I am the father of a 3 year old and a 10 month old, so I spend the majority of my time protecting them from potential threats (which is usually themselves). Like everyone else, the latest imminent threat is the Coronavirus; it dominates media coverage and conversations.
In the midst of what feels like our collective impending doom, I am gaining needed perspective from an unlikely source: Roy Baumeister + John Tierney’s new book, The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It.
Their thesis is powerful in its simplicity;
We are hardwired to focus and obsess over things that are bad, while we overlook the good. That’s why 40% of Americans are worried about dying in a terrorist attack, despite the fact that they are more likely to die in the bathtub.
The more exposed we are to a threat, the more likely we think it will occur. We are more afraid of terrorists attacks because whenever one occurs, it dominates the news cycle. This causes us to believe they are more common than they actually are.
This is what makes the Coronavirus so scary. It’s dominating the news cycle and we can follow its spread in real-time. The more we follow it, the more scared we become. The more scared we become, the more we follow the story. It becomes a vicious feedback loop.
Knowing that our brains, as a matter of evolutionary survival, are hardwired to focus on threats provides me comfort. Yes, the worry is there (as it should be - wash your hands everyone!) and I’m still going to be vigilant in protecting my family. However, knowing that this response is a hardwired feature and not a bug, makes me more aware and better able to manage these emotions.