Today I came across a nice little post on the ZenHabits blog about the importance of learning to reclaim our attention and it started me thinking about the things I am, and am not, currently giving my attention. One of the things the poster mentioned was the idea of giving up the business of staying abreast of the news.
Now I definitely agree that the news is largely a waste of time. That was a decision I made myself some ten years ago when I stopped watching and listening to the news on the TV or radio and I also stopped reading newspapers. It started when I realised that these things are largely populated with negativity and the last thing I wanted to start my day was a dose of that. I stopped watching the morning news. After that, I broke my addiction to news and began to care less and less about whether or not I knew what was going on in the wider world. Generally, as a result of my self-imposed blackout, I don’t, of course.
What I found was that the important news still has a way of getting to me. Other people will comment on how bad the situation is in the middle-east, for example, or perhaps how ridiculous the government’s latest policies are on health or how awful the disaster is in … well, you name the place. This stuff still gets through because the story just takes off and has a life of its own. In such cases, I do check the news to stay abreast of important events. In fact, one thing I like to do, with regard to TV news, is to just watch the headlines on the evening news. It takes a couple of minutes and if there’s nothing in those headlines that grabs me, I know I do not need the detail, so I simply turn it off.
Of course, not watching the news means that I am less well informed than the average person about current events. But, the other side of this coin is that I can reclaim all of that previously lost time and energy and redirect it at something more worthwhile and profitable. I spend less time mithering myself about world events and more time thinking about how to achieve my goals – and I think this has become a vitally important weapon in my success arsenal. After all, you can only think, consciously, of one thing at a time and so this space I have managed to create is then free to be occupied by thoughts that are more important to me.
For the same reason, it is rare for me to listen to the radio in the car and generally, I don’t listen to music when travelling either. There is nothing wrong with doing so, of course. Many people do these things to pass their time. For me however, I want to use that valuable thinking time in a different way. I want to recall my current situation with regard to my main project. I want to think about the problems I am currently facing and then let my brain go to work on finding the answers. This is the process of introspection that I have found delivers remarkable results – all the better when the mind is not distracted.
Now, this does not mean that I never listen to anything in the car. Sometimes, I do listen to music, but generally, if I am embarking on a long journey and feel that I want to listen to something, I will usually take a motivational or inspirational audio book with me. Again listening to such material will stimulate thoughts that naturally relate themselves to my goals. Some inspirational texts I have listened to repeatedly. I like to listen to certain classic texts at least once per year. Things like Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, for example – I have lost count of how many times I have listened to that – Deepak Chopra’s The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success and James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh.
Some of these texts, that I know extremely well, have affected me profoundly. With none of the usual news or meme-producing popular music going round my head, I have the inner space to think about these principles. The result is that the learning becomes more deeply embedded. It passes from mere head-knowledge to a level of understanding that can affect me and the results I am committed to producing in my life.
Of course, if you decide to give the news blackout idea a try, you are likely to feel withdrawal symptoms at first. You will miss the news in the early stages. When you work past this addiction, you will come to realise just how much of your time the news habit was consuming. It is not just the time you spend watching, listening or reading, it is the time to spend worrying about the issues, talking with others about the described events and thinking about what might happen. All of which displaces the type of thinking that could really make a difference to you in life.
But once you have worked your way through the news addiction, you will come to occupy another place. Gradually, you will train you mind to start thinking about what is important to you and you will begin to surprise yourself when the right ideas start to come. The blog post that started me thinking began with the following thought, ‘Consider what you give your attention to each day. It’s a precious resource and determines the shape of your life’. I couldn’t have put it better myself.