The Life Changing Magic of Not Watching the News

Last month, my husband committed to a 30 day no news challenge where he would not read, watch or listen to any news. Below is a transcript of several audio interviews I conducted with him following his 30 day media fast, which he successfully completed on January 14, 2017.

Insights from the no news challenge

Why was the consumption of news a problem for you?

I think it was just time consuming. I find national news, especially political news engaging because of all of the analysis, debate and differing opinions. The problem is that you go down this path where you subscribe to a theory and then try to prove that theory right by consuming more information by people who think the way you think. I definitely became obsessive during the election cycle. It cost me a lot of time and brain cells.

What were your expectations going into the challenge?

I was excited. I knew there would be times when it would be difficult, but I had no doubt that I’d succeed. Also, I never had a feeling of “maybe I’m dependent on this so I better take a month off just to make sure.” I just really enjoy the news. I enjoy reading articles and staying informed, so I knew that I’d need to fill that void.

This is exactly what the research suggests. If you want to destroy a bad habit, it’s not enough to suppress the behavior, you must replace it with something else. And in order to do this, you have to be aware of the cues or triggers that cause you to perform the habit in the first place. Only then can you introduce a competing response. What were your triggers and how did you fill the void?

At home, I always flip on the TV. I guess I like the background noise. So instead of news, I usually had sports or something neutral like HGTV on.

At work, I noticed that when I’d get nervous about a deal, I’d distract myself by reading the news. My fingers would automatically type any one of three urls and I wouldn’t realize what I was doing. I blocked those sites on my computer so that they wouldn’t load, and brought up sales dashboards, reports and internal team posts to read instead.

In the car, I listened to books on tape instead of my go-to talk radio news show. I ended up listening to 4 audiobooks.

What did you learn from listening to all of those audiobooks?

I learned that I loved learning. One audiobook in particular helped me through a hard time in my professional career. It made me realize the value and importance of being a continual learner. Sometimes you forget that. You get stale.

On top of that, I could get through 2 hours of an audiobook, sometimes more, in one day because I listened at 1.5x speed. Compare that with talk radio and its endless commercials – it definitely made me rethink the way I was consuming information.

I love it. What a powerful motivator. 

Yea, the books really invigorated me.

How would you sum up the month? 

I loved the experience. Physically, I felt more relaxed. Mentally, I increased my knowledge and awareness in areas that I’m interested in, and am hungry for more. Spiritually, I began my days with less angst and more focus and control, which in turn led me to be more productive.

Well done Kevin, well done.

Post-mortem

Over the past several days, I’ve observed my husband and asked him how he’s been faring in his post no-news world.

At night, he turns on the television. He watches cable news out of the corner of his eye. He says it frustrates him, but he still watches.

At work, his fingers still automatically type in news URLs, and the sites remain blocked. Not wanting to go down the rabbit hole of reading articles, getting worked up about them, and realizing how much time he wasted, he chooses to focus on more productive tasks.

Finally, during his commutes to and from work, my husband admits that while he’s listened to his audiobook, he mostly listens to talk radio – commercials and all.

Does this mean that the audiobooks he called invigorating and motivating are a thing of the past? Maybe, maybe not.

And this is why habits are so funny.

The way that my husband consumed news before the challenge began is a habit. One that even if it laid dormant for a month, exists as tightly formed connections in his brain waiting to be reactivated.

In other words, it won’t take much for him to revert to his old news consuming ways. Flipping on the television at night and getting sucked into a news segment. Turning on the radio in the car instead of an audiobook. Typing in a URL at work for a quick peak at an interesting headline. Instant gratification!

Making a new habit doesn’t destroy the old.

I hope my husband continues to distance himself from the news, knowing what a positive impact it had on his life. And at the very least, I hope that he remains aware of his triggers and his actions, so that when chooses to consume information, he does so in a thoughtful and efficient way.

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