When I was in middle school one of my teachers told me he could read an entire newspaper in about 5 minutes. I didn’t think that was possible, because I’d seen my dad read his newspaper and it took him about an hour, and I’m sure he didn’t read the gossip column.
What was my teacher’s secret? He only read the headlines.
At first I thought that was cheating—remember, this happened in the 90’s. Now it’s normal to only read headlines.—But as I got older and started paying attention to the news, I found myself doing it, and realized it worked.
By focusing only on the headlines, I learned that all you need to understand where a story is headed, is to read the headline.
The Power of Headlines
Headlines shift people’s opinions. In one study titled “The Effects of Subtle Misinformation in News Headlines.” They had people read the same article, but the only difference was the headline. For example, one article talked about how the burglary rates had increased by 0.2% in the last year, compared to a 10% decrease in the last ten years:
The slight rise, the article pointed out, was an anomalous side note; the longer trend was what was important. The accompanying headline highlighted either the smaller or the larger of the two trends: “Number of burglaries going up” and “Downward trend in burglary rate,” respectively.
The results were that people formed an opinion about burglary rates—they’re going up— even when compared to ten years of continual decline. That’s like saying you suddenly are overweight, because you ate a cookie after a whole year of losing weight and staying fit.
It gets worse.
The headline, it turns out, had done more than simply reframe the article. […] A misleading headline hurt a reader’s ability to recall the article’s details. That is, the parts that were in line with the headline, such as a declining burglary rate, were easier to remember than the opposing, non-headlined trend.
Isn’t that interesting? Headlines can reframe our opinion about a topic, making it difficult for the reader to remember opposing arguments, in this case, burglary rates have been down for ten years.
Let’s see another example:
Here we see the same front page story on three major newspapers. I intentionally blocked the names of the newspapers, because that’s not the point. This 2013 story is that job creation was slowly growing.
But the headlines tell a different story.
Each of them gives a perspective from which the reader can reach a conclusion without even having to read the story. Just by reading the headline, I know what the author is gonna say. Look:
- One headline is optimistic—Jobs report builds hope.
- The other is pessimistic—Tepid job growth fuels worry.
- And the last one balances both points of view—Job creation still steady despite worry.
If I read the three articles, I’ll get the same bottomline: that jobs were slowly being created. But the perspective and message I’d get from each of them will be different. Depending on the headline I choose to pay attention to, it’s the reality I’ll see.
Why am I telling you this? Because it’s the same with life.
Write your Own Headlines
There’s a lot of talk about writing your own story. Some call it grabbing life by the horns, or carpe diem, or go for it, or live intentionally, and many more that say basically the same thing.
This isn’t bad advice. We should be intentional about our life. It’s essential to be aware of our own thoughts and assumptions to make our life what we want it to be. The problem is you can make many important decisions, but you can’t always control everything that happens to you.
Accidents happen. People leave us. Businesses fail. We execute bad ideas. We make poor investments. Relationships fall apart. No matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to control every single thing in your life. There are obstacles you’ll face that no one could’ve anticipated.
But you can decide what story you want to tell.
Remember the burglary article? How people had a hard time remembering seeing the positive part of the note? We do the same thing with our lives.
All you need to understand where a story is headed, is to read the headline.
If we get used to writing negative headlines, we’ll never see the things that are going well for us. Like the person who lets a bad fight define their relationship. Or the entrepreneur who quits trying after the first failed attempt. You can build resistance to bad news in your life, if you frame the news the right way.
What’s the Story?
This isn’t about spinning the truth. That’s lying and I’m not asking you to lie to yourself. What I’m saying is that if you teach yourself how to write your own headlines, according to where you’re going, instead of where you’ve been, you can live the life you’ve always wanted.
Remember the headline about slow job growth? I called it balanced because it’s realistically optimistic. It acknowledges both sides of the story: Job Creation is Still Steady, Despite Worry. What if you learned to do the same? What if you gave yourself credit for the things you do right and only look at the negative parts to see how little they matter, when compared to all the great things you are.
Depending on the headline you pay attention to, it’s the reality you’ll see.
The problem with putting a negative headline to the story of your life, is that it will give you a wrong picture of your life. And once that picture is in your head, it will lie to you. It will say you are not good enough. It will tell you are lazy. It will say your dreams are not worth turning into goals. Negative headlines will lie to your face, and you’ll believe every word they say, because the most powerful lie is the one you tell yourself.
So let’s call negative headlines what they are. They are head-lies.
Let’s see some examples:
- Bottomline story: You don’t have enough cash to sustain that side-business.
- New business looks impossible due to lack of funds.
- There are ways to fund my startup, despite no cash in hand.
- Bottomline story: Still single and I’m almost 40.
- Nobody wants to be with me because I’m _________.
- I’ve become mature, stable and independent. I’m a great catch that hasn’t been caught.
- Bottomline story: I hate my job.
- I’m stuck at a job I don’t like, but I can’t quit because I need the money.
- It’s ok to be dissatisfied. I’m figuring out a way to do what I love and make money doing it.
- Bottomline story: I have many unfinished projects:
- I can’t commit. I procrastinate and lose interest quickly.
- I have many interests. That’s good. I can learn to focus so I have more fun with each.
If you write your own headlines, you will always see the growth and progress you’ve made. So no matter what happens to you, you can always go back and say: I didn’t choose this, but I wouldn’t change it.
- Think about the headline for your week. Start with a fun one and make it dramatic, like the news: “Toaster broke in the Hopkins household. Cold Pop Tarts for breakfast.”
- Then think about something more meaningful that happened this week and put a headline to it.
- What’s the headline that best describes your life now?
- What are some headlines you’ve believed that have shaped who you are.
- Can you rewrite the headline?
- What’s a headline you’d like to see true in the next year?
Take the Next Step
If you want to practice how to write better headlines for your life, we’d love to help! We can give you a free coaching session to get you started. Then, you can decide if coaching is for you. Contact us to find out what’s the best option for you. You’ll be glad you did.