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Information overload and noise pollution is a thing

We spend 7 hours each day consuming content from screens, minimum!
Blog 157 Information Noise

If you’re lacking energy and motivation, it’s important to understand why. If you’re wanting to be more effective at what you do, it’s important to know how. We get it: there are lots of reasons that life might feel hard right now. We also know for some people – this is an exciting time for change. Regardless of how you’re feeling, looking at what you’re consuming in terms of content is critical.

If you’re feeling stressed, tired or less tolerant than usual; having difficulty concentrating; or feel like you just don’t have any thoughts, words or listening left, it might be that your brain is in overdrive – working to process all the ‘noise’ from your day.

Just like how our body needs both activity and stillness, so does our brain. Research tells us, for example, that taking a short rest allows our brain to solidify memories when learning new skills. It’s also been shown that 2 minutes of silence is more calming than listening to ‘relaxing’ music. A study conducted with mice has even found that 2 hours of silence each day builds new cells in the hippocampus, a key brain region associated with learning, memory and emotion. What does all this tell us? That not only does a bit of R&R help to regenerate our overloaded brain, but it also allows us to process the massive amount of data we consume.

Unfortunately, the modern world isn’t built for silence. Many of us are victims of noise pollution, that is, information overload. Think of the Zoom meetings you attend with one ear listening out for the kids in the next room; or your phone that continuously rings and beeps while you attempt to deal with an overflowing inbox; and the TV blaring in the background while you scroll through social media. Even when we’re ‘off the clock’ and Netflix provides much-needed downtime, the blue light from the screen stimulates our brains by suppressing the secretion of melatonin, the hormone that influences our body's biological clock, and consequently disrupts our sleep.

Take a minute to think about how much information and stimulation you subject your poor old brain to. Global content consumption doubled in 2020: we now spend 6 hours and 59 minutes a day browsing, reading, watching, listening and playing online. Active internet users spend 2 hours and 25 minutes each day on social media alone. If you add up all the time you dedicate to digital devices – computers, phones, TVs – the results are pretty shocking, with adults in the US spending over 10.5 hours a day in front of screens.

Just 100 years ago, our brains only had to process a fraction of the amount of content that we’re subjected to now. Back then, people got their information from newspapers, radio, books and the occasional movie (silent ones at that).

Our brains are 1.5 kg processing machines. If we want to be effective, high impact and authentic in how we are being and communicating, we must consciously choose to rest this valuable organ. Being constantly ‘on’ and doing a million things simultaneously, is hugely counterproductive. When your brain is being pulled in multiple directions, you’re not able to perform any task as effectively as you would if you were giving it your full attention. All those emails you’re answering, texts you’re responding to, social posts you’re ‘liking’, require decision-making effort. This drains your energy and leaves you feeling depleted – and liable to make bad decisions.

If you’re thinking that information overload might be holding you back, use these questions to audit what your brain is processing:

  • How much information do I read and hear that is irrelevant, low value or unsolicited?
  • What am I thinking and feeling when I choose to go online?
  • Am I anxious that I’ll miss something important if I don’t ‘check in’?
  • How do I feel after spending time online?

And here are some tips to support you in managing your information overload and noise pollution.

  • Use an app to monitor and decrease your screen time.
  • Delete one source of ‘noise’ from your life for 7 days and see if you miss it.
  • Have a strict 1-hour wind-down routine before sleep, with no screens.

For those looking to delve deeper into this topic, neuroscientist Daniel Levitin’s book The organized mind: thinking straight in the age of information overload offers tips to help you process the constant flow of information and find more time to do the things that matter.

– The Coach Place Global

Image by @priscilladupreez

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