The News: Are We Being Informed or Inflamed?
First, it’s important to acknowledge that some of the news is valuable to ensure that we stay informed. However, because so much of the news is negative, watching for any length of time can also be irritating, worrisome, or even depressing if the experience isn’t managed in a more purposeful way.
Therefore, I’m going to suggest “five clues to watching the news,” or five questions we can ask ourselves to determine whether watching the news is truly serving us.
The first question: Is “the news” really new?
Have you noticed how much of the news is repetitious? This is because there are now 24-hour news channels, but not 24 hours worth of news to report… or at least news that these channels feel will capture and hold our attention. Therefore, they tend to break a story (calling it “breaking news” to further intrigue us) and then ask others’ opinion on it, interview people who were affected by it, and even simply repeat it verbatim every so often.
We can keep from wasting our time listening to the same thing over and over again by noticing when we have heard about a particular news item, and then shifting our attention to something more productive when the news is no longer new.
The second question: Is the information that I’m being fed valuable?
In other words, is what I’m watching really helping me create the experience of life I’m after? It’s certainly possible that staying informed of a tropical storm that could impact my part of the country is a good idea. However, once I’m informed of what is happening around the world, it’s possible that continuing to hear information about the problem isn’t really helping in any way, and I might be better served by shifting my focus to some aspect of life that I can influence.
The third question: Is what I’m watching designed to inform or inflame?
Since news outlets have learned that negative news captures more viewers than positive news, they have, in the past, created programs that are designed to make us angry or indignant. Often this consists of two people with polar-opposite opinions arguing with each other. Each is spinning their perspective in a way that is in line with their position. Unfortunately, the viewer does not come away more informed, but potentially more inflamed at the “stupidity” of the “other side.”
The fourth question… What is this news story triggering in us?
Those who either follow my “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy or know something about how the brain works understand that whatever we watch/see/experience triggers certain chemical changes in our brain and body. Positive information and experiences trigger serotonin and endorphins, while negative information tends to trigger stress, anxiety, anger, and frustration. If the latter is our experience after watching “the news,” these problematic chemicals will trigger changes in blood pressure and heart rate that, if prolonged, can negatively impact our digestion, hamper our ability to fight off illness, and even shorten our life.
Therefore, we want to pay a lot of attention to what is being triggered by our viewing habits, and make sure that we are choosing viewing experiences that are in line with how we want to think and feel going forward.
And, the fifth question: Would we recommend what we are watching to someone that we love?
As we watch what one 24-hour news channel or another is serving up, do we really think that viewing this would be good for our child, our children, or someone we love? Do we feel that their life would be enhanced by this particular story…is this something that would be helpful or inspire them to do great things? If so, then we should probably call them in. If not however, it’s probably not something that is enhancing our lives, as well.
The bottom line is that news channels are going to feed us what they believe will capture our attention and keep us hooked long enough for them to go to commercial and sell us some soap. If captured, hooked, and “sold” isn’t what we are wanting from our experience of watching the news, then maybe we should be asking ourselves, is it new, is it valuable, is it designed to inflame, is it trigging thoughts and feelings that serve us, and would we recommend this to someone we love?
Given that these questions come from the “Top of the Mind,” or the part of the brain where our best decisions are made, they have the potential to steer us toward the type of choices that truly help us create the experience of life that we want. In this way, we stay informed but not inflamed, which, again, is something that we would most likely recommend to someone we love.
~ All the best, Dr. Bill