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National (or any) news driving you nuts? Here's one way to talk yourself down.

For a few years I put myself on a media diet [1] (newspapers, magazines, radio, and cable TV) to limit how much I take in. I haven't slashed all screen time, just that which drives me to frustration, primarily national US news. (National Health Insurance and the Wall Street and auto industry bailouts are excellent examples.) My personal reason for feeling that way is a disconnect between my country's values as exhibited by action (not the proclaimed ones) and my own. I'll avoid boring you with them (Bill Maher's interview of Bill Moyers pretty much says it) and instead tell you a perspective that gives me some relief.

The solution? Cultivate a healthy sense of detachment via curiosity. By treating the national issues as grand experiments, and asking questions, I feel better. How do we go about this? Following are a few early thoughts. Please share what's given you perspective on the unsettling. (As Ricky Gervais mentions in his stand-up, "Always learning.")

  1. Classify it as an experiment. Recognizing that it's an experiment is the big shift. The models are extremely complex, the outcome uncertain, and people (way above me) are taking action (poking the opaque box) and working from the results (Think, Try, Learn). Use the comment, "Interesting" [2], and ask "I wonder what will happen next."
  2. Consider news as data. Yes it's information, with some facts (possibly accurate), but the spin is always data. Ask "What are they saying?" or "What are their models (implicit and explicit)?"
  3. Analyze how much control you have. Consider how much control you have over the situation [3]. (Related topic: I'm thinking about a secular version of the Serenity Prayer. It's deep, if slightly nauseating. Thoughts?)
  4. Treat your reaction as data. You may not like what you're hearing (beware moon hoaxers), but asking about the meta conversation helps be more objective. Step outside yourself and ask "Why am I reacting this way?" "What beliefs is it threatening?"
  5. Relish surprise. We seem to have a kind of "Novelty Detector" built into our brains (see Learning By Surprise), so notice it when it happens, and ponder it. "Why is this surprising?" "What did I expect?" I've found that keeping myself off guard derails habitual responses. Related: One Way To Enjoy The Ride - Celebrate Surprise!
  6. Attachment leads to suffering. Anxiety = investment in an outcome. This means that you've limited yourself to a binary condition: Things work out the way the way you wanted, or they didn't. The problem is that you've set the stage for constant anxiety during the experiment: Are things going your way or not? If not, you're unhappy. If so, how long will it stay that way, and what threats are around the corner? Ask yourself "What outcome am I attached to?" They try flipping it. Related: Beware saying "I told you so." When you say or hear this, translate it to "I was afraid I'd be wrong."


  • [1] In addition to my posts check out HOWTO: Balance Your Media Diet (stimulating graphic) and Merlin's podcast. I also found A Nation of Morons, which I enjoyed immensely.
  • [2] A favorite of Spock's. I should apparently be more precise with my use, though:
    Fascinating is a word I use for the unexpected. In this case, I should think "interesting" would suffice.

  • [3] For political action, I confess I've done little - just phone calls and emails to my representatives and president, plus small donations to a few advocacy groups. I feel like I should do more. (That itself tells me I should "incubate" the idea for possible future action.)

Reader Comments (2)

Agree with your point about 'how much control do I have about the situation'. I would rather phrase it 'how much influence do I have about the situation' because for national policy individuals have very little control but can exert considerable influence.

As somebody who (when she's working) works in press and public affairs I get fed up with people who I see moaning and groaning about politicians, govt policy, the state the country's in etc etc but who do nothing about it. There is considerable influence that people can wield - writing to legislators, donating to groups (or offering time or other support), becoming involved in community activities, even (if you really don't like what's happening) standing for local or national govt yourself (at least here in the UK). Or, at the very, very least - when there is an election: GET OUT AND VOTE!!!

Pet peeve of mine: people who moan about 'those politicians' (forgetting that they were once standard human beings too) and how they're so fed up with them that...they're not going to vote! Duh!! Use it or lose it folks.

Sorry to sound off but it really is key to avoiding frustration with headlines: do something, however little, and you'll feel like you're at least influencing things in line with your values.

September 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

Hi Elizabeth, thanks for saying that so clearly. Frustration yields to control. Thanks for reading.

September 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

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