Category: unconventional life

The 10 Things I Experienced When I Went a Month Without News:

This February I decided to conduct a little experiment, on myself. I wanted to know what I would experience, and how I would feel, if I stopped paying attention to the news altogether. Specifically, I wanted was a month off of paying attention to anything related to news, politics, and current events. What I experienced over the past 28 days partially matched my theory that ridding myself of some of the anxiety and other negative emotions associated with current events would make me happier. But, I also encountered some surprises along the way. The following list summarizes my experience in going 28 days without reading, listening to, or watching anything related to news.

  1. I had to break a habit

Just in order to successfully go 28 days without news consumption was a struggle. We are all creatures of habit. And, like many other people in 2017, I have roughly 10 web pages I routinely visit. I have also got in the habit of scrolling through social media feeds from time to time. To avoid news, I had to stay diligent and break these habits. I had to completely avoid visiting any web page related to news. And, on my phone, I had to purposely turn away from all the Top Stories and Trending Topics that just find their way of appearing on the screen.

I would say this was the hardest around one week into the experiment. I had not quite broken the habit of reflexively visiting certain web pages, and was beginning to feel disconnected a bit. I also struggled in some social situations with people who turned the television on to news channels. I had to purposely look away, go to another room, or put on headphones.   It helped me to explain to people that I had given up news for the month. This did not stop them from watching the news when I was there, or talking about the news, but at least it stopped them from feeling like I was being purposely anti-social.

  1. I freed up a lot of “mental energy”

I began to think of this exercise as kind of a cleanse diet for the mind.   For those not familiar, a cleanse diet is one where a person eats a radically different diet, often with extreme food restrictions, for a period of time, usually 3 day to 6 weeks. The goal of the cleanse diet is to wash away all of the toxins from one’s body.

It took about a week for my mind to feel “cleansed”. For the first few days of the month, the news that I had read throughout 2016 and the first month of 2017 was still on my mind. 2016 was kind of an exceptional year, and I think I ended up needing a week just to process everything that had happened.

Surely enough, when I stopped thinking about current events, how people are responding, arguing, etc., I started to notice an uptick in my mental energy. Every piece of information we consume and process requires mental energy. When something is both complicated and stress inducing, as politics and current events are, it can be potentially exhausting. When I stopped expending so much mental energy on news and politics, my mind became freed up to address other concerns.

  1. I rediscovered old passions

When I was younger, and there were no smart phones constantly triggering me to look at news stories, I spent my idle time (time with no specific activity) quite differently. As a lifelong weather enthusiast, who studied meteorology in college, I would look at weather patterns, weather models, and weather occurrences around the country. I also spent a significant amount of time reading books and materials related to humanity, human nature, personality, social interaction and the like.

Both these interests never went away, and both of these interests were in a way renewed with all of the time and mental energy freed up this month by not watching news. I am currently looking forward to a season of storm chasing (I attended an event called Chaser Con the 18th and 19th). And I am looking forward to writing more articles like this one!

  1. My mind went to a scary place

This is where I begin to wonder if political commentary in particular is just one gigantic distraction. About a week into my news free month, with my mental energy being returned to me, I actually had sort of a breakdown. I had a particularly rough day at work. I felt like multiple people were pulling me in a direction I did not want to go, regarding my career, and in some ways, my life.

Without news, political commentary, or anything similar to occupy my mind, I had no choice but to face my own disappointment with the current state of my career. This was something I had kind of been realizing all along, but prior to my news free month, my thoughts on this subject were on aspects of my job that were far more cosmetic. This breakdown brought me to a really dark realization regarding what I truly fear, that one day I will retire and die having never achieved my true potential. WOW!

  1. It was not a complete escape

Let’s just face it; in order to truly escape the news, one would have to actually hide under a rock or something. Just because I took on this experiment and decided to stop paying attention to the news does not mean anyone else’s behavior changed one bit (nor should I expect it to).

As previously mentioned, people around me still wanted to turn on the news, read it, and talk about it. I can recall at least two dozen instances throughout the month where someone brought up something regarding Donald Trump or something, and I had to politely say “I am taking the month off of news, sorry”. Most people would respond with some level of interest in the experiment. But, that would often be followed by some sort of return to whatever the person had originally desired to complain about.

So, I did hear about certain things through people around me. Some of it really sparked my interest, like the California Dam collapse. In retrospect, I probably could have kept up with that event and not had the results of this experiment turn out any differently.   But, I wanted to be sure that I stuck to my original intention, and not see other new stories.

  1. I actually became less tolerant of angry political conversation

This one kind of surprised me. Before the experiment, I was already losing my patience with the typical political conversation. By this I mean conversations that people start without appreciating the true complexity of the issues at hand. They often begin with an insult or two, or some sort of expression of outrage at some politician, or political idea. They continue through the conversation expecting everyone to agree, and will sometimes ask a question. But, they are not looking for a well-reasoned consideration of what is at hand. They don’t even want you to say more than a sentence. They want an echo.

My tolerance for this experience pretty much hit zero by the middle of the month. Maybe this would have happened even without the experiment. It is an easy experience to get tired of. Still, I expected the break from reading news, and particularly political commentary, to make it easier for me to tolerate these simplistic and mean spirited exchanges.   Unexpectedly, the opposite happened.

  1. I zeroed in on the true sources of waste

By late in the month, I realized that not all news is a waste of time. There is a benefit to knowing what is going on in the world, as well as in your community. But there are definitely things that I know, going forward, I do not need to expend mental energy on.

I am talking about shows where people just argue with one another. I am talking about articles such as Is Ohio Red for Good Now? (or Is Colorado Blue for Good Now?). I am talking about any show where someone purposely tries to take people’s statements out of context.

I also come out of this feeling like I do not need to keep up with every single development about certain things going on. There is a 24/7 news cycle now, with alerts, updates, and news feeds, designed to get information decimated to the public instantaneously. But, it doesn’t impact my life too much if I am a day or two behind. Unless it is an Amber Alert, a tornado warning, or some other kind of emergency, I can find out in a day or two, or a week, and not be the worst off for it.

  1. There was still a second round of temptation

It was about 20 days into the experiment, the point in which many says habits are broken or formed.  And, I probably had broken these habits. Maybe the day was boring, but I suddenly found myself wondering, again, what was going on. I found myself tempted to go back and visit one of the web pages I had just broken out of the habit of going to. Maybe this was the time when I actually began to feel as if there had been some sort of significant occurrence that I needed to know about.

  1. I have a new appreciation for being conscious of the mind’s intake

As a culture, we put a lot of thought into our body’s intake. What food are we eating? What diet should we try? When we adhere to a diet, or even just actively consider the contents of our food choices, we are being conscious of our body’s intake.

This experiment made me realize that it is probably just as important that we become conscious of our mind’s intake. When we look at click-bait, scroll through news feeds or our social media outlets, we are letting other people decide what information is going into our minds.

Some of it is okay. After all, most of us chose what to follow on these sites. However, some of it is purely mindless. In particular, I am thinking of the NewsStand app on my iPhone. Sure, they let me chose what to follow. But, the app also displays “Top Stories”, which is decided on by whatever controls that application.

On a more frequent basis, we should be consciously determining what we want to be thinking about. Luckily, there is this great site called Google. It lets you type in anything you want information about- whatever is on your mind, whatever sparks your curiosity, and get information, often great information, on the topic. People used to have to go to the Library for that. Now we can do that right after rolling out of bed. Let’s take advantage of it.

  1. I am tempted but I am not

To return to viewing the news regularly now that February is over. It feels like the inverse situation to going to the gym. Many of us feel lukewarm about going to the gym. We kind of drag ourselves there, or fight some kind of internal mental battle to muster up the motivation to work out. But, it is we usually feel better after going.

Right now, I am curious to see what I had missed. But, in a way, I know that something I see will upset me. Something will suck me in and result in me wasting time on a mindless slideshow such as 25 Celebrities Who Voted for Trump. And once again I will be needlessly anxious, and distracted from making the life changes I have begun to make as a result of shifting my focus this past month, from news feeds to the components of my life that truly need attention.

When was the last time YOU decided?

Life at age 4 is a strangely beautiful thing. I do not remember the details of my own life at age 4, nor do I know the details regarding the life of any present day 4-year-old. It’s probably a lot of running around aimlessly, and asking questions; the proverbial “why”. As I observe more and more of my friends having children, and remember my own childhood, one distinction between life at that age, and life as an adult, or even as a teenage comes to mind. 4-year-olds, having yet to enter school, rarely spend any time sitting around wondering what they should be doing. From what I see, the average 4-year-old has some kind of box of toys they just simply dive into. Either that or they are running around the yard. The commonality is, though, these 4-year-olds are not looking to someone else’s guidance when determining what they should be doing or what they should be thinking about and such. There is something simply magical about it.

I think I was 7 or 8 years old the first time I approached one of my parents and simply stated “I’m bored”. Little did I know that this would become an all too familiar theme throughout my life. Boredom is a concept I am quite fascinated with, as I have a personality type that is particularly prone to boredom. But, what is boredom? There are several theories, some involving people being afraid of their own thoughts, some believing it’s a healthy manner in which our brains ensure they are using their full capacity, and yet others stating it’s a symptom of an individual lacking imagination or creativity.

The final theory is the one that is the most disturbing. It suggests, in the most blunt terms possible, that a person being bored is really a person being boring. But, how did that come to be? How would we have transitioned, each one of us, from our 4-year-old selves, to these people who, given spare time, cannot even think of what we would like to do, or what we would like to think about?

One quite disturbing possibility is inadvertent, well-intentioned conditioning. At age 5, most of us enter a world (school) where the way we use our time, what activities we take part in, what topics we fill our minds with, is suddenly determined by someone else. This is quite a significant change from the days where the only instruction we received would be the occasional behavioral correction from our parents. It is possible that, having now been relieved of the duty of determining our own activities, day after day, year after year, the skills of self-determination we developed as a child simply atrophy. So accustomed to having an external forcing determine what we should be doing, and what we should be thinking about, we lose the ability of self-determination.

I see this process manifesting in high school. With the exception of a few leaders, and a few loners, most people join in peer groups, and accept a great degree of outside control from others. It is common for one “leader” to determine the activities for the night, and some combination of trends, pop culture, social norms, and the “in crowd” to determine most else.

Our present day society offers adults plenty of opportunities to continue to avoid having to determine their own thoughts and activities. Jobs are very much still structured so that anyone that wants to can have their boss or supervisor determine all their tasks for them. In fact, as much as things are starting to change, the world is still harsh for those of us that do want to have some say in what kind of work we would like to be involved in.  That covers 40-60 hours of the week.  For all else, outside of work, there are plenty of opportunities to turn to social media, news feeds, television, and advice, both solicited and unsolicited, to determine where our hearts, minds, and energy should be focused.

That leads me to one question, for all adults out there. When was the last time you decided what you were to do with your time, an hour, a day, or even a week?  By this, I am not talking about looking at a list of options and making a choice.  I mean choosing something you want to be doing, or thinking about, with no other influence besides your thoughts, feelings, and inspiration, much the way a 4-year-old would.  And, when was the last time you acted on something, without worrying about what is considered appropriate, what others expect from you, or what “needs to be done”?  While there is a reality to life, and we all have responsibilities, I have a feeling that pretty much every adult today has at least enough wiggle room to do so every once in a while.

 

Do You Need a Job?

Our society places a lot of emphasis on jobs. Often times, when meeting new people, the first question one would ask is, “What do you do”? In the “adult world”, at least 90% of the time, the inquirer is referring to work, what your job is. Being without a job is nearly universally considered either a lesser state of being, or an issue that needs to be solved. Governments all over the world track unemployment statistics, lament when the number increases, and celebrate when the number declines. In popular culture, unemployed people are referenced as having some sort of issue, being less than ideal individuals to date, or having some sort of degenerate rebellious streak.

Today, as we enter a world where more and more tasks that once provided jobs for many are automated, I postulate the question, do you, or anyone else, really need a job? After all, jobs did not always exist, they developed as a means for labor division as civilization gradually advanced thousands of years ago. But, even nowadays, there are people who survive without a job. There are those who got lucky and inherited large sums of money, those that found other sources of income, such as starting their own business, or investing money really effectively, and even those who live off others for various reasons.

What is it that jobs provide for us that makes nearly all human beings feel as if they need them? Jobs provide, or have the potential to provide three main benefits. Most obviously, jobs provide income; money, which allows us to have the basic building blocks of life, the base of the hierarchy of needs food and shelter, but also allows us to live the lifestyles we desire. For many, this is the main reason for going to work. The other human desires jobs can provide are fulfillment and community. By fulfillment, I am referring to the innate aspect of human nature that makes all of us desire to use our time, energy, and talents to produce something meaning. And community is the need for social interactions.

Nearly all jobs provide people with the means, for which to live, which in the modern world mean pay rent or mortgage, and eat. However, the renegade entrepreneurs of the world, the outsiders that have found other income streams, and those that live off the grid honing primitive survival skills have shown us that a job is not the only manner in which to achieve this end. In fact, there are probably creative individuals right now coming up with completely different and interesting ways to generate whatever income, food, shelter, water, etc. they need to sustain human life.

As far as the other two human desires, fulfillment and community, unfortunately, in this world, a majority of “jobs”, and even many “careers” do not provide this. In the era of education inflation, unnecessary bureaucracy, and large corporations, more and more people find themselves with jobs that are simply not fulfilling. When not fulfilled at work, it is hard to find community there as well. Additionally, high turnover rates and increased use of technological resources for meetings and such make it yet more unlikely that one will find community at work.

A job that provides means, fulfillment, and community is still probably the most efficient manner for human beings to fulfill those three needs. However, it is not the only way. As more and more people find their careers not matching their expectations, and the work they do no longer necessary, it may just be time to think outside the box and consider other ways to get those three needs fulfilled.