Go On a News Diet, Starting Today

Claudia and I were in bed reading Cosmopolitan (me) and The Economist (she) at 2 in the afternoon. I pointed out a fascinating article in Cosmopolitan: “Why the Vagina Might Feel Weird After Sex.” Claudia, in turn, pointed out an article in The Economist: “Power Struggle in the Vatican”. There were bright lights turned on us and two people from PBS were there to videotape this momentous occasion (video coming next month). As part of this, I got a bunch of newspapers from that day. I haven’t bought any newspapers in about two years so it was like these weird artifacts spread out through the room. I perused the headlines. This was all on July 11.

You would think that July 11 was the worst day in history. Just like we have 9/11 as this day of reverence and memory (“don’t forget!”) we should also have July 11, 2012, the way the newspapers present it.

Here are some of the headlines from about three papers that day:

“Afghan exit will cost billions” (I didn’t read the article but since our entry cost trillions, why is this such a big news story? Better to keep killing babies instead of spending billions?)

“After Russian Floods, Grief, Rage, and Deep Mistrust” (oh my god! RAGE! DEEP MISTRUST! I better go there and help).

“Scandal Shakes Trading Firm” (I really wonder what day in history that headline is not true for every trading firm)

“China Lifts Spending as Growth Weakens” (I feel like I’ve read that article at least five times a year for the past 15 years)

“Greek Far Right Hangs a Target on Immigrants – Rising Violence Seen” (oh my god, another article about how horrible Greece is! Greece didn’t like immigrants in 200 BC so why would they like immigrants now?)

“The rotten heart of finance” (we needed to be reminded of that)

“The jihadists frightening new front?” (What? Jihadists want to kill us?)

(according to the article this photo appeared on, if you say the phrase “peas and carrots” out loud you will look better naked. See, I bet you thought you wouldn’t learn anything while reading this post)

And, of course, the always powerful: “Hungry again”. Because you know if you are a newspaper or magazine editor there’s always someone in the world is hungry. In this case (I read the first paragraph) 19mm people in “the Sahel”, wherever that is.

And if you think that throwing away the newspapers and turning on TV is going to cheer you up, one final headline:  “Breaking Bad to get Darker”

Oh, shame on you James! Shouldn’t you be a little more aware of what is happening in the world? How can you help people if you aren’t aware of the pain and suffering everywhere else.

What helps people is if I am feeling good first. If I am feeling refreshed and healthy and inspired and positive. Then that helps the people around me be more positive and inspired. And that creates a ripple effect. Society is made up of individuals. If you are positive, then  it spreads to the people around you. Eventually that creates the tiniest of effects in the situations all around the world that are negative. The more people working in happiness within, the  more the situations around us and throughout the world will resort to positive and sustaining solutions.

Reading about 19mm people starving in Sahel won’t help a single one of them. I’m not going to send food to them. I’m not going to convince their leaders to be less corrupt. I am corrupt and selfish. I’m scared. I’m anxious. How can I convince them to be less corrupt than me.

Reading about the violence Greeks “might” do on immigrants won’t help those immigrants at all. Won’t do anything except harden me more to a defeated world.

(need some news: just take any headline and put “ninja” in it.)

Exercise: The News Diet: 

For ten days don’t read any news. Whenever you feel the temptation to be “aware” of the outside world, try to be aware first of something inside of you. Instead of feeling sorry for some situation you have no control over, try to be grateful for a situation happening to you right now. Don’t give more power to the multi-billion dollar media corporations that are exploiting your evolutionary tendency to fear predators. If you really want to, then fine. But wait ten days.

You won’t be defeated by predators in those ten days. You don’t have anything to be scared of. The media companies are scared and they want company.

Hang out with me for a little bit instead.

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  • Amy

    Great article. I used to keep up with the news and stopped about 3 months ago. Don’t miss it. I filled the void with reading blogs like yours. They seem more real than the news. Feel way more positive!

  • Marc Gawley

    James,

    I did a similar thing to this last year, in that for one week I counted how many stories on the BBC UK news page had any relevance to me…the answer was 5 – at a push – out of 222.

    More here on the analysis: http://marcgawley.com/2011/10/30/stop-reading-the-press/

    I really enjoy your blog, keep up the good work!
    Thanks,
    Marc

  • Erickssonn

    I am a talk radio and news addict. This will be tough..

  • Remelda

    I have also stopped reading and watching news, as well as listening to and watching commercials. If everybody in the world stopped this activity for 10 days (I recommend one month for this particular experiment) then started up again, they would realize how manipulative and exploitative these organizations are. I think this might do more to change the world than any facebook revolution or national election ever could. Try it. Start thinking on your own again.

  • http://www.twitter.com/bennesvig Ben Nesvig

    Amen. Not watching the news or checking Google News every day has had a positive effect on me. You might enjoy this clip of Norm MacDonald talking about the absurdity of the news:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgcZLzp22oI

  • http://www.dinosaurtrader.com dinosaurtrader

    Be aware of something inside of you, or at least in your immediate environment. If everyone could simply name the birds and trees that inhabit their own backyards we’d be in better shape.

    -DT

  • http://masafumimatsumoto.com/ Masafumi Matsumoto

    I’ve been on a news diet for a long, long time. I used to feel bad about not catching up with news and not being like a proper adult person, though I still didn’t consume news that much. I don’t remember when I stopped feeling bad about such things, but I did. Now I’m almost news-free, except some news that I see via twitter/facebook.

  • http://twitter.com/TSILeditor Mary McKhann

    Back in the 60s I met a guy at the Greenwich Yacht Club who said he started reading the NYTimes from the back, and when the news got bad enough, he stopped reading.

  • John H

    I stopped watching the news on any channel years ago and stopped reading the newspapers before that. My blood pressure has returned to normal since then (and considering that I had enough blood presssure for two people before, that’s an accomplishment). When I do see the news (even when the sound is off), I’m upset for an hour afterwards and have to escape to my happy place to settle down.

  • mikeyhell

    Since I started paying attention to my own needs it seems that I have no interest in the bullshit that passes for news. Any interest I used to have just naturally evaporated and what do ya know? I’m happier now. Thanks, James!

  • AvidConfidentialReader

    I’m 10 days into a Facebook fast and feeling all the better for it. All the moms posting fantastic pictures and loving status updates about their romantic marriages or perfect teenagers while my marriage is plugging along and my teenagers hate me was bringing me to tears regularly. Last night as I overheard the most recent news from Penn State that my husband was watching I was thankful that I wouldn’t be looking at Facebook and enduring everyone’s opinion or preaching or defense. I enjoy a healthly dose of selected positive, intelligent commentary on conservative talk radio that is in line with views; I like to watch the ups and downs of my basket of stocks; I read this and another positive-leaning blog. That’s good for me.

    • Paul

      I do periodic Facebook fasts, usually a month or two long, and they really do make me much more productive and happy. I’m not a Facebook hater–it has great benefits (I think of it as an address book of sorts, where I can connect with far flung people in my network when there is opportunity, but I definitely cannot actively ‘maintain’ 400 relationships), but I don’t think we (humans) have figured out how to deal with the constant voyeurism and posing that comes with a digital social life. Here’s an interesting article on the subject:

      http://emotionalhealingsystem.com/emotional-darkside-of-facebook/

      The thing that struck me about this post is the truth in how we present our lives as these beacons of perfection. I am definitely guilty; when I was a true ‘addict’, any time I visited somewhere neat or ate a $100 steak I couldn’t wait to post it on Facebook. I intellectually knew how weird this was, but I couldn’t help it…it was like I had to post it to compete with all the fabulous stories from my 400 “friends”.

      I guess FB might not be as popular if we saw things like “I’m feeling kind of guilty for putting my vacation on the credit card, because I can barely make ends meet as it is” or “I lost my key account at work and feel like such a bum right now” or “I’m really down on myself for gaining that 10 pounds over Thanksgiving”, or “I’m feeling a little insecure about my ability to be a good husband and father” or “There are some things I need to do to be successful but I’m feeling too scared to start”.

      I don’t think any of my 400 “friends” have ever posted something like that in the six years I’ve been on FB, and neither have I. Strange.

      • http://rayfitzgerald.com/ Ray Fitzgerald

        I have never understood the appeal of FB. I was active for a few months several years ago, and thought it was depressing. It was a mixture of almost desperate exhibitionism, and a weird kind of voyeurism. It made me want to be contrarian to all of the fake enthusiasm!!!, which is not healthy, so I quit.

  • Aaron Garth Smith

    “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.”- Thomas Jefferson

  • Marteen

    Blogs are news.

  • http://twitter.com/marketsurfer Marketsurfer

    Mentor to many, present company included, victor niederhoffer only reads the National Enquirer
    and doesn’t own a TV.

  • http://RicNunez.com Ricardo Nunez

    I have tried before and it worked. To do it efficiently you must stop using social networks. News are everywhere.

  • Marlys Q

    When I watched the news I felt overwhelmed and depressed afterwards. I didn’t know how to solve any of the horrors in the world and was left feeling guilty for the excess in my life and ineffective for not helping. I had to step back and breathe. I took on the task of figuring out how to help in my own personal world… making a difference where I really could. I focused on: 1. being a good mom to my kids…. so they would not grow up in a terrible situation 2. helping in my own community 3. making small differences in the world in ways I could – recycling, re-using, being practical in how I spend my money, and smiling at the people I meet in the course of my day. Life is much better in my head now. I still get people wondering at how I get “informed” but I assure them if it is big news it will reach me.

  • chimera

    I stopped reading news from when I was 20 .Sometimes I glance the headlines in case there is an earthquake or tsunami or something and then forget it. I went off TV from September last year and some days I do miss watching TV but most days I don’t. Also, i think if Claudia and you can lie in bed at 2 in the afternoon, why won’t we follow what you are saying ? :)

  • A-ron

    You’re just now figuring this out?

  • murali

    I used to read three news-papers a day for nearly ten years. I realized that the head-lines never change. Only the places change. Some part of the world invariably is caught up in a mess. I am not reading newspapers for five years now and am feeling way better as I can channel that time to more useful pursuits.

  • Sid Johnson

    stop watching the telly …sure Breaking Bad coming back Sunday….

  • http://kiddynamitesworld.com Kid Dynamite

    James, I initially misread your post title is “go on a new diet starting today,” and thus ignored it… Then I realized my error and read the post – good stuff.

  • Bec

    I stopped reading newspapers nearly six years ago…the same time I got rid of my TV…and it was life changing! I see beauty in the world every day…I see what’s really true in the world…and I don’t need either newspapers or tv to get any of that….I get to come from a place of peace and love….instead of fear and desperation….and I make my difference from that place…

  • Jill

    I work for the man, and the man stopped giving raises, a thing of the past, a raise. It was usually helpful to offset the rising cost of living. Anyway, had to drop cable TV and some other expensive vices, went through withdrawal and came out clean and happy. Seems the ‘man’ is in the process of screwing his multi-billion dollar self by his own unconscious, greedy hand and the cost.. we shall see. Buwah ha ha.

  • http://twitter.com/crvdmedia CRVD MEDIA

    I cut out almost all the “news” from my diet when I was in college. Whether it’s meant to be insidious or not the constant focus on death (as something to fear), violence and general fear-mongering is just something that doesn’t mesh with me.

    Another article with some excellent wisdom in it, James. Thanks.

  • just sad (for now)

    James, I love your posts and this one reminds me as much as any of them of the need to live in the moment. My problem is that my moment seems to be so awful right now. I try to find mini-moments to savor and pull me out of it, but the overriding pervasiveness of the struggle I’m going through at the moment (see, there it is again) make it hard to dig my way out.
    Some days are better than others I suppose and I just try to keep reminding myself that one day I’ll wake up and be really happy and it will be the rule rather than the exception. I think that’s what you’ve reminded me to remember.

  • Susan

    I stopped watching the news after 9/11. It was awful and just made everything about living in NYC so much worse. Once I gave it up, I was a happier and more thoughtful person. Sometimes I read the BBC or CNN.com and that’s about it.

  • http://twitter.com/jim_trader Jim the Trader

    “Greece didn’t like immigrants in 200 BC so why would they like immigrants now?)” What about in 7,000 BC? Do you think they would have invented everything you know (except the Bible of course) if they liked immigrants on top of their head? My favotite is: “How far will a man go to attract visitors to his website?”

  • kevin

    wow. your timing is perfect. I was (literally) screamed at on 4th of July by my aunt and uncle when she was telling my [19 year old college student] cousin to read the NY Times every day and I suggested he should avoid the news and focus on finding what he loves in life, creating ideas and maybe starting a small business. they called me selfish and said I was not a “good citizen” if I did not read the news, to which I countered some of the points you raise above. since getting rid of the news in my life I am happier, 10000% more productive and definitely have more brain space to spend on creating. great article, all good points. thanks!

  • Jesse Farrell

    This is a tough balance to strike. While I agree that media is filled with worrisome stories about which I can do nothing (at some point, an extinction-level meteor will hit the earth again. Okay. And I’m supposed to do… What about this?). But I also think ignorance is nothing to be proud of. Not paying attention to the world around you can, I believe, lead to apathy, a lack of concern for other people in the world. Yes, I might not be able to stop wars or feed the starving, but ignoring the problem somewhere else can make it easier to ignore whenever it’s “not your problem.”

    • Otaddy

      The problem is, reading/watching the news is what contributes to ignorance. All you get are little sound bites designed to push a particular viewpoint. I’d also argue that the news promotes and encourages a sense of frustration and this is what leads to apathy.

      And you know, maybe apathy isnt such a bad thing. After all, a lot of evil has been done by energetic people who loudly proclaim their good intentions and concern for their fellow man.

  • Tresaca

    I like the idea of a news diet, and think it is just better to focus on information that will help you accomplish your goals and improve your life.

    I stopped watching television and listening to the radio many years ago, but with the internet I have found that there is an abundance of time sucking information that adds no value to life.

    So for the next 10 days, I will only focus on the information sources that actually add value and can help me to improve my life.

    Thanks for another great article James!

  • kamalravikant

    Love the beginning. And your comments on the headlines! Agreed on news fast. Although, it creeps into my twitter feed and facebook. Not sure if it’s possible to have a complete news fast anymore

  • http://mefrain.blogspot.com/ Efrain

    Is there ever good news? I mean, like, the news about the higgs boson is good news right? Someone should create a newspaper where the news is always positive. But then, I guess no one would buy them.

  • http://twitter.com/soyroberto roberto シ

    Apply that to radio, paper and tv and see how you feel way better, not in a rush, not thinking about problems happening thousands of kilometers away from you. And you’ll also stop repeating phrases and vocabulary said by the media, it’s really good. Also, it’s going to feel weird when your friends ask you what you think about the news and you say I don’t know, I don’t watch the news, you’ll look cooler, I’ve been doing this for about 12 years and I simply love it.

  • http://www.mackatz.com Mac Katz

    i prefer cat fancy over wall street journal and fox news.

  • http://twitter.com/KoenMortier Koen Mortier

    Most people in my life watch the 30 min news on tv. It’s useful for them because they have something to talk about the next day.

  • kjp712

    All people on T.V. news are Jackals and Hyenas.The pretty ones are the biggest liars.Turn it all off before you enter the Dark Side.

  • Greg C

    Trying out the ninja headline idea.

    Original headline:
    “San Francisco considers law to make people reuse plastic water bottles…”

    Ninja versions:
    “San Francisco considers law to make ninjas reuse plastic water bottles…”

    “San Francisco considers law to make people reuse plastic ninja bottles…”

    “San Francisco considers ninjas to make people reuse plastic water bottles…”

    Original:
    “Attendance by women down at annual atheist conference…”

    Ninja:
    “Attendance by women down at annual ninja conference…”

    “Attendance by ninjas down at annual atheist conference…”

  • BigThunder

    James,
    Great post once again. Been following for most of this year, I think you mentioned this once before in the spring, sometime in March I believe, and I haven’t watched the news (or any TV for that matter) or read the papers since. Ive been focused on reading, and just started to work down your list of books you recommend. I feel so much better, no noise to pollute my mind!

  • http://twitter.com/runningdmc Dawn Casey-Rowe

    Today’s paper had a quarter paged article entitled “What your favorite ice cream flavor says about you.” I’m sure this will generate material in case I suddenly pack up shop and decide to become a comedian, but honestly, those are two minutes I can never get back. It’s like intellectual rubbernecking–you try to look away from the crash, but it doesn’t always work.

  • http://twitter.com/jcsnv Jose Casanova


    Claudia and I were in bed reading Cosmopolitan (me) and The Economist (she) at 2 in the afternoon.” <- hahaha gotta love Altucher

  • http://twitter.com/cdavemoorman Cletus

    I am going to take a break from my Twitter news feed.

  • Rod Freeman

    Ok James. I’m going to try it.

  • http://twitter.com/hehateMAO hehateMAO

    If only the people of Pompeii had read the news!!!!

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