most people. However, it still might not feel that way to you.

In our book, Bring Out The Best In Others, we often mention the importance of our gut feelings or intuition about things. We believe that people often make a decision based on their feeling and then make up rational arguments to support their decisions. 

The Supreme Rationalizers?

Supreme court judges are supposed to be the most dispassionate people on Earth when making case decisions. For example, during Senate confirmation hearing, Elena Kagan (Obama’s second Supreme Court Justice nominee) was asked if a judge would ever take his or her feelings into account. She replied, “It’s law all the way down”. (From the Texas Law Review, referenced below.)  

However, we tend to believe Justice Robert H. Jackson, who served on the Supreme Court from 1941 until his death in 1954. “He reportedly equated dispassionate judges to mythical beings like ‘Santa Claus’ or ‘Uncle Sam’ or ‘Easter bunnies’.” (Texas Law Review, referenced below)

Strategies To Counteract The Negativity Tendency

Rosling points out that one way to keep our negativity instinct in check is to realize that the media’s job is not to bring us a balanced view of the world. Before consuming any type of media, remind yourself that you most likely read, hear, or see the most sensational and worst the world has to offer. You could then remind yourself the world is progressing for the better in many ways, although it is still far from perfect. We highly recommend that you read Rosling’s book, Factfulness, to understand the details.

However, the constant barrage of the worst of the world can seep into our pores and take up residence in our unconscious feelings and beliefs. They can remain impervious to our conscious thoughts we bring to combat them. This is why strict forms of cognitive therapy that attempt to replace illogical and unhealthy thoughts with logical and healthy thoughts may not work well for some people.

The Iceberg Metaphor 

To understand this theory better, picture the Freudian-inspired iceberg metaphor. Our immediately available conscious experience includes our perceptions of the material world and the thoughts, imaginations, intuitions, and emotions of our interior world. By tradition, this is the top of the iceberg and accounts for only 10 percent of our overall experience of mind.

The preconscious mind can be thought of as another 10 percent of the iceberg, which is around water level. The preconscious, consisting of memories and various forms of knowledge, is available to the conscious mind some of the time. In terms of the iceberg metaphor, you can imagine that during certain phases of the moon and tide, more of the iceberg is above water—and available to the conscious mind. At other times, less is available to the conscious mind.

In our iceberg metaphor, unconscious mental processes are represented by the completely submerged part of the iceberg that rarely rises above the water and comes into conscious awareness. We might get some conscious idea of the unconscious mind through our dreams or long-term psychoanalysis. Tradition tells us the unconscious accounts for almost 80 percent of the total mind.

What We Are Suggesting

We are speculating the that many of our judgments about others and the world are firmly rooted in the unconscious. One can chip away at the top of the iceberg, through rational arguments and the presentation of facts. However, this will have little impact on the deep feelings, intuitions, and beliefs whose roots lie near the bottom of iceberg. 

You may have a friend whose social, political, or religious beliefs are 180 degrees from yours. You have developed a set of facts and rational arguments that you are sure will lead her to see your side of things and maybe even join your camp. Although this rarely happens in real life, let’s say she gives you the time to present your facts and arguments. She appears to listen but her worldview does not budge. 

You then respectfully listen to her facts and arguments. A little later, you realize you also have not budged. Both of your iceberg minds hold solid. 

What can we do then?

The first thing to realize is that the roots of our own feelings, intuitions, and beliefs are buried deep in our unconscious. A quick fix is unlikely. Using some type of Socratic dialogue to make others realize their own errors and see the truth of your positions works out well only in fictional books and movies. 

Although we will be listening to others and posting about this for a long time, here we present a few possible strategies.  

Actively Shape Your World

Candy Buffett by Epicioci from Pixabay
Candy Buffett by Epicioci from Pixabay

We have eaten at buffets where almost every item looks delectable but will likely, in the long-run, reduce both your life expectancy and the quality of your remaining years. We have occasionally been surprised that everyone made it out of the dining room on their own power. 

The lesson here is that you don’t have to consume everything your body and mind can possibly incorporate, even when it is right in front of you. In fact, if you do this, you will most likely get sick. Just because you have a TV, phone, computer, or tablet that can feed you sensational and mostly bad news 24/7, doesn’t mean you have to consume it. 

We recommend choosing a media diet that consists mostly of uplifting stories that still give you a balanced view of the world. Choose messengers and stories that, when consumed and processed, will put you in a state of openness, receptivity, compassion, love, peace, and a drive for action. We are not suggesting you block everything distressful or violent, but to consume these media-produced events in proportion to what is happening in the real world. 

We believe that too many of us choose media coverage that leads to anger, suspicion of almost everything, fearfulness, hatefulness, and the need to block themselves off from much of the world. Note that we are referring to social media, as well as traditional media sources. 

Investigate for yourself what type of media drives down near the bottom of your iceberg—that effects your deep-down feelings, beliefs, and intuitions. For many, the most powerful media in this regard is video.  It is often easier to un-hear or un-read something than to un-see it. We might better feast on written accounts of disturbing news, if we feel the need for this kind of news at all. In doing so, we will probably get a wider and more representative view of the situation, while the disturbing aspects will not borrow so deeply in our unconscious.  

Remember that that entire world is your personal media. The places you choose to go, the movies you watch, the books you read, the friends you make, your causal conversations with strangers, and your more intimate conversations with loved ones—you consume them all, while  your own speech and actions are consumed by others. 


There are several other strategies that, when practiced regularly, can lead to a deep reprogramming of the unconscious mind. There are both anecdotal reports and research results that spending some time every day focusing on what we are grateful for leads to number of psychological benefits including increased peace of mind. We also recommend mindfulness meditation, prayer, and spiritual contemplation.

As we mentioned before, we will continue to investigate and report ways of clearing our unhealthy unconscious processes. Please comment on your own thoughts and experience concerning this issue.  


Texas Law Review [Vol. 93:855 Heart Versus Head: Do Judges Follow the Law or Follow Their Feelings? By Andrew J. Wistrich,* Jeffrey J. Rachlinski** & Chris Guthrie. Accessed 5-16-2019@ 

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