Unless you have a supremely powerful ability to resist your phone, or it’s a ‘dumb’ phone that literally doesn’t have any social media apps, chances are you’ve spent a good chunk of the last couple of years (or more) doing it regularly. Last thing at night is the prime time for it. You’re in bed, face illuminated by the depressing news pouring into social media, willing yourself to hit that lock button and go to sleep, swiping mechanically up the screen. But the gloom keeps coming from below the line. A familiar scenario?
Doomscrolling. Why do we do it and how can we stop?
You don’t have to read this whole article for the solution. Here’s the spoiler: savouring good news for just 15 concentrated seconds will help you kick the habit and feel more positive overall.
As to the why, here’s the longer explanation.
Neuroscientists believe that evolution has led to negative news and experiences sticking to our brains like glue. Prehistoric humans needed to remember and learn from dangerous and difficult experiences. Ever been stopped in your tracks by the memory of an embarrassing thing that happened to you in primary school. Or that argument you had with your partner, friend or family that ruined an otherwise excellent day? That’s negativity bias in a nutshell. Conversely, good news slides off and disappears as fast as a failed TikTok trend.
It’s why people feel compelled to share depressing news stories on social media (or just moan a lot), and it shows why true crime podcasts are so popular. It’s also why certain tech giants prioritise negative and divisive news on their apps’ algorithms, because it drives higher engagement, despite research showing how this affects users’ mental health. Higher engagement = increased activity = more advertising consumed = greater profit.
15 seconds to freedom
The antidote to negativity bias is surprisingly simple. All it takes to start reprogramming your brain, according to neuropsychologist – and New York Times bestselling author – Dr Rick Hanson, is 15 seconds of consciously savouring good news or any positive experience, no matter how small.
While social media users may not find their newsfeeds filled with positive news on the regular (even when surrounded with likeminded friends), there are, of course, plenty of sites you can head to for happy stories. Wunder is one, obviously. There are social media pages and influencers devoted to this stuff. There’s even an array of positivity podcasts to help you be more focused on all that’s good. But if you’re too busy (or jaded) to seek out good news, there’s an easier way to work the 15 second theory into your life.
No matter how dull your day, there will be small bursts of enjoyment, moments of pleasure and satisfaction here and there. A perfectly brewed tea, a seat on the bus, firing off a call or email to sort something you’ve been putting off. Instead of letting the moment pass unnoticed, just spend 15 seconds appreciating the feeling. Let it sink in and enjoy it.
No joy today? No problem
If you’re still convinced there’s nothing you’ve enjoyed today, look back further. Last weekend, last year, when you were a kid. In his TedX Talk, Dr Rick Hanson suggests trying it by thinking about a person, pet or group who genuinely cares about you, and just… feel… for a short while. Take a moment to remember feeling loved, and focus on turning the image or memory from concept to feeling, to experience. Then stay with it for that critical 15-second period for your brain to absorb it.
‘A simple moment, 10, 20 seconds usually won’t change our life. But bit by bit, it can really make an enormous difference.’
When it comes to living in the moment, you will have to consciously focus on doing it at first, but it’ll become hardwired with a little practice. And for every 15 seconds of concentrated happiness, the urge to doomscroll will reduce. You’ll have more motivation to close down those negativity-filled newsfeeds and timelines forever. Okay, maybe not forever, but you’ll have more drive to put them down and mute any toxic people. (Side note: TikTok is a better source of wholesomeness and multiple 15 happy seconds of content than it is of doomscrolling).
Here’s the bottom line
The more we take in and amplify the good in life and the world, the more we’re able to see the bad. And actually do something about it. So while it may take a little longer than 15 seconds in total to quit doomscrolling forever, every short burst of positivity takes you one step closer.
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