Bad news travels in packs. On the bright side, so does good news. It certainly feels that way. In many cases we have no control over external events and have to learn to surf the waves. However, there are situations where we make our own news and, to an extent, understanding why bad news seems to pile up helps us with our surfing.
Certain varieties of bad news, such as Illness and injury, really are beyond our control. However, if other bad news seems to arrive in groups it can be because you are subconsciously encouraging it. There are cycles of perception and an individual weighed down by bad news can act as a magnet for more.
In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman references an experiment carried out on individuals using a New York phone booth (back in the days when people still used phone booths). For half of the unwitting subjects, money for a call had been deliberately left in the phone by the organisers. When the subjects had finished their call and exited the booth, a passer-by ‘accidently’ dropped a sheaf of papers on the ground. Of those who had just benefitted from a free call, 88% stopped to help with the ‘accident’ they witnessed. Of those who had paid for their own call, only 4% stopped to pick up papers.
A stroke of seeming good luck makes most of us more positive and more likely to act in a positive way. Translate this to the commercial world where one good turn really does earn another and what goes around does tend to come around, and you can see how a positive cycle can develop. A piece of good news can cause you to act in a way that is likely to earn you more good news.
You can also imagine the reverse. A dose of bad news can put you off your stride, take you out of the right frame of mind and lead you to make poor choices. Imagine attending a meeting with a prospective client. If you’ve recently secured lucrative work with another client, your mood will be significantly different than if you’ve recently received some bad news about a working partnership gone sour. Which version of you would be more likely to seal this deal?
You might think that you are above such influences, but the phone box experiment demonstrates that good or bad news affects our disposition without us necessarily realising, even though it’s something others may well pick up on. You only have to look at the economy. Beneath all the formulas and predictive equations, the stock market is ultimately built on confidence and is subject to cycles of boom and bust that are more to do with psychology than facts and figures.
You can’t avoid hearing bad news from time to time, but you can try to ride the waves. Working on your emotional intelligence and self-awareness can help you compartmentalise bad news, accept it and try to minimise its perceptible effects. We’re not robots and we can’t control our subconscious but we can take steps to minimise the effect bad news has on us in the future and at the very least, realise that these cycles do end. Good news does come, and when you get that free New York phone call it is important to take full advantage of the psychological benefits good news can bring.