When I say fake news, what do you think of? Facebook? Politics? Ridiculous claims that are obviously false? Well, what if I told you that one of the greatest sources of fake news is in your head? Your mind tells you lies every day that prevent you from being your best as a supervisor and as a human being. This fake news is also making you more stressed. Keep reading to discover how your own mind is getting in your way and how you can correct these lies so you can become your best self and be less stressed.
Now the term fake news was popularized during the 2016 presidential election. I think we all remember the sound bites from back then. Basically, whenever a certain candidate didn’t like a bit of information, they cried, “Fake news!” From there, we started applying it to stories that didn’t seem to correspond with the evidence. Those stories were often inflammatory and designed to sway folks to do or believe certain things. Each year in my speech class, we talk about fake news and how to identify reliable sources for their speeches. The librarian comes in and talks about how to vet resources using things like the CRAP test (Is it Current; Is it Reliable; Who is the Author; What is the Purpose/POV), or the SIFT method (Stop; Investigate the Source; Find Better Coverage; Trace Claims, Quotes, and Media to the Original Context). And those are great tools to separate truth from unsubstantiated nonsense when you’re dealing with fake news from external sources.
Now some fake news is a bit more obvious than others. And I’m sure when you see those articles or videos you rightfully think, “Who the BLEEP would even believe that?” In fact, a lot of judgement goes towards folks who DO believe the fake news that’s out there. And let’s get a little clearer in defining fake news. For our purposes, let’s define fake news as thoughts or beliefs that aren’t objectively true. And by objectively true, let’s define that as something that is true for everyone whether you believe it or not. For example, does the earth rotate around the sun? It does. But flat-earthers believe the sun and moon rotate around the flat earth. That’s not what science tells us. Again, when we encounter folks who believe such things despite the evidence, we just can’t seem to wrap our heads around how someone could believe something so obviously wrong.
Now when we talk about fake news, we typically think about someone else who has a video, podcast, article, or a post about something that seems questionable. Then we assess it and decide if it has merit. But here’s the thing, we have loads of thoughts every day that are fake news. And where are those thoughts coming from? Your mind, specifically your subconscious. Yes, the calls are coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE! They live in your head and show up every day impacting your thoughts, emotions, and your actions. We – myself included – waste loads of time and energy jumping through hoops and limiting ourselves because of these fake news stories in our own minds.
But if you’re reading this, you’re an educated human who prides themselves on being able to identify fake news, right? When people, politicians, companies, and organizations spread lies in the news or on social media, you’re quick to question it and don’t just accept things because someone said so. If that’s true, how can there be things INSIDE your own brain that are leading you astray? How did those lies get in there and why haven’t you been as discerning as you are with external sources?
Excellent questions! I’ve done previous articles in the past about our stories – aka limiting beliefs. That’s really what we’re talking about. In a nutshell, there are two parts of your brain – the conscious and the subconscious. The conscious mind is the one going, “Hmm, I don’t know about that. Show me the proof.” It allows you to assess the world around you, be creative, and decide what YOU want to do – aka free will. And when most people think about their brain, that’s typically what they think they’re thinking about. I’ve said this before, but your conscious mind can process about 40 bits of data per second. Pretty sweet, right?
So, what about the subconscious mind? If you’re like me, I thought the subconscious was mostly there for maintenance and behind the scenes business. Like, it kept my heart beating, lungs breathing, and reminded me to brush my teeth every night. And to some extent, that’s true. It does do all those things. But it does loads of other things too, including ruining your life with fake news. Your subconscious processes 40 MILLION bits of data per second. That’s a million times more than your conscious mind. What’s more, it’s running your life 95-99% of the time. And if my math is correct, that’s practically ALL the time. When you’re running on autopilot, it’s your subconscious that’s in control. And just like any autopilot, it needs programming to know what to do in all the situations you typically encounter. A student needs to register for a class…BAM, you know exactly what to do. You need to get to work…BAM you get in your car and don’t even remember most of the drive.
There’s plenty of your programming that comes in handy everyday and has kept you alive and thriving in some areas. But there are also programs that hold you back and keeping you from being your best. They have you spend your valuable energy on things that don’t serve you or help you achieve your goals. But because this programming shows up when you’re on autopilot, you don’t typically pay attention to whether the accompanying thoughts – or stories – are helping you get where you want to go or getting in your way. You just accept every thought passing through your mind as true. It’s called cognitive fusion. Basically, you just buy into whatever thought you have instead of stepping back to assess and research whether the information is correct, like you would with a social media post or video.
To better understand why your brain is serving up all this fake news, let’s talk about where your programming comes from. Most of it comes from when you were a kid. That’s true whether you’re 25 or 65. And when you think about it, this makes sense. Your brain’s number one job is to keep you alive. I mean if it doesn’t, it’s kind of out of a job, right? So as a tiny human, your brain needs to upload a ton of important information about your environment to keep you safe. The fastest way to do that is using the subconscious because it’s the fastest processor. Remember, it’s a million times faster than your conscious mind. Your subconscious is gathering information from your experiences, including all the things you’re told by parents, guardians, grandparents, teachers, tv personalities, or any perceived authority in your life. And it’s that input that formulates all the “if ____, then ____” programs in your tiny brain.
In fact, your conscious mind doesn’t even come online until you’re about 7 or 8 years old. And since it’s your conscious mind that can question and assess whether something is true or not, that means for most of your formative years there’s a TON of stuff getting in there without any scrutiny. Did your mom tell you or show you that your needs always come after everyone else’s? I can guarantee that’s showing up for you today unless you’ve been doing some real work on yourself. Did a teacher tell you that you’re bad at math or art? Have you spent your life avoiding those things? I know it’s easy to think now – or even as a teenager, “Ugh, my dad is an idiot. He doesn’t know anything!” But by the time you realize that mom or dad or whoever might be wrong, your subconscious already has you living by their rules and beliefs even if you don’t see it. Have you ever been called out by a friend or sibling, “Haha, you’re acting just like your mother!” You’re probably irritated, but it’s also probably true.
So, let’s get back to this idea of fake news. If things made it to your subconscious about the world, your role in it, or your abilities that weren’t properly screened, that’s fake news that your mind has just accepted as being true. And those thoughts keep coming up and influencing how you think about the world, how you spend your energy, and how you see yourself. I’ll bring it back to Strengths for a hot second. Here’s a few examples…
Achievers, if you were told that your value came from getting things done, then can you see how that impacts how you spend your time and energy every day? Does sitting around relaxing feel wrong? Why is that? Because your value is attached to your outcomes.
Adaptability folks, which includes me. If as a child you realized you had very little say or control over what happened around you, wouldn’t it be in your best interest to be good at pivoting? I mean, if you got no say or had no power to influence anything, it’s better to go with the flow, right?
Let’s drop down alphabetically and look at Harmony. If you grew up in an environment that had a lot of discord, it might have become important for you to find ways to get along and move forward. This might mean thinking all conflict is bad and avoiding it, or just becoming skilled at conflict resolution.
Those are just a few examples, but I just wanted to illustrate how our formative years continue to impact us. You probably rarely think about how the way you show up now, including the things you do best, have been directed by these early encounters. You just go about your day achieving or adapting or harmonizing those around you, because your subconscious brain BELIEVES that’s what’s necessary to keep you safe. And again, some of those stories or beliefs or thoughts – whatever you want to call them – ARE helpful. If you’ve been promoted or gotten leadership roles, it might very well be because you achieved more than others. It could be because you adapt so well to change. Or maybe you’re able to navigate conflict better than others.
The problem comes when your stories get in the way of what you decide you want for yourself. So, if you decide that what you want or value is different than the folks who put those things into your head to begin with, your programs are going to get in your way.
Let’s look at some stereotypical gender roles. If you’re a woman, perhaps your mother told you or at least role modeled that it’s your job to take care of your partner and the kids, as well as work to support the family financially. That means focusing on your career or taking care of yourself MUST take a back seat to your partner, kids, and probably your team and students. Even if you want to do those things, when you do them there’s a cognitive dissonance that brings stress, anxiety, and guilt. There’s fake news running through your head that tells you you’re wrong for wanting those things. But those gender roles are simply constructs that other folks decided were true that got uploaded into your subconscious. If you can identify those thoughts and upgrade them, then there’s no more cognitive dissonance. There’s no more stress or guilt from there because you’ve realized corrected the fake news.
If you’re a male, perhaps you were taught to keep your emotions in check and avoid looking too sensitive. Again, that’s a pretty stereotypical gender role. Well guess what? Men totally have feelings. That means every time an emotion comes bubbling up, your subconscious is all, “Nope, shut it down. Not in this house.” And objectively you know men have emotions and it’s ridiculous for us to think otherwise. But remember, this has nothing to do with what we rationally or objectively think. When you were growing up, a sensitive emotional boy might have been ridiculed or mocked, or at the very least looked down on. That means to fit in to your family – aka to survive in your family – you had to “toughen up.” Showing emotions was NEVER the right thing to do, so you learned to shove those emotions down. And even though you don’t live with your parents now, your brain has been programmed to automatically do that to protect you. And even though you have a supportive partner who encourages you to say how you feel, it just feels WRONG. The reason for that is the fake news that’s stuck in your head about how you SHOULD behave.
If you want a hint about what thoughts might be fake news, focus on some of the words I’ve emphasized here like must, should, or never. Absolute language like this feels heavy and doesn’t allow for what you want or need. It also establishes some very strict patterns and programs that hold you hostage to that fake news. It thrives in black and white thinking. When folks buy into fake news on the internet, you can see how it plays out. They get worked up and emotionally triggered by whatever the lie is. Trump is saving America? Then anyone who is against Trump is against America. Trump is the devil? Then anyone who supports Trump is evil.
But when you start to question the fake news, whether external or internal, you can start to see how nuanced life is. You see how the information you know or were given might not be all there is to the story. You start to see the motivations of the folks who wrote the article or wanted you to conform to gender roles. And the thing about beliefs is that they do FEEL true. So, when you start to question them, it might even feel wrong. But we see everyday folks who vehemently believe this or that and we KNOW they’re wrong because the evidence contradicts them. If other people can believe things that are objectively wrong with all their heart, so can you. And those feelings often stem from the programming and fake news that’s swirling around in your subconscious.
So, don’t believe everything you think. You are not your thoughts. Start assessing the stories you have about how life works and your role in it. Fake news may not be ruining your life, but it’s absolutely keeping you from creating the life you want. You have the ability to upgrade your subconscious and align it with what you now know is true – or at least truer than the old story. You don’t have to repeat the patterns that keep you feeling stuck and waste your valuable energy. The first thing we talk about in the Institute is energy management. And the stories you have about yourself and this world determine where you spend your energy. Make sure you’re spending your energy on the right things and on the right people, including yourself.