Ten years ago I wrote about the power of negative content on blogs. At that time, I could see a new trend emerging, a trend that would one day become part of entities effectively turning this behavior into a driving force that was used to divide our country into segments of people who hate one another based on the type of content they follow online.
The Power of Negative Content Online
Here’s the formula I saw then, with hopes of talking people into creating remarkable content… which I saw as the negative content anti-venom.
- Normal content = 1x
- Flaming content = 5x
- Remarkable content = 10x
If I had to adjust that number, knowing what we know now, I’d say it’s probably more like:
- Normal content = 1x
- Negative content = 10x
- Remarkable content = 1000x
I had no idea then, and I still struggle to understand the “why” of it today, but if something slides from “remarkable” to “viral” that goes from 1000x to 1,000,000x real quick. When I wrote “Why You Should Delete Snapchat” I knew it was remarkable content. While I wrote and published that article in a single morning, I’d spent several days cultivating it. At the moment, I had no idea that it would be something read by tens of millions of people, used in high school curriculums as an example of persuasive writing, and become something that’d spin my life in a whole different direction. But it was.
But when it comes to the last 10 years of life online, we’ve definitely learned that negative content spreads faster than ordinary content. And in the last 10 years, we’ve seen negative content go from 5x to 10x in its ability to spread.
I’m not a psychologist or a sociologist. So I can’t point to an article or study that explains why this is the case, I can just point out that it is, indeed, the case.
Negative spreads faster than positive.
The Power of a Negative Thoughts in My Life
Let’s turn this from talking about life online to my own daily life.
I can’t shake negative things said to me. I tend to brush them off. To go into a Teflon mode, as if what was said brushes right off of me. That’s clearly a defense mechanism, something I’ve known about myself for a long time, well-tuned from my childhood where I was expected to be a good, cheery boy no matter what. This was galvanized and internalized in young adulthood, a time when I didn’t have time to fail or self-reflect since I was so reticent to the fact that if I was going to accomplish my goals in life I’d just have to buck up and deal with whatever happens on my path towards where I needed to go.
So, today, when something negative is said to me or about me or worse– I find out something someone has said about me that’s negative, that defense mechanism might kick in and it looks like I go into Teflon mode, but in reality? I hold onto it.
In a week, twenty-five good things could happen. I could get tons of compliments from people in my life. But if one negative thing is said, that’s what I’m left with from the week. That’s all I think about. And that actually becomes what I think about that week or experience or day.
I currently have a handful of negative things that I’ve been holding onto for months. Some that are based in fact, are really good and important feedback, and I’ve taken them to heart to change something about myself. And in the six inches between my ears there are some that aren’t based on fact, that were merely flippantly said to me, that have nothing in them to teach or motivate me, but that has taken root inside me.
Of course, there are negative thoughts that don’t last, too. Just yesterday, on the way to the golf course, everything is going swell and I’m in a great frame of mind about a competition I’m going to be in. And then someone said something negative to me in an email I read at a stoplight, something I should have just deleted, and it spun my whole round of golf. It had nothing to do with golf but it took me hours to let go of.
I hate that this is true of me. But it is. And I don’t think I’m alone.
Two things about negative thoughts
So here’s a couple of things I want to close with.
- I don’t think what I’m talking about here is abnormal. It’s something that many of us deal with in one way or the other. I certainly hope most people deal with it in a more healthy way than I do.
- When we’re engaging with others we need to remember that what is true of ourselves is likely true of others. Each human is sacred, we need to not only honor their body but also their mind. And so, something I’ve been working on pretty hard lately, is to make sure I’m not planting that negative seed in someone’s mind that they’ll think about for the next several weeks. My hope is that as I mature in this, that I’ll have more remarkable interactions with my fellow humans then I will negative ones.
That’s my prayer for the week. That I might be a positive voice in others’ lives. Amen?