Have you heard about “rage farming”? It’s a manipulative strategy to hold your attention and increase internet traffic by creating shock, outrage, and fear.
Rage farmers know all about the human brain’s tendency to rivet our attention on anything that scares us. And they couldn’t care less about the truth. So they tell lies, often outrageous ones. And if lies are repeated enough times, people start to think they are facts.
In Twelve-Step groups they say FEAR stands for “false events appearing real.” And though there are many things to fear in this world, most of our fears and anxieties come from imagining things that never actually happen.
Spreading at the Speed of Lies
Because scared people tell other people about what scares them, lies spread faster than truth—six times faster, according to research by Nobel Prize winning journalist Maria Ressa. She should know. After exposing corruption in the Philippine government, a disinformation campaign told endless lies about her. She received literally millions of threatening messages.
Ressa’s life is still perpetually in danger. But instead of being anxious and haunted, she’s just the opposite: humble, funny, and exuberant. Almost bubbly.
How is this possible?
One answer comes from something else Ressa’s research revealed: There’s only one thing that travels as fast as lies. Not truth per se, but inspiration.
The Way Out of Fear
“Inspiration” has several meanings. One is simply “drawing breath.” Or it can mean having a new idea. Or it can mean being “in-spirited,” filled with peace and grace from the mystery. All these meanings are related. In fact, the word “inspiration” is a three-step recipe for ending anxiety and living joyfully in a difficult world.
When you feel anxious, when your mind is filled with “false events appearing real,” first take a few minutes to stop and breathe deeply. It feels wonderful, and it tells your brain it’s safe, so it can stop pumping out anxiety. Also, avoid letting your brain “breathe in” the sensationalism, fury, and false attacks that seem to surround us. That’s what the “block” function is for.
Next, turn your mind toward creativity, the “new idea” aspect of inspiration. Create something—anything. Color with markers. Write a poem. Think up a new dance move. The point isn’t to show off (no one needs to know) but to wake up the creative parts of your brain, where anxiety can’t take root.
If you spend enough time in playful creativity, those same brain structures will take you all the way into the mystery. As neurologist Oliver Sacks once said, “With neurology, if you go far enough with it, and you keep going, you end up getting weird. If you go a little further, you end up in the spirit.”
When I feel anxious, I don’t always have the gumption to follow the simple instructions above. So I stand on the shoulders of giants, reading the words of others who first found inspiration, and then set out to spread it. It works like a charm. So find words that inspire you, and keep them visible, or in easy reach.
While you’re at it, interact with other items that inspire you. Plants, outside or inside, exude the oxygen we “inspire” every time we draw breath in. We literally co-evolved to help one another, and spending time with green growing things has been shown to help our bodies and brains stay happy.
It also helps to keep a stash of creativity tools: grown-up playthings like art supplies, gardening gadgets, or musical instruments. And instead of doomscrolling through the internet, we can look at and listen to inspiring stories like Maria Ressa’s.
All over the world, people are working to upset us as much as possible, so we’ll spend our brief, precious lives focused on them, buying their false stories and whatever else they’re selling. But all over the world, other people are doing inspired, inspiring things.
Our lives and societies will grow better, and our whole planet will ultimately be safer, if we deliberately turn away from the “false events appearing real” and focus on the one thing that travels as fast as a lie. I’m going to seek out inspiration every day, consciously and stubbornly. Because I want to live a life of joy and truth. I’m hoping you do, too.
Discover additional articles, videos, podcast episodes, and mini-books in Martha’s series on anxiety on The Art of Calm Hub.
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