September 20, 2019
by Tina Arnoldi
Our consumption habits are not rational. We overindulge in multiple areas of life. Since the brain processes information as rewarding, it can put more value on the information than warranted which is why we get into rabbit holes of information online.
A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examined our overconsumption of information and why we have a tendency to overconsume and the motives that drive information-seeking behavior. In a world inviting us into information overload mode, I asked experts how we manage this tendency to over-indulge and if people can re-train themselves to limit their information intake.
One step is accepting that we are not capable of processing that much input. Noelle Cordeaux, CEO of JRNI Coaching reminds us that our minds were not built to focus on many different things at once and can only hold two to three separate areas of focus at one time. Cordeaux notes that “Once we understand that we are limited by our nature, we can begin to forgive ourselves for feeling overwhelmed by how much we attempt to take in. We need to acknowledge that now more than ever, we have an onslaught of information but fewer resources to deal with all the information we're being given.”
Must of the solution requires a change of perspective and our limitations as human beings. “Accept that you can only process so much and begin to listen to yourself to notice when your stress is peaking and when you feel overwhelmed during the day. When you begin to notice those spikes, it's time to step away from the devices for a few minutes and find a moment of calm,” says Cordeaux.
Experts agree that is it possible to re-train ourselves by developing new habits. Cordeaux says “Good habits include not rolling over first thing in the morning and scrolling through Twitter, and not mindlessly scrolling the last thing at night.” She suggests that when people bookend days with less screen time, “your mind will thank you.” Myasia Burns, Social Media & PR Manager, Red Ventures, is also a fan of limiting our access to information. Burns believes an hour of screen-free time in the morning and before bed results in people being “better able to focus, prioritize, and block out the noise.”
We can also make better choices before we even log in. Adina Mahalli, MSW says “When embarking on a research mission, it’s important to give yourself a limited amount of time online. Select the focus of your inquiry, and each time you click to another page, ask yourself if it’s really relevant or not.” There is an added benefit of considering the source in advance to prevent overconsumption. She adds “A good habit is to opt to do research from reliable, legitimate, websites which have everything in one place. This way, you’ll have your questions answered without having to jump around from site to site, saving you time and energy.”
We also have choices about who and how we interact online that may lead us down that rabbit hole. Becoming more intentional about who to follow in social media feeds is an additional tip Cordeaux offers. She suggests people not follow other people who post inflammatory things. Her solution is simple: “Unfollow or mute them for a bit and see if you miss their insights.”
She takes this a step further by encouraging people to get away from the information source, and “go for walks in nature or around your neighborhood that are screen-free to give yourself time to notice and savor the little things in life, from a butterfly that crosses your path to the warmth of the sun on your skin.”
Even with our bad habits, we still have a choice in how we engage and can learn new behaviors. Burns reminds people that media is not inherently a bad thing, but says “you have to view it as a tool to achieve a goal, rather than allowing yourself to be used and abused by the world of technology.” Ultimately, the responsibility is ours.