I Did Not Follow The News For A Year — Here’s Why You Might Want To Do The Same
I didn’t follow the news in 2021.
This may sound like blasphemy to some of you, but hear me out.
About a year ago, I read the following excerpt from the book ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’ by Tim Ferris:
“Most information is time-consuming, negative, irrelevant to your goals, and outside of your influence. I challenge you to look at whatever you read or watched today and tell me that it wasn’t at least two of the four.”
At that moment I stopped and realized this was true for me for one source of information: “THE NEWS” — more specifically, the daily news.
So, I decided to conduct an experiment: To remove daily news from my information diet for a full year and see what happens.
My conclusion: I will not follow the news in 2022 either.
Here are 3 reasons why you might want to do the same:
1. The News is Bad for Your Mental Health
I don’t think it’s a radical claim to say that most mainstream media covers mostly negative news.
Just out of curiosity — while writing this blog post — I opened my news app for the first time in a long time and this is the headline I saw: “Corona demonstration and riot Amsterdam — march to Museumplein has begun”
Let’s face it: A majority of news media focuses on disaster reporting and creating sensational headlines to attract attention.
And it’s no wonder, as that’s the best way to capitalize on their business model. Because more attention means more readers, listeners, or watchers — which means more advertising revenue.
That’s how they make money.
The reason why negative news works so well is because of the human tendency to react more strongly to negative stimuli compared to positive stimuli — also called “Negativity Bias” in psychological scientific literature.
“Our evidence suggests that, all around the world, the average human is more physiologically activated by negative than by positive news stories.”
And consuming (too many) negative news stories have a consequence: It impacts your mental health in a negative way.
When you experience a threat (which negative news simulates) it activates your fight or flight response, causing your body to release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
So, more frequent exposure to negative news, also makes you experience stress more frequently. This will eventually take an emotional toll and impact your mental well-being.
“People who watched negative material, as compared to those who watched positive or neutral material, showed an increase in both anxious and sad moods after only 14 minutes of viewing television news bulletins and programs.”
Consuming negative news stories is is like eating a Mcdonald’s hamburger: You love to indulge in it, feel shitty afterward, and for some reason keep coming back for another one…
If you ask me, that doesn’t sound like a healthy habit.
But bad habits aside, it makes sense. It’s only been about 50 years since the invention of the internet, which has made instant access to news from all over the world possible.
From an evolutionary perspective, half a decade is instant. We’re simply not wired for knowing about every major threat and catastrophe that happens on the planet.
It’s good to be anxious when you know a serial killer is on the run in your local town. But is that useful when it happens on the other side of the world?
2. The News Creates an Unrealistic Worldview
Let me know in the comments if there’s a flaw in this line of reasoning:
- Mainstream media mostly reports sensationalized negative news.
- You receive mostly negative information about the state of the world
- You receive almost no positive information about the state of the world
- Conclusion: Your worldview is negatively biased and incomplete.
Of course, nobody will ever have a complete picture of the state of the world, just as nobody will ever be completely unbiased.
You (like me) are a limited creature, ignorant of most things, and you have a subjective experience that constructs a worldview based on personal preferences.
However, what you can do to get as close as possible to a realistic worldview is this: To gather as much as possible objective data about the state of the world and use data visualization and statistics to get to the facts.
Yes, that sounds like a lot of work…
But there are people who’ve done this work for you already — like Hans Rosling, author of “Factfulness”.
Hans is an expert in using data and statistics to explore the state of developmental issues in the world. At the same time, he tests his findings against what ‘everybody’ thinks the state of these issues is.
“When asked simple questions about global trends — what percentage of the world’s population live in poverty; why the world’s population is increasing; how many girls finish school — we systematically get the answers wrong. So wrong that a chimpanzee choosing answers at random will consistently outguess teachers, journalists, Nobel laureates, and investment bankers.”
Yes, you have a more flawed view of the world than a chimpanzee…
All joking aside: The point Hans makes in his book is that you are wrong about the state of the world. And the good news is, things are better than you think.
For example, most people underestimate:
- How many of the world’s children today have been vaccinated against some disease (80%)
- The change in the number of deaths per year from natural disasters (decreased to less than half in the last 100 years)
- The proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty (almost halved in 20 years)
When asking fact questions about such topics, on average, people are way more pessimistic than the data shows us.
Among other reasons, Hans (surprise surprise) blames the mainstream media — who capitalize on our negativity bias and therefore seem to have a knack for forgetting to mention the more positive developments in the world.
But it makes sense because the good news is often boring news.
Things improve slowly and gradually over time, such as the decrease in natural disaster deaths. A daily update on a tiny improvement doesn’t catch the attention of many readers.
On the contrary, things can go catastrophically wrong very quickly, such as an earthquake or forest fire. An entire village burned down in minutes, can make a very catchy news headline.
Bad news, is not often boring news.
A shame, really.
Wouldn’t it be great to see the world in a more positive light?
3. The News is Irrelevant to Your Goals
In my opinion, most news is irrelevant to the goals of most people.
One of the exceptions would be a news reporter. Then, it might be a good idea to be up to date with the most important world events…
Okay, unfair example — but the point I’m trying to make is that your personal goals and responsibilities have to be aligned with the information that you’re consuming.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- “What do I want to experience in life?”
- “What new skills do I want to learn?”
- “What causes do I want to contribute to?”
The goal of this exercise is to determine what kind of information you have to expose yourself to, in order to achieve the goals you have set for yourself.
In simple terms: What input leads to the desired output?
For instance, if you’re planning to start a business in the near future: Instead of listening to the news radio during your morning commute, spent that time listening to a podcast about entrepreneurship.
Or if your new years’ resolution is the spend more quality time with your family: Instead of watching the evening news, spent playing a board game with your family.
Personally, I stopped reading the newspaper in the morning and started to read between 10 and 20 pages of a book — which was more in line with my personal goals. More specifically, I wanted to learn more about how a company's culture influences the effectiveness of a business.
How is reading an article about the latest corona developments going to help me achieve that?
Just to be clear: I’m not saying you should be totally ignorant about important developments in the world, and you shouldn’t be naive about the existence of terrible events, and human atrocities.
They are real, and they happen every day.
However, you don’t need to know about everything happening everywhere, instantly. Remember, you (as a human) aren’t used to being exposed to this much knowledge about the world, and it may have a negative impact on your mental health and warp your worldview.
Luckily, there are many other ways to stay informed about the relevant events outside the scope of your personal life, such as documentaries, podcasts, books, long-form articles, and movies.
These sources are more condensed, information-rich, and can summarize events over longer time periods.
In my own life, I let my friends filter some of the relevant information for me — such as the latest changes in national corona regulations. While talking about such topics, I may look ignorant sometimes — but for me, that downside outweighs the upside.
Of course, there are exceptions.
If you were an international English businessman during the Brexit a few years ago, it may have been a good idea to stay up to date on the latest policy developments.
But how is that relevant to most of you?
The point is: Think carefully for yourself about why you’re consuming the news and how that is helping you move forward in life.
Because, as John Maxwell put it:
“You can not overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.”