Beating Information Overload and Internal Noise to Relieve Stress

Every day you’re confronted with noise.

Not just the racket from the lawnmower outside your office window, but the “noise” of information that comes at you from multiple sources.

Shawn Achor, author of “Before Happiness,” says such noise is defined as “unusable, untimely, hypothetical or distracting” and he says research shows that cutting back on it can help relieve stress and make you feel more positive.

Achor explains that such noise forces you to use mental energy to pick out what’s valuable and reliable, as well as accurate – and it can be “exhausting.”

Research shows that between 1980 and 2008, the per capita time spent consuming information jumped 60% from 7.4 hours a day to 11.8 hours. To look at it another way, studies show that Americans consume 10,845 trillion words a day from television, print media, books and handwritten letters a day.

In experiments he conducted at companies like Facebook and Google, Achor says he had employees try for two weeks to cut their “noise” information intake by 5%. He says by cutting the amount of information you’re trying to cram into your brain, you free up more energy and resources to focus on important matters.

Achor offers several ways he has personally found that can cut the noise:

  1. Don’t listen to the radio for the first five minutes you are in the car.
  2. Turn off the car radio while talking to someone.
  3. Mute television or Internet commercials.
  4. Remove news media links from your bookmark tool bar.
  5. Limit how much you watch or listen to experts who “predict” what will happen.
  6. Don’t read stories on tragedies that you cannot change or that don’t affect your behavior.
  7. Listen to music without lyrics when working.
  8. Stop reading comments on articles or blog posts. “I found that these are usually off topic or negative,” Achor says. (Glad we have great readers at The Fast Track!)
  9. Take the batteries out of your television remote control and put them in another room. This can prevent you from mindlessly surfing channels.
  10. Limit the amount of local news you watch.

Once you’ve made some inroads in quieting the noise from the external sources, Achor urges that you try to limit the internal noise, as well.

He defines internal noise as negative thinking that manifests itself as fear, anxiety, self-doubt, pessimism or worry. Such negative thoughts, he stresses, can undermine everything else we do to have a more positive life.

He suggests a way to change your thinking is to post a sign next to your desk that represents positive energy. On that sign you should include these thoughts:

  • “I will keep my worry in proportion to the likelihood of the event.” The one thing all successful people have in common is that they take chances. You have to learn to keep your fear from overtaking your life and missing opportunities. If you’re worried about losing your job, for example, then look up the employment rates in your industry to truly gauge the risks.
  • “I will not equate worrying with being loving or responsible.” Write down five things you feel positive about, whether it’s your children or your faith. Research shows that writing positive feelings for a few minutes can significantly lower levels of worry and pessimism. This exercise in a test group of 3,000 people found it reduced anxiety and worry by 20%.
  • “I will not ruin 10,000 days to be right on a handful.” Research shows that phobic anxiety and fear can destroy the proteins at the end of our chromosomes. That can dramatically speed up the aging process. If we don’t let go of our “death grip” on fear, anxiety and pessimism, Achor says, it could literally kill us.

What are some ways you’ve found to reduce the “noise” in your life so that you’re more positive?














Anita Bruzzese

Anita Bruzzese is a syndicated columnist for Gannett/USA Today on workplace issues and the author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy.” She has been on the Today show, and quoted in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, Self.com and BusinessWeek.com. Her website, 45things.com, is listed on the Forbes top 100 websites for women.

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