The Shock Cycle

At first you don’t see bad news, because it starts small and isn’t reported in traditional outlets. A few experts chat amongst themselves, but word has yet spread.

Then you ignore the bad news, because even once it’s reported it’s easy to dismiss if you’re not familiar with it. An unfamiliar threat is hard to distinguish from a threat that people are overreacting to.

Then you deny the bad news, because at some point you can’t ignore what’s being reported but claiming the numbers are wrong or out of context is more comforting than admitting they’re about to hurt you.

Then you panic at the bad news when you realize the threat is real and you need to make up for lost time. You compensate for previous denial with worst-case-scenario predictions to reduce the odds of being caught off guard again.

Then you start to accept bad news. Expectations are powerful, and people can adapt to bad news even when it’s personally painful. A little bad news you didn’t expect can feel worse than major bad news you knew was coming.

Then you don’t see good news, because people are nervous to report optimism out of fear of looking oblivious. Good news can coexist with bad news, but when people are losing their jobs (or lives) you can appear reckless for discussing signs of progress.

Then you ignore good news because you’re once bitten, twice shy. Avoiding further downside becomes such a focus that you lack the mental bandwidth to even recognize good news.

Then you deny good news. You’re so attuned to risk that you reflexively think good news must be wrong or out of context. Anyone promoting good news is criticized by the masses, who enjoy safety in numbers.

Then you realize you missed the good news. In hindsight you realize things turned a corner while people were most certain about how bad it was. You look back and can’t believe how obvious it was that people were too pessimistic, and can’t believe clear the signs of improvement were.

Then you accept the good news, realizing that risk has receded and you can once again enjoy the fruits of progress.

Then you abandon your attachment to bad news as good news dominates the media and optimism becomes socially acceptable again.

Then you’re right back to where you started.

And the cycle repeats.