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
We’re all addicted to sensationalism.
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!
Jamie – what did you specifically do to block out the news? Over the years I’ve stopped buying newspapers + magazines and don’t intentionally go to news websites as an hour can be easily wasted getting sucked in, headline after headline.
But I’ve found that my Twitter and Facebook feed just replaces all that crap with more crap. It must have taken a lot of willpower to get through the 30 days?
razwana wahid recently posted..Struggling to find your writing voice? Borrow ideas from big brands
Hey, nothing other than not looking at it. I wasn’t using any fancy internet blockers, or any special apps, just good old fashioned eye diversion.
Like you say – stuff crept through on Facebook, but after a few days I became a bit ‘headline blind’. As soon as some story appeared on my feed, I could sense what it was before I Actually read the words, and that was enough for me to quickly look away. Unfortunately the paper shelf at my local shop is directly beside the queue, and that caught me out on more than one occasion – but again, I learned not to read anything.
The easy part was not seeking out certain websites – and although I am checking the news again, it’s nowhere near as much as before. It’s almost like I’ve got into the habit of glazing over and switching off when I see something I haven’t specifically searched for.
Apparently there’s an election imminent.. that’s all I know. No details at all – and I like it that way. 🙂
I guess practicing over time DOES make something stick. It’s tough not to scan headlines in the newsagents. They don’t have many in Paris, so it’s easily avoided.
razwana wahid recently posted..Struggling to find your writing voice? Borrow ideas from big brands
It’s ok, as they’re all in French anyway.. 😉
Thanks for posting this, I’ve sort of had this love/hate thing going with social media for awhile. I’m new to this blogging thing and while I love writing and sharing ideas with people, all of the “experts” say you need to have a social platform to make it as a writer these days. What are your thoughts on that?
Hey, Kelly. Social media will definitely help promote your brand, as it’s all about networking and showcasing what you have. From a purely ‘website’ point of view – social media plays a bigger role in SEO than many people realise – so it’s definitely worthwhile. Just do what I do, and limit the personal use as much as possible.
Experiment with it. 🙂
I turned off the news, cut the cable, and signed up for satellite radio years ago. Of course my friends and family tell me about the news, and its all the same… I do miss some of the occasional beer commercial, but if I really cared I would watch it on youtube.
Devin Bisanz recently posted..Are You As Observant As You Think?
Hi Devin, how are you finding life without the constant noise and interruptions? With YouTube/Netflix, there’s always a chance to catch up on things we haven’t time for.
Some very interesting reasons to quit news here – makes me want to give it a try! I can see how it would drastically improve your productivity, but is it necessary to skip out on ALL the news to have this effect? I mean, shouldn’t it be possible to achieve these benefits while still watching the evening news for ten minutes once a day?
Mathias recently posted..Building Your Social Strength – The Basics
Welcome to my world!
News = waste of time.
Ludvig Sunström recently posted..How to Be Real in a World of Fakes
Very good stuff. I think your rules of thumb are great. Everyone should have their own personal filters to determine what is relevant to their lives or not. I find that my gut is a very good indicator of whether or not I something is useless to my well-being.
I’ve recently done a 30-day media entertainment blackout (no news, no TV, no movies, no YouTube, etc.) with amazing results. So many of the things we do have no bearing on happiness or fulfillment.
Matt kim recently posted..114 Reasons the Power of the Subconscious Mind Will Change Your Life
This is great stuff. Glad I found your blog through when I was reading through some articles at thestartofhappiness.com.
I stopped spending time in Facebook ages ago. I only log in when I need to send a message to a friend I couldn’t contact any other way. It is very true that it is kinda depressing when you see what people share on social media.
I spend a limited time in Google plus. I am on there to catch up with fellow bloggers and followers only but I try to get off the soonest possible time I can.
Thank you for the tips. Enjoyed reading it and your humor and honesty!
Hey Jamie, just stumbled upon your blog today and what a find. I gave up TV about eight months ago. And I am free from a time slot that made me constantly watch the clock to ensure I did not miss a bit of thw news. I don’t feel starved and I do get dribs and drabs of news from the internet, blogging and ads, here there and everywhere. I do find that when I am at a place where newspapers are sold, I feel my body angling towards the front title to have a little look, or when I hear a TV on someone where, I find my ears pricking up to see if I missing anything but that is about my only cheating. Its not that I crave the news, but I still want to be apart of what is talked about, but I figure I can get it others ways. And every time I sign in somewhere I get bit of what is going on the world. But I am free of timeframes that centre around TV, that was so rewarding to me. My thoughts were, do this chore before this show starts or finish this task before the news is on. Always timed around TV. No more – I am free and you are so right, it is so much more productive.
I think most people would benefit from cutting the news out of their life. I watch it sometimes but make sure to not read/watch it to often because it can negatively effect our mood and outlook on life. Since the news focuses on the negative or bad.
Dan Black recently posted..One Effective way to Finding your Strengths
I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember and I don’t find it particularly challenging.
Being an idealist, I found out long ago that the doom and gloom brocasted through the news only serves to cloud my good perception of the world and the people in it, and it makes me really really sad. So I quit. And yes, I’m a much happier person for it.
Hi Jamila. It’s why people believe the world is a worse place than 30 years ago, when every statistic proves otherwise. It’s only our perception of these events which cloud our judgment and con us into thinking we’re all doomed.
I was SO surprised by number 3 the first time I did this. I got rid of my TV in 2012, had been using it for movies only before and finally stopped going to news sites or reading the paper.
You’re right, we don’t miss anything.
Just last week I mailed out a letter on Thursday. On Monday I learn that all post office people went on strike. Important? No.
Did my letter arrive anyway? Yes.
Would I have sent it later knowing there was a strike? Maybe, but who cares, it’s all said and done!
Anything I don’t know, people usually “enlighten” me about anyways, whether I like it or not, ha.
Now the only thing I sometimes do is open the paper and count the terrible news to good news ratio. Fascinating.
I can’t imagine reading it without getting depressed somewhat.
Great post 🙂
Niklas Goeke recently posted..Using the ONE GOAL strategy to set goals once and then constantly focus on them
Hi Niklas. The next step for me is getting rid of my tv. I’ve barely watched it this week, so I know I wouldn’t miss it.
If only we could ditch the internet too, huh.. 😉
But you’re raised a good point there. The news, good or bad, doesn’t change our lives in any way. You say you would have still sent the letter regardless.. and although that piece of news was somewhat helpful, it’s not a big deal.
Great post, very interesting view points.
I stopped following the news daily many months ago. It was tough at first, I felt like I was missing out. But I find out about any interesting stories from others, and I save myself a huge amount of time.
Phil recently posted..What Is the Myers Briggs Personality Test
Hi Phil, thanks for your comment. It’s surprising how much news we hear about when we’re not watching.