There’s one type of ride I refuse to get on at an amusement park.
Anything that spins. If it spins, I’m out.
One too many times, I’ve agreed to allow someone to strap/trap/lock me into a seat, thinking, “Maybe it won’t be so bad.”
It’s that bad, every time. And once the ride’s in motion, I’m left to close my eyes, grit my teeth, and try to keep my lunch inside of my body while my organs get pushed in weird directions by centripetal force. I’m at the mercy of the ride. There’s nothing I can do until it decides to stop and is done with me.
I’ve made a decision to never ride one of those rides again. I’m done with them.
It’s with the same conviction I’ve decided to quit another ride, too: the news cycle.
The effect of the news cycle, for a lot of us, isn’t all that different from what spinning rides do to me:
It straps us in, usually right from the get-go in the morning. It invades our phones with notifications. It fills our social media feeds. It plays on TVs in our office buildings and restaurants and homes.
And it can make us sick.
Right out of the gate, I want to clarify a few things. Yes, we should be informed about what’s going on in the world around us. Yes, we need to keep our eyes and ears and hearts open to suffering and injustice. Yes, journalism serves a crucial and necessary role in speaking truth to power and shining a light in dark places.
All that being said, the news cycle as we now know it in this day and age isn’t good for us. Not all of the information we get is information we need. Not all headlines include things we should care about. And much of the media we consume is not the type of truth-telling journalism we should applaud.
I believe that if you consume the news cycle, it will consume you.
It will consume you, and the life you could and should be living.
There are a few things that I’ve been learning when it comes to “the news” nowadays.
We’re being fed something called “news,” but not everything is news and not all news is equal.
Today, I might get a notification that reads “BREAKING NEWS” about a natural disaster that has put thousands of lives at risk.
I might also get a notification with “BREAKING NEWS” that an athlete signed a new contract.
I might also get a notification with “BREAKING NEWS” that a celebrity couple has decided to break up.
Those events aren’t equal in terms of their significance or impact, but they can take up an equal amount of my attention, space on a website, or air time on a cable news channel.
It’s important to remember that we get our news from corporations and entities that need to make money, and they make money by grabbing our attention, so they pump out never-ending content and try to assign as much value to a real tragedy as they do to the details of a celebrity’s sex life. If they can lace it or pump it full of conflict and drama, they will.
As long as it grabs our attention, it’s newsworthy.
And that’s the point — our attention is grabbed quite a bit. And when our attention is grabbed by all of these outside forces, we lose sight of what’s most important.
If I consume the news cycle, I’m allowing my priorities to be dictated to me.
As soon as I take the first hit of the news each day, I let whatever the media has deemed newsworthy at that moment to enter my bloodstream and take priority with my thoughts and my mental and emotional energy.
That might be something like the Syrian refugee crisis, which has great significance, not the least of which is a great amount of human suffering.
It might be a policy that has a direct impact on my life.
Or it might be a random comment made by a politician I don’t even care about, but now everyone’s talking about it because he offended one or many groups of people for a reason I may or may not also find offensive, and now I find myself wanting to argue with strangers I don’t know who found the comment offensive (or not offensive) and oh, wait, random celebrity X has now also weighed in on the comment and now I need to either defend or criticize their response to the original comment and argue with anyone else on Facebook who’s posted about it and I can’t believe that people can be so crazy and I’m now depressed about the trajectory of the human race.
I wish I was exaggerating. But if you’ve spent any time online, you know how regular an occurrence this is.
The real problem with consuming the news cycle, riding its ups and downs and twists and turns, is that I allow everyone else to tell me what should be important to me and what I should be spending my best time and energy on.
If I wake up with the news cycle, I get my priorities all scrambled up with whatever the media says is important today. If I get notifications about the news, I get interrupted with whatever the media says is important right now. How do our brains, our thoughts, our emotions, and our priorities not get rattled like beans inside a maraca when this happens?
There are things worth our attention, our thoughts, and our energy. But sometimes, we try to care about everything that the news cycle throws at us. This presents us with a problem.
Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism, writes that we always have a choice:
We can have “the unfulfilling experience of making a millimeter of progress in a million directions,” or we can “have the satisfying experience of making significant progress in the things that matter the most.”
That’s true for a lot of areas of our lives, and it’s true for our relationship to the news.
If I react to every headline, if I read the comment thread of every article, if I argue about everything that makes me angry, if I try to speak or write or do something about everything that popped up in the cycle every day and every week, I would have a very minimal impact on a hundred issues.
Conversely, I can pay attention to the issues that matter most to me, and to my values, and decide to actually spend my energy in a way that will make real progress and have greater impact.
As much as someone might say that arguing with people on social media is making an impact, I have to believe there are better, more focused, and more productive ways we can spend our time. And the best part is, when you make real progress, it’s satisfying. It’s fulfilling. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
Reacting to everything in the news cycle is the equivalent of playing whack-a-mole 24/7. That’s exhausting. I’ve seen that exhaustion in many people I know.
Over the past few years, I’ve watched so many friends become anxious, angry, scatter-brained versions of themselves because of their consumption of the news cycle. I’ve seen too many people spend more and more time arguing and despairing over things they don’t have control over. More and more of their time is spent reacting to the craziness of each day’s news instead of being proactive about who and what matters in their lives.
I’m susceptible to the same thing, if I’m not careful.
But this is what happens when we let the news cycle take us for a ride.
If your North Star is the news cycle, you’re going to lose yourself.
You’re going to lose touch with what actually matters in your life.
You’re going to lose your grip on what you can actually control and impact in your life.
If you consume the news cycle, it will consume you, because it doesn’t care about you or your priorities.
You’re the one who has to stay centered and grounded to something deeper than the news cycle.
You have to do the work to make sure you’re anchored to your values, to your priorities, to your life.
If it helps, here are some of the ways I try to stay grounded:
I don’t allow notifications on my phone.
I refuse to allow someone else to interrupt my day and hijack my attention. Every time a notification pops up from some other source, it’s a distraction from what’s actually important in my life.
I remember that not all news is equal or even newsworthy.
One way I practice this — I refuse to click on or even acknowledge stories about celebrities’ private lives. These are human beings. I don’t need to know, nor am I entitled to know, about what happens in their bedroom or what they said in a fight with their family, just like no one needs to know that about my life.
I remember that so much of the “news” now is subjective, opinionated, and biased. If there’s something big being reported, I always read multiple sources and ask myself, “What’s fact here, and what’s opinion?” before I jump to conclusions. That mentality helps me with headlines, too: I stop myself when I see a headline that’s not news, but clickbait trying to use partisanship to get views.
I don’t look at the news or social media first thing in the morning.
If I look at the news first thing in the morning, my priorities will get scrambled right off the bat. It’ll take over what I’m feeling and thinking about and has the potential to derail my entire day. I decide what to think about and focus on to start my day. It works out much better like that.
I do, by the way, read the news. I read it at a time I’ve designated, and only for a certain amount of time.
I’m clear about what MY priorities are and how MY energy will be spent.
One of the most powerful things I can do is drill down and figure out what I actually want to do with my time and my energy. What’s actually worth my mental and physical effort? What am I here to do, and who am I supposed to be impacting? The answer is usually completely removed from things happening in the news.
My faith, my belief that God’s made us all in his image and wants us to honor that image in every single person, and my conviction to love my neighbors and my enemies the way Jesus did is an anchor that reminds me of what’s important. It helps me prioritize what I give my time and energy to. It even keeps me sane when I see other Christians acting like crazy people — I know what Jesus said we should do, and that (half of what I read about Christians) ain’t it.
Faith may not be your anchor. You need something to be your anchor, something deeper that reminds you of who you are and what you’re here to do.
If not, the news cycle will bounce you around, and before you know it, you’ll have lived a life that was dictated to you by entities that don’t care about you.
Your life is too important to let someone else dictate it every day.
The news cycle spins us and our priorities around and around and around.
It takes us up and down, side to side. It rearranges our insides.
It will steal from you your most precious commodity:
Your life. And you only get one of those.
It’s time to get off the ride. Live your life.