A week ago on Monday, 18 January 2011 was Blue Monday, officially the most depressing day of the year, or so we’re told. Mind you, it could have last Monday (25th) – no-one seems quite sure.
As it happens I slipped up and forgot about both dates. On 18th I was busy exploring great things on the final week of our NLP Master Practitioner Certification Programme and clean forgot to do my bit by being miserable and supporting this new National Institution. And last Monday it just slipped my mind even though, along with their 6 million other listeners, I’d heard about it mid-week on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme. Never mind, there’s always next year.
Although NLP is rightly famed for the huge range of practical techniques for changing how we feel and for communicating influentially and effectively, it should also be famed for its ability to provide us with the tools for very thorough critical thinking; tools like the Meta Model, the Milton Model, the various methods of Reframing, and so on.
In fact, rather than seeing NLP is a series of disconnected tools and techniques, NLP is more appropriately seen as an attitude to living, thinking, and communicating.
For many people having a day announced quite widely on the media as “the most depressing day of the year” makes it something that is accepted as true and taken for granted – after all, if lots of people are saying it then it must be true.
Many others, including enthusiastic NLPers, will have a different response along the lines: “Hold on, which officials have announced this? When did they announce it? On what basis have they made this pronouncement? Did they all agree? Is it true for everyone?”
And these were questions which also occurred to me when I heard about it on the BBC Today Programme. So, as you do, I checked it on Google. And, true enough, a few minutes’ searching indicated that the “most depressing day” fact was being quoted very widely by UK national newspapers including the Daily Express, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, The Independent, and The Guardian. It was also quoted by the BBC website and even by the Church of England and even a mental health charity has supported the myth: http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/media/news-releases/news-releases-2009/13-january-2009/
Well, how can you argue with that! Surely if so many eminent sources quote it as a fact then it must be true, mustn’t it…?
The first clue that things weren’t quite as official as we were being led to believe came from this Wikipedia article. Then I came across comments from Ben Goldacre, The Guardian’s Bad Science columnist and one of my favourite myth-busters. And then the Media Blog.
Helped by dedicated journalists and PR people, the 2nd or the 3rd or the 4th Monday in January is has now virtually become the unchallengeable and official most depressing day in the year. And it all started back in late 2004 as a way of getting people to book their summer holidays – courtesy of a PR company, a former part time university tutor, a not-very-sizeable cheque, and a company called Sky Travel. (Have a look at some of the links below to get some background to this silly urban myth. And this related article in The Times Higher Educational gives interesting insight into how the PR scheme/scam works.)
So here we are. In our own lifetimes and before our very eyes we can see how lazy journalists give credibility and momentum to a myth. Why? Because they get paid for submitting sloppy copy on a no-questions-asked basis to lazy and over-rushed editors. Their customers are unimportant – all that matters is filling the column inches and selling the stuff.
But surely no-one publishes material without checking their facts?
Well, yes, that used to be a fundamental tenet of journalism, Nowadays news happens fast and providing it has become quite cut-throat. Newspapers are losing out to the more immediate mediums such as the internet and radio and TV. So it appears that newspaper editors, especially but not exclusively, can’t afford to be fussy – and, for the most part, the public doesn’t really care. Most are more interested in entertainment rather than news – otherwise how can we account for the success of the tabloids?
News affects moods. And financial markets. And interest rates. And politics. And legislators. And public opinion. And voting preferences.
Journalists will claim that they’re just reporting the facts. The question might be are they ‘reporting or creating the news?’
We suffer unless we think, and challenge, and question what we listen to or watch or read. The age of the reliable news medium is past, if it ever existed. All the more reason to sharpen our critical evaluation of whatever news media we expose ourselves to – with or without the critical thinking skills and insights of NLP.
And, perhaps, it’s useful to bear in mind that the news which we are supplied with will always be the individual and subjective evaluation of the reporter and the news editor. Or, as we might say in NLP, we need to check the motivation behind the action – the likely purpose behind the behaviour of the journalists and their editors – and proprietors.