I’m addicted to new information. I enjoy listening to podcasts, reading plenty of non-fiction books, watching documentaries, perusing other blogs, following TED/YouTube series, and studying academic publications. In addition, I really enjoy meeting and learning from people who are a little older and a little wiser than myself. In essence, I find myself on the constant lookout for new information. Due to the nature of my employment, I must follow economic and financial (and sometimes political) news as well. I’m constantly bombarding myself with new data.
I still find myself searching for more information when, often, I already have enough. I simply need to step back, reflect on it, and take action. I don’t really need to read more about the nuances of financial planning at this point. I need to spend more time reflecting on the choices I’ve made over the last six months and see if they align with my long term goals. I don’t need to read more about simplifying my life or organizing something a little better. I need to take inventory to see if I’m actually keeping everything organized and following simplistic principles. I need to spend much more time in reflection and less time consuming new information. (Picture is a nice little sticky note that covers up the second tab of my browser when I’m tempted to get distracted)
The Low-Information Diet
I’ve had mild success on this new diet plan. I’m pretty good at controlling my exercise, my eating habits, my spending and consumption- but, I’ve still yet to conquer the low information diet. I’ll have periods where I tend to leave my internet connection and phone behind and live life without a constant steam of new input. But, I’m finding those moments few and far between. I recently took about a week off to spend with the kids and I was surprised by the fact I actually felt energized and focused after I returned home. I spent a lot of time outside, and my days were busy, filled with family and friends. I know the low information diet makes me feel better.
I tend to justify the info I consume by at least maximizing its quality. My brain is justified when I read non-fiction, watch a documentary instead of a reality show, or learn about a new topic on Wikipedia. It’s kinda like the “good debt” approach to personal finance. Sure, mentally I owe 200k but at least its good debt? Right? But really, at this point in my life, I still have a back log of synthesis I need to do instead of feeding my information itch. I just checked my blog post drafts and its now sitting over two hundred in “Outlined and Titled Topics” waiting to be explored. I actually learn a lot more from reflection than I do from reading a new post about “5 Ways to Save in a Roth IRA”, or “10 New Ways to Simply Your Wardrobe”. With that being said, consuming information is much easier for me than actual mental reflection. Conceptually I know its better, but carving out the time, focus, and attention to make it happen is usurped by the ever increasing ease of new information consumption.
Often, for me, the synthesizing process is about as fun as pulling teeth. I don’t really enjoy it. I have a lot of thoughts in my head, but to actually get them out and organize them is a time consuming process. I really like the end result of synthesis, but I hate the time it takes my brain to fully process and organize my thoughts completely. Ironically (as a blog author and academic writer) I don’t really enjoy writing; yet, I find I do my best synthesis by writing. While writing, I’m forced to organize my thoughts, put them on paper and then cull and refine the final product. When I write for the blog it forces me to really evaluate how I feel on a specific topic and then have our editor (thanks Ms. SE) evaluate what I’ve written and help clarify my thoughts.
The initial data dump from my brain around a topic is pretty quick. I often think about lots of different aspects of what is going on in several disconnected paths and information chunks. I like to dump it all out using the notes on my phone or a simple gdoc. The initial bust of energy that comes with a new thought fades as I process and reflect on the exact nuances of the topic. Synthesizing certainly takes much more cognitive awareness and discipline than ingesting more information.
I’m pretty sure social media is the antithesis of refection. The little endorphin rush that comes with a new email, ‘like’, friend’s status post, or retweet is just a new hit of information that rarely adds value to our life. In fact, most of the important stuff would find its way to us without checking something online sixty times a day.
Recently, I’ve enjoyed reading historic letters from Seneca, Paul, Solomon, and Marcus Aurelius. The wisdom contained in the several thousand year old publications is incredible and surprisingly applicable even to my daily life. However, simply reading a sentence or two in the morning can be great, but actively writing about it, teaching it, journaling, or sharing it reduces the likelihood that it is simply forgotten moments later. The same holds true with great blog posts we read, books we check for reference, or conversations filled with wisdom. Even trips around the world or small vacations should probably be reflected upon and written out to grasp all the enjoyment they hold.
The quote goes something like this: “I need to spend a lot more time looking at last years goals and evaluating what I did well and where I fell short, compared with simply creating new goals for the upcoming year. At different points in life I’ve been pretty into “Goals”. I’ve written them out every year for at least the last ten. But most often, I focus on moving forward each January rather than reflecting on exactly where I’ve been. It would probably be better for me personally to spend less time creating new goals and more time examining the nuances and specifics of the goals I didn’t complete or failed to achieve.
I think it is about time we focus some energy on less consumption and more reflection. It would probably make us better people, better co-workers, better consumers, better spouses, and probably even better parents too. We need to focus on the things that are actually important in our life and spend more time reflecting rather than constantly searching for new consumption. It’s certainly easier to just consume more, but I venture to guess that we would all be more fulfilled and less likely to repeat past mistakes if we spent a little more time in reflection.