Who cares if someone flipped you the bird

I heard a really interesting story nestled inside of Trevor Moawad’s book Getting to Neutral

Sometime in 1977, then New York Mayor, Ed Koch, tells a story of riding through New York with then president, Ronald Regan. The car was crossing 42 street amidst a throng of well wishers. Out of all the people cheering, Regan noticed the one person flipping him the bird. 

Koch: “Mr. President, don’t be so upset. Out of all the people cheering for you, and only 1 guy gave you the finger.”
Regan: “That’s what Nancy says, but I always see the guy with the finger”. 

Isn’t that interesting. This was in the late 1970’s. Over 45 years ago.

This story really stuck with me. There was no social media in the 1970’s, there was no “internet” like we know it now. And it was a more organic time for relationships, and connecting. And still, Regan only saw the guy giving him the finger. 

There is an explanation to all of this. And it relates directly to our brain and how we are programmed. The guy with the finger is a perceived threat. And so our brain is programmed to see the guy giving the finger, and try to keep us safe by getting rid of the threat. The people cheering and waving just aren’t a threat. Our brain does not need to keep us safe from them. And so we have to work extra hard to see them. 

Now remember, this threat response was designed to keep us safe when we needed it.

Lion chasing me to cave.
Brain sees lion as threat.
Lion is threat.
Run faster.

The thing is, there is no more lion chasing me to a cave. But my brain doesn’t seem to know the difference. And if allowed, our brain sees threats everywhere. 

  • We remember the bad comment that someone made on our post.
  • We remember the negative news story that had a terrible outcome.
  • We remember reading a news article of someone that we didn’t agree with and made us mad. 
  • We notice the dislikes on our videos, and the disengagement that our posts get.

This threat detector is called our amygdala. And it’s one of the oldest and most primitive parts of the brain that is constantly scanning our environment for threats. And so, it’s a basic survival mechanism that is trying to keep us safe and protect us. Our brain perceives threats and turns them into fear. 

There are a few ways that we can start to mitigate what our brain notices as threats. And it starts with what we allow for negative stimuli.

Be mindful of what we allow our brains to consume. This one is completely on us as individuals. Turn the news off. Limit your time with negative people. Do not read page 1-3 of the newspaper. Do not engage in fights on the internet. All of these things are perceived as threats to our amygdala. And, if you are feeling a bit anxious, or upset, or angry a lot of the time. It’s time to assess what you have allowed into your brain in the past 48 hours. There will be a direct correlation between the negative/threat environment that you have heard, seen and witnessed and how you are feeling. Try taking a break from it all. And then see how you feel. It’s really not more complicated than that.

Now, let’s revisit a very hot topic. Social media. 

Limit your social media time. I know that I have yammered on about this one. And I also know how much I like creating reels, and seeing what others in my industry are doing, and just staying as ‘connected’ as I can with people that don’t live close to me. Also for me, I know the difference between mindless scrolling (which studies prove lead to anxiety and depression) and being creative and effective online. 

I have implemented a time limit on Instagram and Facebook. 30 minutes combined time 5 days a week. That sounds like a lot, but if you have an iPhone, I would challenge you to visit your screentime and see what it says. Be sitting down, because it’s shocking. Again, I don’t want to turn this into a social media hiatus post, but it’s a ‘limiting negativity and threats’ post. And sometimes social media is full of what our brain perceives as threats. Just try to limit them. And notice them. If you start your day scrolling with everything that is wrong on the internet, you have done yourself a disservice. What we put into our brain matters. And so, try taking the first 30 minutes of your day to yourself. Read a book, sit in silence, meditate, do some sort of movement. Start with 30 minutes, and see how that feels.  Set a timer if you want to. You will have a better start to your day.

This is all in place to try to limit the amount of time our brain is in threat mode. As in, I’m threatened, time to respond accordingly. There are many books, and articles around this topic. But I don’t think we have to complicate it.

Listen to your intuition, and if you think something is not helping you emotionally, that’s probably all you need to know.
Stop it.
Replace it.
And start to be more mindful of what we allow our brain to see and hear.

Our job should be to protect our brain, and we should take that job very seriously.
Because you are in charge of you.

Donita Fowler

Coach + Creator
Manage your emotions and you can navigate challenges with a balanced perspective.