No news is good news

A constant flow of doom-and-gloom media stories is killing our creativity. Take back control with a news diet.

Is it bad for you to read the news constantly? That was the question explored by a fascinating article published by Time magazine in 2018, which considered a study by the American Psychological Association indicating that, for many Americans, “news consumption has a downside.” It showed one in ten US adults checks the news every hour, and fully 20% of Americans ‘constantly’ monitor their social media feeds, immersing them in a never-ending deluge of headlines. The study reported that more than half of Americans say the news causes them stress, with many feeling anxiety, fatigue or experiencing sleep loss as a result.

Of course, most people in marketing would likely agree that it is important to stay informed on the major issues of the day. In these crazy times, it’s not surprising that some of this could be stressful. But we are inundated by so many news sources, with so much doom-and-gloom coverage, for so much of the time, that it can feel like we’re drinking from a fire hose. Yes, we need to have an eye on the market, know what’s going on in the wider world, and understand events and trends that may affect how our brands are perceived – but an obsession with constant news and data flows can distract us from more creative thinking.

Killing creativity

News kills creativity because consuming lots of it causes us to be more stressed and anxious – and those are well-known inhibitors to our creativity.

Graham Davey, professor emeritus of psychology at Sussex University and editor of The Journal of Experimental Psychopathology, has done research showing that negative TV news is a significant mood-changer, and the moods it tends to produce are sadness and anxiety. “Our studies also showed that this change in mood exacerbates the viewer’s own personal worries, even when those worries are not directly relevant to the news stories being broadcast,” he says.

Davey also points out that “the way that news is presented and the way that we access news has changed significantly over the last 15 to 20 years.” These changes “have often been detrimental to general mental health.” So why do we keep going back for more? For one thing, it’s entertaining, says Davey.

In addition, the human brain is wired to pay attention to information that scares or unsettles us – a concept known as ‘negativity bias.’ It has roots deep in our evolutionary history, explains Loretta Breuning, a former professor of management at California State University and author of Habits of a Happy Brain. “In a state of nature,” she says, “our survival depends on finding rewards and avoiding harm, but avoiding harm takes priority.”

The human brain is attracted to troubling information because it’s programmed to detect threats, not to overlook them. This can make it hard for us to ignore the negatives and seek out the positives around us, says Breuning. “Our brain is predisposed to go negative, and the news we consume reflects this.”

If, as the evidence suggests, watching, listening to or reading the news potentially increases your stress levels, what can you do about it?

Starting a news diet

The remedy to uncomfortable ‘news bloat’ may be going on a news diet – taking control of the news you consume.

A first step is being more aware of how the news affects your mood. If you feel more anxious when you watch or read a lot of news, take a break. Put on mood-lifting music, exercise, or tune in to something on TV that makes you laugh. All of these can help reduce anxiety levels. You could also pare back on your news habit by removing your news apps and committing to limiting your consumption to certain times of the day. For example, you might scroll through the BBC or New York Times website when you’re having breakfast, and then turn on a local TV news programme for 30 minutes after work.

Try to avoid watching or reading the news before you go to bed, as this could wind you up and make it more difficult to fall asleep.

Staying informed is a good thing, and some ‘newsies’ will remain calm and composed – but for most of us, incessant information overload spells trouble for our creativity.

Immediate results

The good news is that taking control of your news consumption can yield instant benefits.

When you need to find the creative inspiration for a new product launch, for briefing your advertising agency about a revamp of your website, or for writing a LinkedIn post, try to take these six simple steps.

  1. Avoid all news coverage completely for a couple of days.
  2. Ease back in: limit the time you read, watch or listen to the news to twice a day.
  3. If you have several news feeds on your phone or tablet, pare them down to one.
  4. Reduce the time spent reading newspapers, perhaps deciding that you’ll read the paper on some days and not others.
  5. If you discuss the news with others, keep it short and cursory, and try not to get embroiled in heated debates.
  6. Try to stay somewhat detached when consuming or discussing the news.

A news diet will teach you to be mentally free and able to shape your own points of view. It will filter out an overabundance of unimportant details, mute the cacophony of battling opinions, and help you feel happier and more at peace. And, as you gradually clear the decks, it will increase your ability to be freethinking and creative as a marketer.

Neil Francis is the author of The Creative Thinking Book: How to ignite and boost your creativity (LID Publishing) and director of Pogo Studio.