It doesn’t take a scientist or scholar to explain that we are inundated with information on a daily, hourly, and minute-by-minute basis. You can read countless articles stating that fact. Additionally, you can’t help but see more and more evidence mounting that it just isn’t good for us.
The 2020 quarantine didn’t help. As people stayed home across the nation they turned to rely on their screens for entertainment, work, and distraction. New routines started to form out of necessity and boredom, and some fell into destructive default behaviors. It became easier to pick up your phone or turn on a streaming service than it was to stay organized, disciplined, and productive.
We’re all guilty to an extent. As humans we seek comfort. It’s in our evolutionary DNA to eat, seek safety, and survive. If we’re not threatened, then we will sit and conserve energy for the next stressful episode. But modern living rarely presents a life or death struggle over our next meal. We’re more concerned when our wifi goes out.
The weather outside
I personally set out to take advantage of the time. I imagined myself months from now and asking if I had squandered the time by being unproductive, apathetic, or just plain lazy. I could have easily succumbed to the large gaps of downtime and found myself endlessly scrolling, clicking, and consuming mindless shallow time wasters. My employment situation alone should have had me twisted in a chronic straight jacket of stress and worry, but I tried some simple things to help meet those negative emotions at the door.
I started by sitting and reading or writing outside in the mornings. No jumping on social media, news sites, or things that would quickly fill my mind with perceptually “important” information.
Next, I either regulated or took a break from anything social media. This would also give me a great chance to see their true worth in my life along with any usefulness they could or couldn’t provide.
I consumed less news. I would get some updates in the morning and maybe evening news and that was it. I estimate I roughly watched 20 minutes or so per day. Just the headlines with zero cable news which are usually filled with opinionated pundits and clever biased tactics.
Finally, I started to sensor anything shallow in my general consumption of any type information. Big companies are always trying to sell, I get it, but I set out to omit the noisy, click-bait type media and tried to focus only on a few things that gave me significant benefit.
Lies, truths, and noise
Uninformed, luddite, old man. These are just a few terms I’ve heard friends call me when I tell them I’m a little more disconnected these days. It’s fine really. They’re my friends and they care about me – I hope.
I’m the type who self admits to the pull of media. I’ve self-diagnosed as someone who can get addicted (in an extremely negative way) to the trappings of modern practices. For example, when I was freelancing as a writer, I would try to give all my work a boost by posting everything I did on my own social media channels. I would post, check back for feedback, then check back again, and then check again. I was seeking validation for my work and hanging at least a part of my self-worth as a content creator on those metrics.
Everything I read about content creation drove home the message of social engagement, marketing tactics, and staying on the cutting edge with every new trend. I felt obligated to “do the business” of online life.
The news in no different. It seems more are concerned with opinion these days than fact. The topics of news discussions often began with the words “I think” instead of presenting just the simple events of the day. It feels as if we are washed over with the deluge of information that disguises itself as critically important. Every story is now an alert no matter how urgent or mundane.
The truth is that most of it is noise. Have you ever stepped back to see what was really happening? Have you ever put down your phone or turned off the TV and taken a deep breath and putting your biases aside, animalistic desires away, and addictive tendencies to the side?
All forms of media want one thing and one thing only: Your attention. It’s so much noise.
How many times do you need to hear a news story? How many status updates is enough? What is the point at which you can truly say to yourself, I’ve reached my quota for the day?
The sad truth is that we don’t have self-imposed limits and find it difficult to self-regulate. We are consuming at an alarming rate without giving much attention to creating. But that’s a post for another day.
The long game
The mind is like a muscle in that it won’t change or grow overnight. It requires discipline, consistency, and focused effort. In our instant gratification world, we tend to quit before we even start by running through possible scenarios in our heads over and over until we’re convinced there must be another, better way. So, we tend to not last very long. Change is tough, and it hurts sometimes forcing us to get out of our comfort zones or to ween off old, bad habits.
It’s worth it, though.
You’re not gaining what you think when you stay in your comfortable little nest ingesting countless status updates, news feeds, and chatter. With no limits or boundaries, you’re subject to an open-ended black hole of information that your brain is unable to handle. You end up stressed, depressed, and anxious. It’s time to turn off the fire hose.
I’m a big believer in starting small. If you decide to shift your habits in hopes of living a simpler, calmer life then you’ll be better off trying something easy and instant. For example, you could do something as simple as avoiding checking your phone first thing in the morning, or meditate, or even write. Other things could consist of only checking social media once per day for 10 minutes, limiting screen time, reading a real physical book, or committing to reaching out to friends and family more through calling versus messaging.
After you have some simple things under control move on to something a bit bigger. Maybe delete some social accounts, check email once per day or once per week, spend a predetermined amount of time outdoors, or read for one hour straight.
The great thing is that we are all different, have our own personal struggles, and will develop unique ways to improve our lives.
The two important points to remember are (1) It’s a long game. Commit for the long-term and recognize this is more of a lifestyle change than a quick fix. (2) Have faith in the process. Believe in what you’re doing no matter how small the steps may be.
Again, it won’t happen overnight, but with consistency you’ll start to see the results. No, it won’t be earth-shattering with a firework display or some sort of epiphany waking you from your sleep, but it will be noticeable if you give it a chance. You’ll be well on your way to a calmer mind.
I’ve always believed that self-awareness is one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal. Without it we are directionless bodies simply going with the flow – taking a flight with the rest of the buffalo. It’s up to us to save ourselves. We can’t change the news, get to the end of our feeds, or finally see that one status update that will change things, but we can take some control, some action, no matter how small, to get our lives back.
Calm the noise, take back your mind from the constant static, and finally move forward with intention.