An Eclectic Human
A newsletter about design, community, and being a human

1.13 Circle of Concern

Walt had a couple great comments. First, about journal-keeping:

I do not currently keep a journal, although I used to do so. I used to hand-write about the events of the day and my observations, but more importantly, about the daily swirl of my emotions. It helped me understand myself better. I also learned express myself in writing.

That was where I first started to notice certain patterns of actions that I needed to confront and overcome.

And about habit formation:

I haven’t found any magic trick for forming good habits. I just have to focus on doing a particular task at a specific time each day, whether I’m on an assignment with $EMPLOYER or at home. In either case, there are plenty of opportunities to miss a day, but experience has taught me that missing a day in the first month or two of creating a good habit equals not creating the habit. It seems to take about 90 days before a habit actually “takes” for me. I’ve heard others say 30 days, but I’ve gone 30 days or more doing something, skipped one day and never gone back.

Most important, for me, is fencing off a particular time of day and a particular location or set of tools and refusing to allow other things to dictate how that time is spent.

For negative habits, the only thing that seems to help is “I’m not going to do that right now, I’ll do this instead.” Making the complete extinguishing of negative habits my goal does not seem to work, but delaying or choosing an alternative each time it comes up has seemed to weaken or in some cases break the habit’s grip.

Shanae added this:

For me forming a good habit is essential to breaking the bad one. It is possible to fill the space of a bad habit with another bad habit. However, when I am focused on breaking one, I choose to fill the space it leaves with a good habit I want to incorporate. Leaving the space empty simply creates another temptation to overcome in returning to the habit I have chosen to depart from.

In the same vein, good habits take time, they take a space in my life. So when I want to incorporate one, I have to re-prioritize to find the time or space to place the good habit. This often involves replacing good habits with ones that, in the present moment, feel like better habits.

• • •

I don’t watch the news. I rarely read news websites. I don’t remember when I last held a physical newspaper.

The commercial news engine is a problem. Its financial structure rewards shocking, polarizing, and titillating stories, even at the expense of truth or human dignity. I despise it, but that’s not my main concern here.

Current events usually hold only fleeting interest, and I am happier when I choose not to follow them.

Some argue that it’s my duty as a citizen of the world to keep up on what my fellow humans are doing on our little planet. Brady Haran and CGP Grey had a lengthy discussion about it on their podcast Hello Internet. Brady, a journalist of sorts, argues that Grey is irresponsible for not seeking out the news. Grey simply can’t find any good reason why he should but plenty of reasons why he shouldn’t.

I will concede that some professions benefit from being up to date on the news, but these are mostly filled with people that either make or sell the news: journalists, Wall Street bankers, politicians. Short of natural disasters and local emergencies, my daily life and work are in no way dependent on or influenced by the news, so it’s usually a waste of my time and limited emotional capacity to get enraged about whatever just happened thousands of miles away.

Fluency in recent events does have one redeeming value: ability to hold a conversation with people who like talking about recent events. The news and, more broadly, popular media in many forms are cultural touchstones. As Nick Disabato writes, “All of these are shared experiences, and they are crucial to the fabric of our existence.”

Stephen Covey talks about two concepts called the Circle of Concern and the Circle of Influence. The former encompasses all the things I spend time thinking about, and the latter includes only the things I can act on or control. They are concentric, and normally my Circle of Concern is much larger than my Circle of Influence. But I’d really like to make them close to the same size by not caring about things I can’t control.

Reading books and learning about the world in a scientific or historical sense holds more value. I think it’s a form of chronological snobbery to presume that modern news is as or more important than history (at least, if we exclude the things you or I can influence).

Now I should clarify that I don’t entirely live under a rock or eschew all contact with the news. I’m on Twitter most days. I subscribe to a lot of newsletters (although no matter how many current-events-type newsletters I try to read, I inevitably get tired of them and unsubscribe). Plenty of news filters through to me. Some of it is important to me personally, some of it is actionable, some of it is merely interesting. I don’t regret the news I read, but I’m also glad that I don’t read a lot of it. I’d rather use my time focusing on the things that will improve my life and learning about the things that will still matter in a week or a year or a lifetime.

• • •

Am I wrong to shun the news? Has a limited media diet been beneficial for you?