The most important, satisfying and infuriating task during my recent 30 day challenge was playing hide and seek with the news.
I was the one hiding. ‘It’ was counting down – ready to find me at the earliest possible opportunity, and using any method at its disposal. Like the Terminator – programmed to search and destroy. And I was Sarah Connor – minus the dodgy perm and even dodgier 80’s style shoulder pads.
No wait. Scrap that. I was John Connor – because the sequel is obviously the better movie (don’t argue).
As you’ll see later – I caught glimpses. I flirted with being caught. Life on the run is tiring and there were definitely occasions when it would have easier to surrender my willpower to the headline-baiters, the emotional manipulators and the Daily fucking Mail.
But I managed it, just.
30 days later and I can look back on the whole experience with a sense of pride and the strange feeling of having accomplished something so ridiculously simple in theory, it’s a wonder why it was even an issue to begin with.
Well done me – I didn’t click things.
Ok, this may sound backwards, but once the challenge was complete, I began following the news again as a means to remind myself how things were in the not too distant past.
It’s exactly how I expected. In just a few days I have learned how the world will implode because some floppy haired goon has quit One Direction, how planes do indeed fall out of the sky when given half a chance, and the BBC have fired Jeremy Clarkson due to a fight over a plate of spam… or something.
I even spent a good 30 minutes reading the homepage of The Mail – just to see how I felt.
It hurt my brain. I’m not even sure if the pain was physical or a figment of their imagination – but it was there; pounding away like the head of another failed journalist, with the inevitable future of a thousand crushed dreams as it smacks down, repeatedly, and without mercy, onto their keyboard of shame and sorrow.
I’m being overly dramatic, but seriously, it can’t be far from the truth…
So yeh, here’s 5 things I learned during this period of blissful ignorance;
1. News is a drug
There is a reason why every half decent copywriter, marketer and reporter on the planet becomes obsessed with cultivating the perfect headline. Whether it’s the content, the spin or just the words at the top of the page – the ability to grab our attention is worth serious cash.
It works. Over the last 30 days I have lost count of the number of times my eyes have been forcibly drawn towards something I really don’t want to see. I’ve even reduced the amount of time I’ve spent on Facebook, but when my imaginary friends are sharing everything under the sun, I’m finding myself longing for the days when my newsfeed was full of baby photographs and lovey dovey statuses…
Oh wait, it still is.
But this only goes to show how ubiquitous news is in our lives. It’s everywhere. Newspaper stands, social media and even small talk.
While I managed to look away every time I found myself seeing something I shouldn’t – I’ve learned that the major stories – the front page stuff – will always filter its way through, and short of living in a cave, not much can be done about it.
2. My view on the world changed massively
It’s amazing what 30 days without reading ridiculous and sensationalist headlines does to the brain.
Over the last 6 months we’ve been conditioned to believe that ISIS are going to take over the world and, among other things, invade Rome and throw people from the leaning tower of ‘Pizza’ (yes, they said that).
Most people think the world is getting worse. It’s not. It’s safer than it’s ever been. What’s changed is our perception – and this is only due to sheer amount of drivel we’re subjected to on a daily basis.
News websites are particularly bad at providing unbiased impartial views and stories. The Daily Mail and The Huffington Post, whilst being 2 of the 3 most popular news websites in the world are essentially tabloids and news aggregate sites. They find their stories from other more legitimate sources and then quickly rewrite them, usually leaning toward a particular bias or opinion.
The way they write headlines should set alarm bells ringing but still, many people see the brand name and assume the information must be true – even when it isn’t.
News is the past, and by ignoring it – we’re already spending more time in the present moment.
3. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything
But here’s the thing – I honestly don’t care what is happening in the world. Once the initial wave of irritability passed, I started to care less and less about terrorism, the economy and even my favourite sports (slightly less).
Most news is negative, depressing and devoid of anything remotely relevant to our own lives.
Why do we spend so much time reading about the horrible shit everyone else is going through? It certainly doesn’t make us feel better about ourselves. If anything – it makes us feel worse.
It also has a knock on effect to other time wasting and emotionally draining activities such as mindlessly browsing the internet, engaging in forums and refreshing Facebook. The less desire I have for catching up on world events, the less desire I have for procrastinating in general.
It’s all linked.
4. My productivity went through the roof
On the face of it – we may only spend half an hour a day reading the news but it’s not the duration which fuels procrastination – it’s the interruptions.
All of this information shortens our attention span and we end up constantly on the lookout for the next quick fix. The dopamine hit we experience when we receive a new text message or we see a new exciting news headline keeps us coming back for more. This leads to a shorter attention span and affects our concentration levels.
I’m a man of momentum. The longer I’m doing something, the easier it is to continue. Once I stop, even for a minute, I find it a struggle to get back into my groove.
5. I’m happier
There is also a link between internet addiction and depression. Given the majority of information is now found online – this is particularly relevant.
A study from Leeds University asked 1,319 young people and adults about their internet usage and 1.2% were complete addicts (with the other 98.8% presumably a bunch of liars). This number may seem small, but the interesting part was the discovery that a high percentage of these addicts had symptoms of moderate to severe depression.
And the delicious irony of the questionnaire being sent out via social media, cannot be ignored.
Sadly – reports of their next study on alcoholism being carried out in the local pub are as of yet, unconfirmed.
No news is good news (but better)
This works. You don’t need to watch, read or listen to the news to know what is happening with the world. The important information will filter through – so don’t worry about it. Everything else is largely irrelevant.
Yes, there is a time and a place to catch up on your team’s pathetic attempts at sporting excellence, to discover how few words George R R Martin has written this month, or to find out how many hours the main road into town will remain closed due to your local council’s gross incompetence…
It’s information that serves a specific purpose – nothing wrong there. It’s the aimless clicking around that wastes time.
A good rule of thumb is to ask the following three questions;
- What am I learning? (Hopefully something new to satisfy your interests and/or curiosity)
- Is this information useful in any way? (Can you apply this information or benefit from it?)
- Is there something else I should be doing? (Well, obviously…)
The answers to questions 1 and 2 will give you a quick indication of the quality of the information you are allowing to filter into your brain.
I give you permission to completely ignore question 3 until you have finished reading this article.
Action Plan! Do this one thing and you’ll instantly become 77% more awesome
For the rest of today, and tomorrow – do not watch, read or listen to a single piece of news. Give it a go and see what happens. I absolutely guarantee you will feel better. Unless of course, your emotional wellbeing is directly stimulated by the suffering of others – in that case, for the rest of today and tomorrow… please don’t murder anyone. Be strong. You can do it. We’re rooting for ya…
If after trying this, you feel less emotionally drained, with a healthier outlook on the world and sense a noticeable increase in your productivity – extend the news blackout a little longer. Try it for 7 days.
If you can do a week – then do a whole month. Keep going.
You can even extend this philosophy and create a blackout for anything that saps your mental energy – mindless television, email alerts on your smartphone, girlfriends that can’t stop talking – you get the idea, be creative.
If in doubt, shut it out.
What isn’t adding to your life is merely taking away.
What do you think of these findings?
Are you willing to try a 24 hour blackout?
Is Terminator 2 better than the original?
Let me know in the comments below, and I would appreciate it if you could share this on Facebook, Twitter and anything else that takes your fancy. Thank you!