What You Read and View Is Important to Your Health
A steady diet of Facebook, magazines, TV news and gossip works for your mind in the same way a diet of junk food works for your body. Tasty but not especially nutritious.. Where a poor diet can lead to fatty arteries and a bigger waistline, a diet of low-quality information can lead to more anxiety, unhappiness and insecurity. Mark Twain said
“Comparison is the death of joy”. He wasn’t talking about the internet but as you flip through all those pictures of everybody’s best moments, you may tend to feel like you are the only one with problems and challenges in life.
With the advent of the internet, information is more easily available than at any time in history and also free of cost to the consumer. For companies like Facebook, your attention is the commodity they sell: the more people are looking at content on their platform, the more money they can charge advertisers to get on your newsfeed. So they make it easy for you to watch, browse or scroll for hours without realizing how much time is passing. Old media, like newspapers are dying because they can’t compete with the sheer volume and variety of information that is available for free online. Journalists, authors and other thought leaders are forced to write in a way that attracts clicks, views and shares because that is the new measure of success. On the internet, News media, social media, printed word are all designed to do one thing: Hold our attention. Once you can hold someones attention, you can sell them something. Whether it be shoes, a phone , an idea or a political candidate. Your attention is the commodity they all want.
It’s important to note at this point that the old standards of information still exist. In fact they also have benefitted from the availability of new platforms and fewer barriers between them and their audience. More brain power is now available on tap to solve problems in a few days when it used to take months or years. Great quality education is now available without having to leave home for university. Valuable lifestyle tips and trackers are now available online or as apps. If you want to write a book, you can. For the most part however these deep thinkers of the internet are not on the front page like they used to be. When you do an online search, the things that popup at the top are often paid content. To get to the real stuff you often have to dig a little deeper.
Another potential casualty of the information age is objectivity. It’s easy to live in your own information bubble where you constantly reaffirm what you think you know and where you never stumble across an opinion that differs from your own. Many people then project those opinions onto others assuming “most people” think like they do. This is called false consensus. Its like saying I like potatoes and therefore most Americans like potatoes.
These things are not necessarily bad. But in a time of abundance, as with food, you have to learn to make choices. In order to think clearly and have a grounded perspective in this world, essentially be happy, you must have a balance. Its like cake, cake is nice but you can’t consume it at every meal and remain healthy. Its time to add some of your own healthy content to your life in much the same way you would add healthy food to your diet.
So how can we start? The simple answer is to be deliberate about what we consume. Spend more time thinking, change up your routine, try new things. Here are some ideas for you to put some variety in your information diet.
Five things you can do to feed your mind:
Have a reading list: Everybody has books they plan to read someday or books they started and never finished. Maybe a friend lent you a book and it’s still sitting on the nightstand. What if you made a list of books you always wanted to read or a favorite author and dedicated a couple of hours a day to reading? Or even designate one day in the weekend as your reading day and simply get started on that book list. Books are different from other media in that they have often been carefully written, rewritten, edited, arranged with the intent that they will be relevant for years or decades or even centuries to come. Books can tell stories and teach concepts that blog posts and cat videos simply cannot touch. Classic books written by great authors are like gourmet meals when compared to the fast food on your newsfeed.
Devoting time to thinking and learning. In todays world, it’s hard to disengage. Even at night we can be woken up by notifications or texts. On vacation, when we are not supposed to be thinking about our usual routine, it’s hard to stem the flow of information as we use our phones for everything including navigation and translation. This constant flow of ideas, fires to put out, appointments to make, interrupts our thought process so much that we can lose the ability to think for long periods about one thing. This inhibits our ability to truly solve problems, have epiphanies, plan our lives, know what we really want or think want. Scheduling time to problem solve, plan or even learn a new skill can help us grow as people, move forward in life, strengthen our relationships and finances.
Media Vacation: Have you ever though about just turning off the TV, leaving the newspaper in the driveway, putting down your phone for the weekend? Try it, You will find its extremely difficult to do but at the same time it can be very gratifying. You will find you have better conversations with the people around you, you tend to leave the house more and look for new things to do. All of those little repairs and projects that you “never have time for” get done. You find time for a walk or a work out. It’s also very calming as you are not constantly being prodded and overstimulated and forced to think about things that do not concern you.
Meditation: Meditation is the practice of taking your consciousness outside of your situation and looking inward. Meditation has been shown to decrease anxiety, improve blood pressure scores and help people deal with the everyday stresses of life. Meditation takes discipline however and has to be practiced regularly for the meditator to benefit. This takes some prep. Prospective meditators should find a place and time where they can be uninterrupted for a period of time or a regular schedule such as daily.
Take a walk: Steve Jobs used to have all his important meetings while taking a walk. His theory was that we are more alert and stimulated while walking. A walk takes you out of your usual environment with its routines and distractions. Walking stimulates creative thought. Many writers and corporate culture experts encourage walking meetings to improve problems solving and break down barriers between people.
What can you do to feed your mind? Whatever you decide make sure it is something you naturally enjoy and carve out some time for it on your schedule. Many people fail by hoping to “fit things in”. Instead, make the thing you want to happen your top priority and let other things “fit in” around it.
This blog is an excerpt from Pauls internationally published book Five Ways to Wellness available on Amazon.