Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Anger: The Quicker Picker Upper

"You think that's funny, spilling coffee all
over my counter? Get that Jim-Carrey lookin'
so-and-so outta my diner and don't come
back till you've learned some manners!"
I can’t touch yucky things with my bare hands, not in the kitchen anyway. I’m fine outdoors; I'll flip over a dead squirrel to look for maggots. But in the kitchen, I need a paper towel to pick up a used paper towel.

And that’s why I am furious at Joe Smith.

Joe Smith wants us all to use fewer paper towels. Last year he gave a TED talk on how to dry your hands with just one paper towel. More than one million people watched it. Now every single time I grab a paper towel, I am reminded that 1.2 million people saw Joe Smith dry his hands on TED (TED! for the love of God) and I can’t even get my kids to watch a 20-second clip of me on Crossfire.

Occasionally, I am able to blot out my envy of Joe’s success with happy thoughts of Tiny “Tiptoe Through the Tulips" Tim who, among many other peculiarities, would use a whole roll of paper towels to dry off after bathing. This guy was a diesel-powered earth-mover in the paper-towel forest. These thoughts of Tiny Tim help, but I don’t think of him nearly as often which, it turns out, is completely normal.

Negative emotions make your stories more memorable

According to Psychology Today, “People ruminate about events that induce strong negative emotions five times as long as they do about events that induce strong positive ones.”

A Case Western University study, cryptically entitled Bad Is Stronger than Good, says “The greater power of bad events over good ones is found in everyday events … Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones, and bad information is processed more thoroughly than good.”

There’s a reason for this, of course. These negative emotions—fear, anger, sadness, envy—generally require some sort of action on our part to rid ourselves of them. Negative emotions, fear foremost among them, have literally kept our species alive.

So if you want to tell a memorable story, you’re going to have to mess with people’s chi. You don’t have to be a jerk about it. In fact, you should almost always give your audience a chance to work their way out of the negative emotions you've put on them, as storyteller Michael Margolis explains.

But you need to inflict the pain at some point if you want your story to be memorable.

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