The Information Diet

How an unorthodox strategy from productivity management might help not only you, but the whole society.

The political side

Our constant exposure to social media and digital communication platforms is overloading us with meaningless input. New pictures, articles and information appear every second on our smartphones, computers and newspapers. Being up to date requires our constant attention and todays media found its ways to get it. Recently, all this got even worse: Fake news are hiding everywhere among the vast amounts of content we are facing and even the brilliant developers at Facebook and Google don’t know how to deal with it. 
 
There’s clickbait articles and videos everywhere, that linger in the corners of the internet to catch your attention. Be it in our Facebook Feeds, on Instagram or just the our daily news feed.

I guess, you get the point. 
And I guess, you feel the same as I do every now and then while pushing through the infinite stream of input: overwhelmed. 
 
Being overwhelmed by the sheer mass of information is one thing. Questioning its credibility is something completely else. It is the start of a dangerous vicious circle. Who can I trust? What is true and what am I supposed to make of it?  

 Because the answer to this question lies somewhere between inexistent and unsatisfying let’s just focus on immediate action on our own side. A plan, that works, unconditionally. Assuming you put it the effort and let go.

The personal side – Priming Effects

Have you thought about what media you consume everyday? I not, why so? I believe it is probabily because you didn’t deem it necessary. But think about it again. Consider the power the information has. Whatever you take in throughout a day gets into your subconscious, it influences the way you think, the way you act and the way you decide about things. Not directly and obviously, but the subconscious priming is an undeniable effect presented by Kahnemann and others. It basically states that our subconscious perceives contextual information that we are not even aware of and that this information influences our behaviour.

Take negative news as an example. It primes you on negativity and pessimism, which will result in more negative judgement in ambiguous situations.

Knowing that you can reconsider, whether you really want to take in all that information. Because it will influence you, no matter how distant and vague the topic is.

This again, brings me to the one strategy that can help with information overload. It can help you to handle public matters more deliberately, without being drawn into the media turmoil on the one hand side. And it helps you be more directed and considerate with how you influence your mindset through information on the other hand side. It all starts with you, it all starts with letting go.

Let go and contribute meaningfully

It might seem like bad etiquette in a political “correct” society, but the answer to your struggles with media overload is disconnection. Call it media fasting, if you want. If you feel overwhelmed by the quantity of information coming in, cut the stream. Eliminate the sources and focus on what is really important: you. 
 
Put practically, next time you feel it is too much, close all your tabs in the browser, turn off your phone and just sit back for a second. Take a deep breath and ask yourself two question:

What of all this, do I as a person, really need?

What does it help me now, if I get this input?

If you are rigid enough you’ll discover that the essential core you really need, is next to nothing. And the benefit you get from it is even less.

As unreasonable as this may sound, you shouldn’t care about most of the things that happen out there in the world. Not because we want to promote ignorance, but simply because we can’t do anything about it. In fact, the latest update on a terror attack somewhere in the world for example, will only clutter your thoughts and even destroy your good mood, because your hands are tied.

In the words of Steven Covey, author of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, we should focus on our Circle of Influence, not our Circle of Concern.

On the other hand there is a huge advantage that can come from making space. The information we take up constantly dictates the way we think and the content we think about. If we start to deliberately consider our intake, we can steer our thought and with it our mood.

“Think of your attention as a bottleneck where all inputs and outputs go through. How can we create meaningful output, if inputs are blocking our limited bandwith?”

The strategy comes from productivity management, because it frees your mind to focus on the really important stuff. And besides helping you to increase your creative output, I believe it can help our society as a whole.

Because if we are honest with ourselves, how much of the content we get is real “information” (i.e. new, revealing facts and knowledge)? Most is gossip, popular press and dramatization of the same things over and over again. We see, what sells. 
If you start to “cut the crap” you’ll realize very soon, that your understanding and independent opinion on public matters is actually improving, because you have more time to think about them yourself. Instead of just consuming predetermined mainstream interpretations, you can start analyzing. And that counts for pretty much all sort of information. Be it political or something else. If you free your plate of junk and clutter, you can start to think for yourself, find your own opinion, your own vision and mission, instead of following other peoples ideals on Instagram.

To return to a healthy level of media intake consider working along the following four bullet points:

1. For a week or maybe only a few days, eliminate all media consumption. No TV, no medium.com, no Facebook, no newspaper. Enjoy the time off with things you like.

2. Afterwards, review that timespan. How much worse was it, without the input? — Be honest with yourself!

3. Consider, which sources you want to add again and how much time you want to allocate on their consumption. Choose wisely, but don’t hesitate to try different inputs, like books or podcasts, which are usually better curated and more in-depth, high-quality content.

4. Re-adjust if the quality of a source changes or you start feeling overwhelmed again.

In one sentence:

Be choosy like a princess with her food when it comes to the inputs of your mind, because our mind and with it our whole life is determined by what we feed it, just like our health is dependent on what we eat.

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