I have stopped reading and watching the news for over 2 years now. I have kept an arms distance from newspapers, developed an allergy for news websites, and made a habit of changing the TV channel if I land on a news program accidentally.
I can guess what question you have in mind. “Did you not miss out on useful information?”, you ask. The answer – not a tad bit.
People have a misconception that staying away from news would lead to a lack of knowledge on current affairs which in turn impacts our daily life. The truth, however, is the opposite. When I stopped following the news, my mind felt more calm and serene, allowing me to work on things I love.
- What happens when you watch the news
- Why watching the news causes more damage than good?
- 1. News is negative
- 2. Your mind invokes fear and anxiety
- 3. You make an unrealistic estimation of risks
- 4. You do not gain anything
- 5. You become a part of gossip/arguments
- 6. Confirmation bias
- 7. Your body releases more cortisol which impacts your health
- 8. You worry about things you cannot influence
- 9. News interferes with productive work
- 10. The important news reaches you anyway
What happens when you watch the news
Instead of putting all my experience of staying away from news in words, I created a visual to help you understand better.
Now that I have boycotted news in all shapes and forms, my mind seems like a vacant house that I just moved into. I have all the privilege to fill the space the way I choose to. I am not sure if I can come up with decor and arrangements that impress an interior designer, but I can set up a house exactly the way I want to.
When I stayed away from the news, my brain did not encounter any distractions. Whatever ran through my mind either mattered to me or helped me work on tasks that made a difference to my life. All my time and energy were channeled in the right direction helping me extract meaningful results.
Things take a complete U-turn when you start following the news. Your mind becomes a dump yard of information. Heck, you can’t even change any of those events which are eating up your brain space.
You read news about crimes in another continent miles away from you. You hear about a hurricane that has hit another coast. Now, unless you are a member of the UN or Superman from Krypton, you can do nothing about such events. Knowing about them only fills your thoughts with worry and grief. Zero benefits come out of such knowledge.
Likewise, if you consume news from TV channels, websites, social media, and newspapers, you get entangled in the commotion of politicians, celebrities, wars, unrelated business markets, and whatnot.
Keeping your ears open and processing the information you receive requires energy and time. But, you only have a limited amount of time and energy in a day. As a result, you are left with little time to work on things that make a difference to your family, goals, relationships, and career.
As you absorb more news, they eat up time from activities which help you in the long run.
Today, when I catch up with friends, I hear about the latest topic which is doing the rounds on the news. People are at times surprised that I had no freaking clue about it. When I ask them what was the use of knowing it, no one has an answer other than “It is good to know about current affairs.” I ask why again, and we reach an impasse.
Why watching the news causes more damage than good?
On the surface, the news seems harmless but that’s far from the truth. Are you wondering, how can hearing about a few calamities, incidents and policies harm you? I present 10 reasons why news is bad for you.
1. News is negative
Try picking up a newspaper or tuning into a news channel. More often than not, you will encounter a negative incident. A war between countries killed thousands, a hurricane closed down a city, a politician mocked his opponent, an actress dumped her boyfriend and so on.
I am not claiming that all news is negative, but when I tried counting, I found every positive announcement bundled with 4 or more negative stories.
Why doesn’t good news get published more often, you think? Because negative news sells and gathers more readers/viewers. Negativity appears more captivating than a plan vanilla happy story. For example, try these for comparison:
- Actor Sean donates 10 million USD to charity
- Actor Sean arrested for physical assault on his wife
Needless to say, people prefer to know more about a controversial mess than a joyful story. Is it worth reading the news when all you hear is negativity?
2. Your mind invokes fear and anxiety
When you hear terrible incidents happening in the world around you, you start worrying if you will end up as the victim someday. The news of a new disease outbreak sends a shiver down your spine as you visualize yourself lying in a bed plugged into a ventilator. When terrorists bomb a building, you worry about being blown to smithereens due to an explosion in your city.
The psychological effects of the news are not so apparent but they are real.
The world is a much better place than the news portrays. When you look at only the horrendous events, your mind generalizes the whole earth as the same. But you are taking a small percentage of all occurrences around the world which are sad and assuming such tragedies happen in each city every day.
3. You make an unrealistic estimation of risks
The number of people who fear stepping into an airplane is humongous. The thought of the plane crashing scares even the frequent flyers.
After a shark attacked Bethany Hamilton, people stayed away from the waters for a couple of years. Some fear a shark attack even today.
While the risks are real, such events are far rarer than they appear.
Due to the intensity with which the news sells the story, you consider an uncommon event as common.
As per statistics, you are more likely to die in a car accident on the way to the airport than in a flight crash. You have higher chances of winning a Nobel prize than being bitten by a shark.
The fear induced by the scary events forces your mind to worry about such tragedies happening to yourself which in reality never occur. Such is the impact of news channels on society.
4. You do not gain anything
From all the news you have watched in the last few years, can you recall one piece which helped you make a better decision? I don’t think so. Even if you do find an instance, do you believe the time spent was a good trade-off for the outcome?
In cases like investment decisions in the stock market or real estate, knowing facts helps. But outside those areas, what good comes out of knowing the tussle between politicians, the sex life of the celebrities, or the intensity of an earthquake in Indonesia?
You never receive a good return on investment for the time you spend in consuming, storing and processing the news.
5. You become a part of gossip/arguments
When you read a piece of news, you will notice the details leaning towards one side. It can appear so due to a biased source or paid propaganda. Even if the content is neutral, your own perception can skew your judgment and make you favor one side.
The most common examples are topics related to politics, religion, and ideologies. Just like a political party has fans and haters, ideologies such as feminism and capitalism has its share of devotees and critics.
Irrespective of the side you take, you get pulled into gossip. A simple glance into your Facebook newsfeed will show you the gossip and the keyboard warriors which impact your peace of mind for no reason.
6. Confirmation bias
Your mind tends to stick to the beliefs it already has. How often do you find fans of a sports team or a political party switch their support to a rival? Such changes are rare because people prefer to stick to their beliefs.
What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intactWarren Buffet
The social media news feed today further strengthens your belief by showing you what you believe in. If you are a fan of Messi, Facebook will show you more posts about Messi than about Ronaldo.
In a similar case, during the 2016 US Presidential Elections, the results shocked the fans of Hillary Clinton. However, the supporters of Trump saw it coming.
The reason was, the followers of both Trump and Hillary saw articles on social media which said their leader would win. The content reinforced their own beliefs. Both sides expected their leader to win by looking at one side of the story alone.
You can read more about confirmation bias here.
7. Your body releases more cortisol which impacts your health
Since you hear about bad news more often, your mood undergoes a change from neutral/happy to stressed/anxious. The psychological effects of bad news cause your body to react with a certain response.
When you undergo any stress your body has a natural protocol of releasing more cortisol in your system. That is mother nature’s way of preparing you for a flight or fight response. Your brain plans to break you out of it as soon as possible because it is only a response to stimuli.
However, if you remain stressed, cortisol keeps collecting in your system keeping you in the flight or fight mode often. If you go around hunting for negative news, you impact your health in the long run.
8. You worry about things you cannot influence
As a person, you have things you can control and change such as improving your career, building better relationships, exercising often, improving as a person and so on. All such things fall under your locus of control.
You can bring a change in any behavior, activity or outcome which falls under this area. Sometimes things may not go as expected but the outcome was due to the actions you took.
If I have to put it as a visual, here is how your locus of control would look like.
Beyond the orange circle lie a million other things which you have no control over. All the news you consume daily will 9 out of 10 times fall outside your locus of control. You are only wasting your time by learning about problems you can neither change nor influence.
9. News interferes with productive work
Behind every article which reaches you, lies a business working on selling and making profits. Not every news media takes sides, but the editorial teams write to draw your attention and keep you hooked. That’s their job and that’s what they’re paid for.
If you are reading a piece of interesting news, you cannot multitask. Multitasking is unproductive anyway but that is a different topic to discuss.
Besides, one article leads you to another, followed by comments and videos consuming your time minute by minute. Even after you finish with the news and get back to business, what you read lingers on. Such persistent thoughts are due to attention residue and they kill your focus.
10. The important news reaches you anyway
If something of dire consequences makes the headlines, the news will reach you one way or the other. If a tsunami is about to hit your coast or the scientists have predicted an earthquake in your area, you will hear about it.
No damage has ever occurred to a person who failed to watch a news channel or read the newspaper on time.
What is crucial will find its way to you. What about the rest? Well, you don’t need it anyway.
Does this mean the news is bad for you? Yes.
Does this mean you should stop reading news during breaks? Yes
Does this mean you should stop all forms of news? Again yes.
Ideally, if you cut yourself from all news sources, you will experience far more peace of mind. I have stated the disadvantages of the news above and you can make your own judgment. However, limiting news in all forms is no easy task.
A better option is to limit your intake of news to your areas of interest. If you love sports, follow news related to the championship. If you are a technology freak, read more about the latest gadgets. If you intend to invest in stocks, learn more about the happenings in the market.
Do not consider it important to stay informed on all the happenings around the world. You don’t need to. Whenever you find yourself pulled into some news which does not help you in any fashion, tell yourself, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.