At the start of 2016, I made it my goal to rein in my gossip consumption, particularly the amount of mainstream media, Facebook, and YouTube I consume. If you’re confused as to why anyone would want to spend less time staying informed, I suggest you start with my last post, where I talk about a few of the negative aspects of consuming gossip.
This week (in case you still weren’t convinced that you should put down that morning paper), I thought I’d focus on some of the benefits of avoiding gossip and one hack I use to keep my gossip intake in check.
Now, I could simply list the opposite of each of the points I talked about last week (e.g., avoiding gossip makes you less stressed), but that’s not really helpful; instead, here are a few things I’ve noticed about myself since giving up gossip:
1. I feel more in control
When I first gave up on the news, I immediately felt like I had more control over my life. It’s not that I wasn’t able to make decisions or impact my happiness and wellbeing when I was watching the news, but being constantly informed about events—both positive and negative—that I had no influence on made me feel as though I was powerless to help or contribute in a meaningful way.
Since I stopped paying attention to things outside of my sphere of influence, I’ve had more time to focus on things I can control. When I wake up every morning, I have a newfound sense that I really am in control of my own destiny—and that’s really not a bad feeling to have when one wakes.
2. I complain less
This point ties in directly with the first as the less (perceived) control you have over your own life, the more likely you are to complain about it. Indeed, I’ve rarely heard a complaint from those that I consider “doers,” people who take responsibility for their own situations and act.
The control and freedom that I felt after I stopped paying attention to the gossip in my life had a cascading effect. Not only have I found more motivation to work toward my goals and make changes in my life, but I’ve also found I have a lot less to complain about.
3. It’s easier to connect with people
Again, this point ties in with the first two; the less I complain, the more people want to be around me. And while that’s certainly true (no way!?), there’s another reason why avoiding gossip has helped me connect with others.
In the past, I’ve often used gossip as a crutch to avoid connecting with people on a deeper level. Why talk about life, love, fear, or ambition when it’s much less discomforting to discuss last night’s episode of Game of Thrones?1
When I don’t have the latest news story to fall back on, I’m forced to dig deeper, to talk about topics that aren’t always the most comfortable to discuss with acquaintances and friends alike, but after a brief uneasiness, many people are receptive when I open up and offer my own vulnerabilities. Oftentimes they’ve been waiting—sometimes unknowingly—to tell someone about their doubts and dreams, and it’s much easier to be that person when you don’t have chit-chat on your mind.
4. I find it easier to be present
Over the past thirty days, I’ve become more attuned to the things that are important in my life, and because of that, I’ve found it easier to be present, to be mindful of the moment, and to enjoy time spent in the here and now.
Gossip was liable to send my mind racing to faraway places and distant moments, past and future. I would spend more time thinking about the successes and failures of others than charting my own course. By avoiding all of that, I’ve been able to pay more attention to what I really want out of life. Whatever that may be for you, I’m pretty certain it’s happening hic et nunc.
5. I pick up new skills faster and am able to retain more information
Information is no longer a scarce resource; we now carry devices in our pockets that provide us with access to more data than what we could consume in an entire lifetime. The thing is, our brains haven’t grown exponentially larger to keep up with all of this new info, so we’re still very much limited by our ability to assimilate new knowledge.
Since filtering out a lot of the superfluous noise throughout my day, I’ve found that I can focus on tasks for longer, work later into the evenings, and retain and recall information much easier since fewer bits and pieces are competing for my limited grey-matter real estate.
The more selective I am with the types of data I consume, the less distracted I am throughout the day and the easier it is to make decisions, big and small. When it comes to my information intake, less really is more.
Avoiding gossip (and a hack you can use to quit almost anything)
First, let me say that I haven’t completely cut out YouTube, Facebook, or Peter Mansbridge from my life; however, I have made steady progress on reducing the amount of time I spend on these activities, even if it hasn’t been easy.
I first relied solely on sheer willpower to keep focused throughout my day, but I quickly realized that my resolve was less than adequate. Just one more YouTube video would quickly turn into two, or three, or four, and an hour later I’d wonder where my afternoon went.
I realized that willpower alone wasn’t going to help me reach my gossip free goal, so I decided to change my mindset instead.
1. Recognize it
The first step is fairly self-explanatory; I recognized the gossip in my life and whenever I found myself looking at a news site or falling for clickbait, I acknowledged it.
2. Call it by name
Equally easy, the second step simply required me to call whatever I was hearing, watching, or reading gossip.
If I told myself that I was just going to read one or two news stories, I was much more likely to spend hours perusing articles because my brain has been conditioned to see value in staying informed of world events. By calling it gossip, I’m letting my subconscious do the heavy lifting since I already associate gossip with wasted time and energy.
Willing myself to avoid something that traditionally had a positive association in my mind was next to impossible; willing myself to stop partaking in an activity that I viewed in a negative light was much easier.
I haven’t tried this trick with anything else yet, but there’s no reason why the same principle wouldn’t work for avoiding junk food, porn, or anything else that willpower alone can’t overcome.
Have you tried to quit something using sheer willpower? How did it turn out?
- Fact: I may very well be the only person left on the planet who has yet to watch a single GoT episode. ↩