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5 Compelling Reasons to Readjust Your Information Diet, and How to Do It


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“One of the effects of living with electric information is that we live habitually in a state of information overload. There’s always more than you can cope with.”
Marshall McLuhan

“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.”
Gertrude Stein

“Our thoughts create our reality — where we put our focus is the direction we tend to go.”
Peter McWilliams

During the last few years I have cut down on and readjust much of the information I bring into my life.

I don’t own a TV. I quickly scan the headlines of a major Swedish newspaper perhaps 5 times a week. I never listen to the radio. I check my emails once in the morning. I don’t subscribe to any RSS-feeds (but visit a few blogs maybe once a week).

I didn’t use to be that way. I used much of my time and energy to take a in a whole lot of information of all different kinds. Why did I change this?

Well, here are five compelling reasons to take a look at your own information intake and perhaps do some trimming and readjusting.
Everyone has to find their own balance of course. And I’m not saying that my way is the best way either. Just that it may be a good idea to have a look at how much information and what information you bring into your life. And to be a bit careful with what you let into your head since that can have a big influence on your thoughts and beliefs.

1. Fear.

There can be quite a bit of fear in, for instance, what you read in the paper or see on the news. Now it’s useful to be updated on various things. But to spend hours each week in a sort of environment filled with fear is perhaps not the best thing to expose your mind to. It can certainly make you more fearful of many things in your life and of things that might happen.

However, most of the things we fear in our minds never really seem to come into reality. Fearful information feeds such thought habits and fantasies though. And so unnecessary suffering is created in your mind and life.

2. Negativity

There is also quite a bit of negativity in all kinds of forms on, for example, internet forums or other places online. But to be able to keep a positive attitude in your daily life it’s vital to reduce the time you spend on things that feed a lot of negativity into your mind.

3. Reinforces your old behaviour patterns.

If you want to change and grow then spending a lot of time steeped in fear and negativity is a good way to sabotage your own progress. To become who you want to be and get what you want out of life you have to be selective and put your focus in the right places. And cut out or reduce the old stuff that is holding you back.

Otherwise you may be working on your personal growth, say for an hour each day. Maybe you read a personal development book and do the exercises in the book. And then you go on to marinate your thoughts in negativity for few hours through various outputs of information. It’s a bit like trying to get in shape, going out for a run and then going home to eat a whole birthday cake.

Use the information that is necessary for your goals and for what you find useful in life. Take in more information that supports those things. And less information that just works against them.

4. Takes up time and takes you away from what’s important in your life.

Sometimes you just want to relax in front of the TV. But too much of that may not be the most useful way to go about things. Sure, it’s easy. But you could also use that time – perhaps several hours each week – for something more exciting, fun and fulfilling. It’s your choice.

5. Information overload that confuses your focus and decreases your ability to make decisions and get things done.

I’ve written several times about how just taking in more personal development information can make you feel like you are making progress. It’s an emotional high of sorts. But at the end of the month you may find you haven’t gotten that much done. Just reading and reading becomes a sort of avoidance of what’s really important. Like taking action, failing and succeeding and gaining understanding from your own experiences.

And an overload of any kind of information can have negative effects. It can split your focus and make you confused. It can results in a lot of time spent either procrastinating or overthinking things way too much.

A better way to spend much of your time to get some real results is often just to focus on the next your can take to move yourself forward and to take action on that. Have a look at How to Take More Action: 9 Powerful Tips for more on creating an action habit in your life.

How to change your information diet habits

Now, how do you go about changing your habits in this area? I’m certainly no expert at it, but here are a few tips I have found helpful.

Replace your habit with another habit.

One way to change a habit is to replace the vacuum it may leave in your life with another habit. So instead of watching TV that extra hour each day you may:

  • Go for a walk or to the gym.
  • Have a fun experience with family and friends.
  • Consume positive and helpful information instead. Like personal development material or something that inspire you or makes you laugh.

Ask yourself: is this useful?

I ask myself this pretty often. If for instance a TV-show or magazine isn’t bringing me anything useful – fun, fascination, useful tips etc. – then why am I spending my time on it? It’s kinda easy to just fall into a habit of doing stuff or consuming things without really having much of a reason for doing so.

Find out what you really like to do.

That will probably be more interesting that surfing the net or TV-channels randomly. And so these less exciting things just tend to fall away from your life as you find things that you really like to do, like for instance a new hobby.

How do you find such a thing? Try things. Experiment.

Set times for when you are allowed to watch/read.

Instead of checking your email or some forum many times each day, set times for when you are allowed to check it. I try, for example, to only check my emails once in the morning. It doesn’t always work, but I am getting better and better at sticking to that time.

If you check emails, website statistics, RSS-feeds, forums a bit compulsively think about why you are doing it. One reason I found was to get external validation. To get a short burst of validation from other people by checking how many people that had read my blog recently or from new emails in my inbox. When you recognize such a desire within it becomes easier to make a conscious decision to not check in instead of just following along with that needy impulse.

Remind yourself to the reasons above when you feel like reverting to your old habit.

Just a quick reminder may be all you need.

Don’t beat yourself up.

If you fail and revert back to your old habits for a day, don’t beat yourself up. It happens to pretty much everyone. Just get back on track again the next day. Beating yourself up is just a waste of time and energy.

One last thing: you may think to yourself that your information consumption has no negative effects on you. I thought so at least. But when I stepped away from some information and retooled my habits I started to feel less negative feelings like stress or fear. You may not notice the effect until you make a change. One suggestion would simply be to retool your own habits for 30 days and see what happens.

If you found this article helpful, please share it with someone on Facebook, Twitter and Stumbleupon. Thank you very much! =)

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  • ash September 14, 2010, 9:46 pm

    This is an awesome article on many levels. I used to overload myself with all sorts of reading materials – design articles , self-help posts, food recipes, current events, and felt completely overwhelmed that I had to “absorb” all of this. Now, I take it one at a time… and need to work with compulsively checking my emails and reading forums.

  • Michelle @ Following Your Joy September 16, 2010, 4:34 pm

    Thanks, Henrik!
    This is also something I’ve worked on over the last several years…and I call it “work” because we are surrounded/bombarded by information constantly! So it takes being conscious to your life and deliberately choosing in each moment what you will allow in and what you need to filter out.
    I admire you for making the choices you have, in service of living a more purposeful life. Rock on!

  • Wes September 20, 2010, 2:48 pm

    Thanks for this article. #2 jumped out at me. I had just recently been writing about a lot of things in my life that irritate and confuse me. I found that the more I focused on them (during my writing, editing, etc..), the more they bothered me.

    I found that when I quit writing about what bothered me and wrote about what to do about it, I came away from it feeling much better. I suppose it works the same way reading what others are saying.

    Thanks again!

  • Universal Energy September 21, 2010, 10:14 pm

    This is a great Blog! I really enjoyed reading your tips about changing your information diet. I don’t watch TV either, but last night I succumbed while others around me where watching. I couldn’t believe how many advertisements were bombarding us viewers, and how most of them focused on food, drink and habits that reinforce the information age!

  • Lisa September 28, 2010, 3:48 am

    Can I get an amen! At this point if it doesn’t make me feel better it doesn’t make the cut. I only have so much time. Why would I spend any of it feeling worse??? I appreciate this post and will share it with my clients.
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