You are what you read. As a leader you need to be careful about the quality of the information you choose to consume. News is like fast food, it’s addictive and it damages your mental and emotional health.
“The fortunate among us have recognised the hazards of living with an overabundance of food and have started to shift our diets. But most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what sugar is to the body.” – Rolf Donelli, Avoid News, Towards a Healthy News Diet
The relentless stream of news and poor quality information is especially damaging to leaders. As the saying goes “garbage in, garbage out”. The obsession that we have with following mainstream media has a number of negative consequences, especially for leaders.
News is Overly Negative and Distorts Reality
“Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock.” – Ben Hecht
News is created to trigger your emotions and capture your attention. News reporters are well-known for writing sensational stories with the aim of selling more advertising and driving new subscriptions. As any journalist will tell you “if it bleeds, it leads”.
“The news media are, for the most part, the bringers of bad news and it’s not entirely the media’s fault, bad news gets higher ratings and sells more papers than good news.” – Peter McWilliams
The purpose of news stories are not to educate or inform, rather it’s to evoke an emotional response, such as shock, fear and anxiety. You can observe this in that the majority of the news being reported is negative involving conflict, terrorism, protests, crime, tragedy and celebrity gossip. Research has found that adults and children expose to mainstream media are more likely to:
- feel that their neighbourhoods and communities are unsafe
- believe that crime rates are rising
- overestimate their odds of becoming a victim, and
- consider the world to be a dangerous place.
Reading the news is one of the worst ways to spend your time. In fact reading the news is worse that not reading anything at all. Reading does not make you smarter, wiser or more knowledgeable.
The news distorts your view of reality. And distorted reality places leaders at risk of making poor decisions.
News Shapes and Directs Your Attention
“Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months, name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career, your business – compared to what you would have known if you hadn’t swallowed that morsel of news.” – Rolf Donelli, Avoid News, Towards a Healthy News Diet
The consumption of mainstream news distracts you from leading with purpose. It is the news that sets your agenda and captures your attention. When you spend your time-consuming news headlines you are allowing others to decide the issues of the day. You are letting others decide what is important and what problems should occupy your attention. When this happens you have effectively surrendered your leadership.
News Makes us Passive
“If you want to come up with old solutions, read news. If you are looking for new solutions, don’t read news.” – Rolf Donelli, Avoid News, Towards a Healthy News Diet
One of the most damaging aspects of reading the news is the constant barrage of negativity and pessimism. We under-estimate the adverse effects that negative and pessimistic content has on our emotional and mental health.
A constant stream of negative news and the reporting on problems that are for the most part outside of our control makes us passive. After a while we begin to look for others to blame and we look to others to make a difference in the world. Before long we find ourselves behaving as victims with a fatalistic outlook on life.
4 Ways to Tame Your Obsession with the News
The question becomes what can be done to tame our daily news habit? Let us explore some of the strategies we can adopt to tame our news reading obsession.
1. Make a Deliberate Choice About What Information You Consume
“I put it to you that information, if viewed from the point of food, is never a production issue; you never speak of food overload. Fundamentally it’s a consumption issue.” – JP Rangaswami, “Information is food”
In a TED talk titled “Information is food”, JP Rangaswami talks about how the consumption of information is similar to eating food. In the talk he makes the point that consuming mainstream news is like eating McDonalds for 31 days!
As leaders we need to become a lot more discerning about the quality of information we consume. The world does not need more leaders who mindlessly digest negative news, polarizing opinions and inaccurate forecasts. We need leaders who are more discerning as to the quality of information they consume.
Successful leaders are not persuaded by the superficial analysis of world events. Instead they choose to read content which deals with the nuances of leading in an increasingly complex world. These leaders seek out quality, thought-provoking information. Content that sparks creative solutions to address the problems of today. Content that provokes thought, deep reflection and content that inspires action.
Change begins with a shift in thinking. The first step is to recognise that you have a choice. Challenge yourself to make more conscious choices about the type of information you consume.
What kind of content are you feeding your brain? Is it nourishing?
Conduct an information audit on what you are reading. What reading do you need to stop or reduce? What reading to you need to continue? What new reading do you need to start?
2. Radically Reduce the Volume of News You Consume
“I do not take a single newspaper, nor read one a month, and I feel myself infinitely the happier for it.” – Thomas Jefferson
I highly recommend drastically reducing the amount of news you consume each day. Decide to go on a news diet. Delete news apps from your phone, unsubscribe from news in your social media feed, switch off or reduce the time you spend watching television and listening to the radio.
I am not saying that you should shut off all contact with the outside world and live as a hermit! What I am advocating for is a sharp reduction in the consumption of biased, negative and pessimistic news.
When you reduce the constant distraction of breaking news you will have the time to consume quality content. You will also find greater mental and emotional space for reflective thinking. You will be amazed at how much time, mental and emotional energy you free up when you reduce the amount of news you consume. You can then use this additional time to read books that educate, inform and inspire you to live a life of significance and success.
As a start why not try a news fast and see how you feel afterwards? Take a month off consuming mainstream news.
Personally I have found that a radical reduction in consuming mainstream news was one of the best decisions that I have made. It has contributed to a significant improvement in my productivity and my happiness. Why not give it a try?
3. Focus on Building a Body of Knowledge
“If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.” – Mark Twain
Aim to build a body of knowledge, rather than seeking to be informed. I hear from leaders who read the news saying that they do so because they what to be informed about what is going on in the world. Whilst their intentions are good, reading the news is not a great way of being informed.
Instead develop wisdom. Choose to read books that will provide you a meaningful body of knowledge, rather than relying on a fragmented diet of opinion.
Seek to build a body of knowledge that will help you understand how the world works.
Rather of using your time to consume the latest news, invest time in reading and learning from some of the greatest minds in history. Read books, watch videos and listen to podcasts that inspire you to take the action needed become the difference in a world crying out for authentic leaders.
4. Read the News with a Healthy Dose of Scepticism
If you absolutely must read the news do so with a healthy dose of scepticism. There are going to be times when you will read the news to catch up on a major event that is of interest to you. When you need to read the news do so with care. Consider adopting the following guidelines:
- Do not rely on news as your primary source of information.
- Do not rely on the news as the source for what is important and what you to should be paying attention to in your life.
- Try to keep in mind that even the best newspapers frequently get their facts wrong.
- Be acutely aware that news is written to sell advertising and subscriptions. This means that the majority of stories being reported are negative. These stories are often presented as black or white, good or evil, right or wrong, however as you know the world consists of many shades of grey.
- Try to remember that it is the stories which do not make the news that are the real important ones.
Whenever you feel that you are becoming addicted to the constant stream of news. Stop and go on a news diet. Simply stop reading any news for 30 days and regain emotional and intellectual balance in your life.