“Whoever controls the media, controls the mind” – Jim Morrison
Social media is pervasive. Even the fact that you are reading this – is evidence of how much content is out there. The question is, are you “choice-ful” about what you consume, or are you a victim to relentless barrage of news items, posts about other people’s lives, polarized journalism, political agenda and conspiracy theories.
Never believe what you read or hear as the truth. Keep your intelligence alert and open and know that you are on the receiving end of someone else’s viewpoint – even this very blog is about a passion and a soapbox that I’m on about social media and journalism. Information can be sanitized and tailored so that you hear and see what is intended. Don’t be a fool, and don’t be fooled.
Even without political agenda, media can directly alter your mood states – especially in this time. You start of calm, perhaps have 30min to go around Twitter Town, and off you go..before long you’ve seen incredible meals, selfies, scenes from tourist attractions, read catastrophic projections about the economy and COVID-19 deaths. What are you left feeling – “I should be doing more” (thinking do I have the ingredients for banana bread?) “When will we visit the sea again?” (remembering last summer in Ballito) “I wish I looked so good during lockdown” (pushing your hair back and checking the outfit you have on) …you get the picture….
Even under “normal” circumstances our minds are jumping from one thought to another. The capacity to focus on one thing is severely challenged by internal and external distractions, thoughts, ideas, worries, plans and memories. Consuming social media unconsciously just raises the volume on the mind’s busy-ness and can therefore impact our emotions and mental wellbeing.
So, how does one get information and data in a meaningful and mindful way:
- Be intentional about your time. The intention should not to “ban or block” your time on your favorite social media, but rather to consume intentionally and with time boundaries. If you don’t, minutes can turn into hours and eventually you can be left feeling so spent and exhausted that its hard to get back to work or chores. Perhaps choose a time at the end of the day, and set a timer or an alarm. Make time to also go offline – “Break-up” with your phone for a day, or even a couple of hours.
- Take a breath and notice if you have gone into “autopilot” mode – with unconscious scrolling, and not really reading. Pause every few minutes and connect back to your body and breath.
- Audit the people that are on your feed and that you follow. Choose whose content you would like to follow and why this is important for you. Try to follow people that don’t share your point of view as well. The mind is always looking for evidence that it’s right, or to confirm its perspective. If you only read content from people that share your view it could lead to an unhealthy generalization of what really is going on out there. Tali Sharot, in the book, the Influential Mind defines confirmatory bias is defined as “seeking out and interpreting data in a way that strengthens our pre-established opinions”
- Look for facts and first hand information. Choose sites that are factual in their reporting e.g when you are looking for statistics. As an example, for medical articles I follow sites that are peer-reviewed medical journals. This way I consume facts and can also make up my own mind about what I think.
- Notice how you FEEL at the end of your scrolling. What’s the climate and mood that you are left with? Where are your thoughts and intentions versus where you started? Remember that our brains have what is called a negativity bias – and a strong stickiness for the negative, which can easily spark a spiral of fear and anxiety. Review this feeling and perhaps ask yourself, if you really need to feel this way as a way of being “choice-ful” about when and what you consume.
- Create your own content. Use reflective practices like journalling and writing for the sake of just getting a sense of the landscape of your mind. Just write – even if you throw it away or delete it. Writing is therapeutic and can help unpack the habitual loops that your mind can get stuck in. I have written a short piece about writing for health. Read that mindfully. 🙂
At the end of it all, you control what you consume and when and how to do so. Be particularly conscious and deliberate about what you read, when you read and most important why you are reading. In the words of Don Miguel Ruiz in the Fifth Agreement, (one of my favorite books), be skeptical, but learn to listen.