With a 24 hour news cycle and near-constant access through the devices at our fingertips, as well as the ubiquitous presence of screens everywhere we go - babysitting us in restaurants, the gym, waiting rooms and queues, what effect does this media bombardment have in our daily lives and how can becoming mindful about our media consumption change our relationship with it?
Awareness of current events is important for us as engaged citizens, and becoming a mindful consumer of the news media not only impacts our personal well-being, but can help us become more effective in how we respond to the information we receive. Because of the interactive nature of the media today, our response – what we respond to as well as how we respond, makes us much more powerful in our role as consumers of the news. (check out this 5 minute TED Talk by Sally Kohn about the power of our ‘click’; she discusses how we are no longer merely a passive audience, but now play an important role in shaping the way the news is presented by our behavior as consumers, “everything we click is a public act of making media.”)
The first step in creating an empowered and engaged relationship with news media is recognizing how this constant flow of information affects us. Enter Mindfulness. Mindfulness is becoming aware of what is happening in our body and mind moment-to-moment. Mindfulness is not thinking about something in order to evaluate it; it’s investigating what is happening in real time. Once awareness is cultivated in this way we can begin to evaluate our choices based on the internal information we're receiving.
So here’s a mindful experiment that takes only a few minutes. The next time you find yourself browsing or watching news media:
- Check in with your INTENTION in that moment… why are you engaging with the news right now? (in other words, not your rationalization for reading the news or your philosophy about why this information may be important, but what is in your mind in that very moment.) Is it because you are bored, looking for a distraction? Are you passively receiving information that is broadcasting on a screen nearby? Or are you engaging with intentionality, seeking to understand a particular issue? Just notice the intention without judgment – one is not necessarily better than another.
- Now bring ATTENTION to your body, mind and emotions:
- Drop into the sensations you are feeling in the body, is there tension in your shoulders or back? Tightness in your chest or belly? Are you taking full breaths or breathing shallow in your chest? Is your jaw clenched? Are there any pleasant sensations?
- Bring awareness to what’s happening with your thoughts and emotions; Are you feeling overwhelmed? Sad? Angry? Is your mind thundering and racing? How about any hopeful thoughts?
- Next notice the EFFECT these feelings have on you – do you feel small and helpless? Righteous? Indignant? Agitated? Overwhelmed? Energized? Inspired?
- Finally, REFLECT upon how these feelings you are left with serve your relationships, sense of well-being, sense of purpose and efficacy in your life. RECOGNIZE whether the type and amount of information you are engaging is necessary for you to respond appropriately to the issue at hand, and if the effect it has on you helps you to respond better.
By staying present with what is happening in your experience and how this affects you, you can begin to make decisions that serve you and the world around you more effectively.
For example, suppose you are intentionally reading about an issue that is important to you – at what point does your reading move from informative to merely agitating? When you stay mindful you can recognize that threshold. Can you set a time limit on your research or limit your information seeking to understanding a particular point? Is it necessary to immerse yourself in angry comments sections or endless video clips of ranting politicians in order to understand an issue? How effective are you in acting on an issue when you are angry and agitated?
Alternatively, suppose you find that you are clicking around out of boredom, to take a break, or a desire to connect with something...You might consider finding responsible news sites reporting meaningful fact-based information instead of those that focus on sensationalism or mindless trivia. Consider bookmarking some uplifting news sources (here are a few I found: Good News Network, Daily Good, Positive News), you may still want to browse to take a break, but now instead of generating more stress, you get an uplift. (and here’s a *Part 2* for your experiment: spend a few minutes on one of these ‘good news’ sites and take a mindful inventory of your body, mind and emotional state – how is it different from your first experiment?)
It may be important for us to know about violence and terror around the world, but it doesn’t benefit the victims of violence, or us, to immerse ourselves in these kinds of images and detailed descriptions, instead it makes us victims as well.
It’s not that mindfulness will take the discomfort out of the news, a lot of what is happening around us is pretty uncomfortable, and mindfulness will actually make you more aware of that discomfort. Mindfulness of discomfort in real time, however, gives us the opportunity to respond appropriately so that we don’t end up overwhelmed because we didn’t recognize it early enough (it’s like eating a big meal too quickly – you don’t realize you’re full until you’re bloated and uncomfortable.) In sports psychology the ‘Inverted U’ graph (seen below) is used to show how stress affects our ability to respond.
A certain amount of stress and discomfort are necessary to performance – without that we would be content to sit around and do nothing and we’d never develop our skill or muscle, or be moved to act – but when you move beyond a certain level of stress, performance begins to suffer; too much stress and we become overwhelmed and unable to act effectively. Mindfulness allows us to recognize discomfort when it enables our most effective action.
Instead of allowing the news media to manipulate your emotions, fomenting anger and despair; take things into your own hands and foment mindfulness… and then dictate how the news media can serve you by consciously ‘clicking’. We have more information available to us than ever before. Becoming mindful in our relationship with that information protects our well-being while empowering us to live connected, engaged and meaningful lives.
A version of this article was published in the January, 2018 issue of Natural Awakenings Magazine. The online version can be found HERE.