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“In the age of technology there is constant access to vast amounts of information. The basket overflows; people get overwhelmed; the eye of the storm is not so much what goes on in the world, it is the confusion of how to think, feel, digest, and react to what goes on.”
― Criss Jami
Since I have returned from my month away from my everyday life, I have yet to watch a news program. While I have read my Sunday newspapers, and read only a daily briefing each morning while traveling which contained the headlines from around the world of the day, I have not been listening to the news either.
Now, understandably, vacations are intended to remove us from our world, to offer a respite. But sometimes, vacations offer a glimpse of what we need to continue to incorporate into our everyday routine in order to improve the overall quality of our lives.
While I was traveling, I didn’t think too much about my shift in digesting information. After all, my goal each day was to navigate the road signs that were in a different language, make sure I hopped off the train at the right stop and pick up food for the day at the market while enjoying the engagement with the people around me. Simple, everyday routines. But that was just it, I was engaged in the present more fully, I was focused and thinking about what was right in front of me rather than worrying about something I directly had no control over. And I slept blissfully.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting we stay uninformed and that we have no influence over the events in our world. Absolutely not. We MUST stay informed, we MUST take action, we MUST be educated voters and participants in our world if we wish to see the progress we desire and protect what we hold to be valuable in a democratic society.
What I am saying is that information overload is real, and our brains need a break.
The concept of quality of thought over quantity of information consumed comes into play with the infinite stream of information on any given topic on every day of the week. And the former often loses to the latter because it takes discipline of the mind to edit what should and what should not be consumed. And if it takes discipline to edit, when our minds are exhausted, they are less able to exercise discipline well or at all.
“We have largely traded wisdom for information, depth for breadth. We want to microwave maturity.”
― John Ortberg Jr.
What is the solution?
How can we remain informed, yet not trampled by the swirl of visuals, racket, tweets, bombardments, posts and advertisements purporting it vital we pay attention?
1. Determine the type of medium your mind best consumes information for understanding without becoming overwhelmed
I had this conversation last week with someone who was talking about the heart wrenching images intended to appeal to the readers/viewers emotions. This is effective journalism. This is not a bad way to influence necessary change, but for some people, the visual stimulation is too much. Reading about the circumstances and what can be done is enough to motivate them. For others, images must be seen to convey the reality.
There are a variety of ways to consume information. The key is to note the difference between consuming information and being entertained. Some people may sincerely consume information when they sit down and watch a late night talk show, but for others, this is entertainment. Perhaps for the former, the comedian provokes awareness about a topic and then the viewer seeks out more information on their own. If that works, wonderful, but be honest with yourself as often the one liners leave out (as they have to for time constraints), much context, assuming the viewer already has that information.
Personally, reading is my preferred way to come to a better understanding of a news event. Why? I can read it at my pace, I can reread it and more depth is offered in an article written by a trusted source, than a two-minute news segment. Again, this is what I know to be true about myself, and that is what each of us needs to do to understand how we best consume to understand fully the news that is offered.
2.Create a filter
Repeatedly, authors and researchers have shared that having an information filter is necessary so that we don’t spend unnecessary time and energy on content, faulty sources or sensationalized news that offers information that leads us astray, confuses us or provides a red herring so that we don’t examine more closely what should be better understood.
Similar to creating an automatic filter with an email system where certain subjects are automatically sent to the junk box, while emails from certain individuals or businesses always arrive in your priority inbox. In order to determine what type of filter to you use, follow #3.
3. Construct an effective filter
A) This first one will eliminate a large majority of the information you currently consume but do not need: necessity. Do you need to know what is going on in every small town in [pick a country or a state], with every (or any) celebrity, sporting team, etc., the updates of every blogger who lives in France, the results in every election? Now this is a broad question, but more specifically, unless you have a means to solve the problem that has been presented, or understand why knowing such information will be helpful as you navigate your life, don’t burden yourself with more negative or obscure news. The increase of knowledge about constant negative events or benign events will begin to pull your emotional being down – this is a significant part of your energy drain – or, for the benign information, a gradual filling of the finite capacity for daily information. Who really needs to know what Ariana Grande tweeted about her relationship? (don’t get me wrong, Ariana is talented and compassionate, but processing even just this little bit of nonsensical information adds up when we follow or read similar information throughout our days).
B) Seek substance. Don’t fall for click-bate, for headlines that never end up giving you the full story, or more of the same information you already know. Substance enables us to deepen our knowledge of a topic. If a particular event takes place, pretty much every major news organization is going to cover it. Each will, if they are a credible source, report the facts – who, what, when, where, and as much why as they can as this takes longer to discern, if ever. But then read a couple of sources on the topic that offer a deep examination of the context, significance, consequences, etc. Which leads me to point C. But first, the bottom line: Discern effectively between credible and un-credible sources. Read this detailed post written by the American Press Institute of the six ways to determine credibility of a source.
C) On topics of deep interest, examine more than one side. Regularly throughout the year when I present a news story to my class, I read two columnists arguments on the story to ensure I fully understand the complexity. Each columnist has a slightly or drastically different bias, but I do this to see what they will mention for their support to strengthen their claims. Each columnist, being from credible sources (having already followed B’s advice – filtered out the un-credible sources) will either include or leave out certain events, anecdotes, etc., as well as include certain details to appeal to their audience. This is helpful for me as it enables me to better understand the “why” of their argument. It doesn’t mean I have to agree with it, but it deepens my understanding. Here is last year’s list of columnists from across the ideological continuum to give you an idea of how to explore varying viewpoints. Again, this was last year’s and has not been updated. Bottom line: Don’t filter out sources, if they are credible, they will broaden your understanding on the topics important to you. In other words, explore outside of your “tribe” regularly to broaden your awareness.
4. Read what lifts you up and inspires you
Lately I have been consuming much information on food, cooking and France. Knowing myself, this boosts my spirits, and often I find I am sparked by something I read, see or hear. Again though, don’t overwhelm yourself with your favorite topics. Why? You still need to have the space and energy to go and do something about what you have absorbed!
What inspires us will shift throughout our lives, but pay close attention to the effect outside information has on your mood, thus your brain.
As I mentioned in this week’s episode of the podcast, often we are in default mode about how we approach everyday life and we do not even know it. Examine closely what is working, what is feeding your brain and your being well, and what is hampering it. When we take the time to do this, we help ourselves out, ensure we are still staying informed, but not overwhelming ourselves with unnecessary information that drowns out the awesomeness that our lives can be no matter where our days take us.
In other words, consume only as much information as necessary so you can float like the umbrellas in the above image. And yes, I recognize the umbrellas are held up with wire, but the conscious choices you make each day – what to consume, what to filter out – in essence, symbolize the wire enabling your mind to be unburdened and have regular opportunities to calm down.
Ideas for welcoming the calm for your brain:
- don’t wear a watch
- leave your phone off your person (in your office, in your handbag, etc.)
- learn something that demands your full attention (using a new language, cooking a new recipe, etc.)
- visit a new museum exhibit
- watch an acclaimed film
- read a wonderful book of fiction
- write in your journal about the roadblocks in your mind or what is bothering you
- take a soothing bath – soaking salts, candles, and just close your eyes
- regular breathing exercises or meditation
- enroll in a challenging exercise class (yoga, spin, bootcamp, etc.)
- spend time with someone who you have fun with and lose track of time
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