Doom and Gloom Special (Part 1)

Part 2 is here

The end of the world is nigh (yet again)

I was on my way back from London and was buying a coffee in the train’s overcrowded buffet car. This was back in 1997 and just a few days after the death of Princess Diana.

Behind me, a somewhat inebriated journalist was loudly confiding to his companion that Diana’s death was going to cost the newspaper industry millions of pounds. ‘We’ll never be able to replace her – her picture on the front page guaranteed sales’.

I wasn’t hugely shocked by his mercenary cynicism – although his booze-induced frankness did surprise – because, while our news media here in the UK is often described as the best that is available anywhere, it seems to have become more sensationalising and trivialising in the past decade or so.

What’s behind that behaviour?

The NLP suggestion, when faced with someone’s inappropriate behaviour, is to look for the ‘intention’ behind that behaviour rather than focus merely on the behaviour. By “intention” we mean what the person trying to achieve through their behaviour.

So if a colleague is being difficult in some way we seek to find out what are they trying to achieve through that behaviour. If one’s child or partner is sulking we aim to find out what they trying to achieve through sulking.

If we apply this to the news media, it’s pretty obvious what’s going on. The newspapers, magazines, television and radio want to keep us coming back for more. The individual journalists want to further their careers, get more money and collect awards.

And in both cases we, their customers, are a means to an end.

In addition to seeking the intention behind that behaviour, it is also useful to use the NLP Different Perspectives, or Perceptual Positions patterns that we can see the situation through their eyes. Applying this to the media their behaviour is quite logical since they are prepared to do whatever it takes to stay in business, especially with so many people switching to the Internet for news.

Shock, sadden and scare!

If we then use the NLP tactic of Chunking Up in order to recognise the bigger picture behind the various methods they use we can recognise a three-part formula for attracting you and me: the 3 S’s of shock, sadden, and scare.

The accepted wisdom in the media is that good news doesn’t sell and they appear to believe that this best way of selling copies, or maintaining ratings or, in the case of individual journalists making a name for yourself.

(Yes, there could be a fourth ‘S’ in the formula if we add ‘seduce’. And some sections of the media do quite well by featuring naked bodies and salacious gossip and investigations into people’s private lives.)

The Global Economic Gloom/crisis/crunch/etc

Right now the Global Economic Crisis is big news so we are fed daily dollops of grim news: job cuts, business closures, house prices falling, falling profits, and consumers and running scared rather than shopping. And you can bet that there will be ever more gloomy predictions and reports for at least the next few months.

This will continue until a serious plane crash, terrorist atrocity, or natural calamity steals the headlines for a week or so. And you can bet that already there is that other trusty perennial The Annual Great Winter Flu Scare story waiting in the wings, just in case, to boost the ratings and advertising and sales.

And before that it was ….

Earlier this year we were receiving warnings that rising prices were going to cause famine in most developing countries. At about the same time reports on rising petrol prices reached near-hysteria with warnings that driving would soon become too expensive for many of us – and make food too expensive for many even in the developed world. And then we had the running story that we in Europe were facing a winter freeze up because Russia would turn off Europe’s gas supply.

Now, just a few months later, oil prices are at their lowest for 18 months and this has resulted in lower food prices internationally because of cheaper fertiliser and reduced distribution costs. And, it appears, Russia needs to trade just like any other nation. This news is not getting the same media coverage – it doesn’t meet the shock-sadden-scare criteria.

But there is bad news

Yes, there is a lot of bad news about.  And it’s right and proper that the media should report it.

However, there is not just bad news. There is good news as well but the good news doesn’t sell newspapers or help ratings. And even when it is covered it certainly doesn’t get the headlines or the sustained coverage.

The bad news coverage is generally sensationalised and gives us neither a balanced nor a long-term perspective.  We do not, for example

  • Hear much about the increase in many household incomes resulting from the recent big drop in the bank rate
  • Get balanced perspectives on the bad news – such as how, two or three years after the great housing crash of the early 90s, most house prices had exceeded their pre-crash price
  • Hear much about the success stories such as how the town of Corby in Northants, written off by the media 20 years ago after the collapse of the steel industry, has successfully regenerated itself.

The Shock-Sadden-Scare approach sets our ‘filters’

In our NLP Core Skills course, we do an important little experiment to demonstrate how we automatically, or unconsciously, filter incoming information – and how this filtering process influences our attitude, our actions, and our emotions.

The experiment explains how we find what we set out to find and how self-fulfilling prophecy’s work. Now, unless we are very careful indeed, the news media will set our filters in a very important way; we will begin to see only doom, gloom, suffering, pain, illness, poverty, and so on – negating optimism, enthusiasm and even the joy of living. And this is happening to millions of individuals right now: you may have noticed how much more pessimistic and cautious many people seem to be now compared with even six or eight months ago…

Maintaining a positive attitude

Even if you do choose to not read newspapers, not look as headlines on billboards, not listen to the radio or watch TV news you’re still going to be mixing with people who do this and who have absorbed that attitude. And it takes a pretty determined and clear thinking attitude to not be at least slightly affected by it.

So, unless we are very careful, we can get used to accepting such messages as simply describing ‘the way things are’ and, once this begins happening, they can become self-fulfilling prophecies so that …

  • Instead of building your own business, when most other people are being cautious, you decide ‘it’s not the right time’ and passively wait for things to get better
  • Instead of convincing potential customers that this is a great time to buy you accept their story that times are hard
  • Instead of furthering your career by looking for a better job you keep your head down and hope you don’t get sacked
  • Instead of investing in your professional and personal development you decide to wait for a few more years
  • Instead of taking advantage of very low prices you decide to hold off until things have stabilised or until prices have started rising again.

So opportunities are missed, economic activity slows down even further and the media have more doom and gloom to report – and their gloomy predictions have been proved right – by you and me!

But bad things are happening…

Yes, and they have always been happening and will continue to happen. People are losing jobs or even their homes and businesses are closing. To bounce back from serious setbacks such as these requires self-belief, confidence, and realistic optimism – qualities that are unlikely to be engendered by paying attention to the news media.

Action Points

There are quite a few things, apart from the obvious and somewhat extreme move of avoiding the news media altogether, which we can do to

  • Immunise ourselves against the shock, sadden and scare approach
  • Alert others to the need for clearer thinking and maybe even
  • Look for opportunities where others see only difficulties.

And we’ll begin looking at these in the next newsletter – which will be with you in just over a week!

First published 26 November 2008. Edited and republished 31 January 2020.

Related articles (March 2006) (March 2008) (August 2008) (November 2008)  Part 2 of the above article (January 2009)  (September 2009) (January 2011)

© Reg Connolly – copyrighted, all rights reserved – but you can freely pass this newsletter on to friends as long as you do so in its entirety, include this message and link:

Scroll to Top