Trim your Social networks for a Healthy Head Diet
The human body, and particularly the brain, are amazing pieces of technology. As I chronicled previously here on this Blog, I’ve been interested for some time in meditation, hypnosis, and other techniques that help with a sense of grounding and balance. Recently, I’ve been on quite the learning spree, reading veraciously about what we know about the human brain, how we cultivate happiness, and how we both confront and change habits that get in the way of a fulfilled, peaceful existence.
I’m still reading, and have learned a great deal. But the one thing that I want to get off my mind, and on the Blog via this post, is to draw a comparison with what we know about food, and how some of those concepts can transfer to thought, feeling and action.
Unless you eat so much garbage that you’ve become immune to the signals your body sends, you probably know that if you indulge your craving for a burger, the obligatory fries that go with it, and of course the soda, you’re going to feel more lethargic and sluggish than had you eaten a meal more rich in nutrients, containing fewer processed carbohydrates. The low fat versus low carb debate will rage on, but we do have consensus around sugary, highly processed carbs being disastrous for your health no matter what school of thought you subscribe to.
Give up that stuff for a short while, and it doesn’t take long to feel your energy kick in. It can also make you feel happier, because the brain is getting the nutrients it needs to function optimally. We also know that exercise has a positive effect on mental health.
I’ve experienced this in my own life. Years ago, I used to eat much more junk food than I do now. I thought I wasn’t doing any harm drinking diet soda, until I began reading about the links between mood, weight gain and the stuff. I cut it out of my diet completely, and I was a new person.
All the material I’ve been reading on the brain and the way we think has shown me something just as important as cutting out the diet soda. As I became more attuned to the way things would make me feel, I started to find that prolonged reading of social networks was making me irritable. At first, I thought that the answer to the problem was to give them up entirely, but then I realised that was the proverbial sledgehammer trying to crack the nut. You can’t beat Twitter during a breaking news story. I also use it to find out about new developments with products and services in which I’m interested, and most important of all, keeping in touch with people I care about.
It’s easy to have a Twitter client open, and glance at it habitually instead of doing something productive, so now I close the client and look at it less frequently. That helps. After all, everything in moderation, right?
But I also realised that I was seeing a lot of traffic that wasn’t doing me any good at all. Top of this list was the cryptic tweet. A tweet sent by one person to their hundreds, or in some cases thousands, of followers. After reading it, you know they were having a go at someone, or were really pleased about something, but you have no idea what. It’s just a total waste of my time reading it. With my media background, I automatically think of my audience before I tweet or post to Facebook. I just have no idea what people hope to gain by posting a message that means nothing to anyone. They can range from single words, usually exclamations and often expletives, to passive aggressive stuff like “Someone will pay for what happened today, and they know who they are”.
To my surprise, I also started to find that political tweets were making me irritable. It’s not so much that I don’t enjoy a good discourse on political or philosophical issues, I absolutely do. But it’s hard to do that in 140 characters, and people are now often so entrenched in their beliefs, that little real open dialogue is taking place. It’s an election year in New Zealand, so everyone has become highly partisan. Someone will say something provocative designed with the express purpose of irritating someone with a different point of view. They have set out to get a reaction. Usually, they succeed. Inevitably, it’s not long before the dialogue deteriorates and gets personal.
Then you have people who are just negative about everything, complaining about all that’s wrong without seeking a constructive fix. Obviously when the chips are down for your friends, and I’m talking about real friends, people you know and care about, hopefully you’re there for them. But absorbing constant negative energy from near strangers is a real drain after a while.
Once I realised this, I embarked on a strategy that included unfollowing some people, muting others, and building a smaller list of priority tweets I always read. Not only does it take me less time to catch up with the tweets I want to read now, but I don’t walk away from it feeling grumpy.
My point in this post is not to try and advocate that people should tweet differently. I think that’s largely futile. Nor do I think people should stop advocating for causes and issues that really matter. I’ve been a staunch advocate all my life, and nothing will change that. But in economics, there’s a concept called opportunity cost. If you’re reading a lot of negativity, animosity and passive aggression, that’s time you could be spending consuming a diet of healthy head things. Would you feel better reading what a bunch of inconsiderate dorks the other party are, or reading about compassion, happiness, or how constructively to make the world a better place through meaningful action?
There’s also a boldness, a lack of empathy, that can emerge when people are behind a keyboard. It’s almost as if some people treat social networking like a computer text adventure game, typing strings into an edit field without fully appreciating they’ll be read at the other end by a human being with feelings, who may be battling all kinds of challenges in life we don’t even know about.
I’m glad we have social networks to bring us closer together, but just as you can now visit McDonalds and choose a salad over a burger, so we can choose to read and participate in a way that enriches us mentally.
So if it’s getting you down, try a bit of house keeping. It can do wonders for your health and sense of well-being.