Being a Force for Good

Practice Good Mental Hygiene

One of the most important ways you can practice being a force for good is to practice good mental hygiene.  What’s good mental hygiene?  Just what it sounds like:  keeping your mind clear from incoming negative thoughts and attitudes.  The best way to do this?  Avoid the news!  Wait, wait, hold on, I know what you’re thinking:  “But I need to stay informed!”  Understood.  Most of the time, however, news, rather than clarify, actually increases misinformation.  While this seems counter-intuitive, it makes sense, if you understand we all have conscious and unconscious views.

Too often, we turn to media outlets that will simply repeat what we already think, know and believe.  These views get strengthened, not challenged, through something called ‘confirmation bias.’  As Warren Buffett said, “What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.”  So, if we have a glum outlook on life, we will gravitate to negative news stories reinforcing this stance.  On the other hand, after reading a positive or neutral story, we may still find a negative slant to it, through our own interpretation, without even knowing it.  Is this what we really want from the daily news–no challenges to our belief system, simply there to provide fodder to buttress our opinions?

Reading the News is a Waste of Time

If you spend 30 minutes reading the paper each morning, then check it for ten or fifteen minutes during lunch and then again before you go to bed, add in the distraction and time needed to refocus, you will lose half a day every week.  Or more, if you’re one of those who wants to be ‘really informed.’  In our information age, news is not a scarcity.  Attention and focus, however, are.  Guarding this precious commodity can make you more active, productive, and happy.  It worked for Rolf Dobelli, bestselling writer, entrepreneur and founder of Zurich.Minds, a community of some of the world’s most famed and distinguished thinkers, scientists, artists, and entrepreneurs,  Dobelli spent four years without reading news.  He reports experiencing less disruption, less anxiety, deeper thinking, more time, more insights. “It’s not easy,” he stresses, “but it’s worth it.”

News can Make us Less, Not More, Socially Engaged

Psychologist Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania coined the term ‘learned helplessness’ after conducting research on lab dogs.  One group of

When we read articles about events over which we have little to no power, we reinforce a sense of isolation and powerlessness.

dogs was enabled to control stressful environmental stimuli through a press of a level.  The other dog group did have a lever, but pressing it did not stop the stimulus.  Hence, the dogs learned they could do nothing to effect change.  They internalized this knowledge, and in doing so, felt nothing they did could improve their lot.  Thus, even when they did have an opportunity for change, they didn’t even try.  We are not so different.  When we read articles about events over which we have little to no power, we reinforce a sense of isolation and powerlessness.  Aside from breeding passivity, we also become susceptible to cynicism and even depression.

Good News Sources

What, then, is a news junkie to do?  First, recognize that consuming news truly can be addictive.  Analyze why you’re reading in the first place.  Get real honest with yourself about intention.  Then, set a limit to the amount of time you’ll spend perusing various news sites, and
stick to that limit lis ça!  And, importantly, integrate positive news sources into your reading.  The old adage, “if it bleeds, it leads,” didn’t come from nowhere.  Make an effort to balance your consumption of news, including a healthy dose of good news.  Yes, it’s out there, and yes, good happens!  Check out these recommendations for starters:

Buddhist Door is updated every Friday and has news from around the world.  Additionally, it features special interest articles on Meditation and Spirituality, Art and Archaeology, Health and Well-being, and much, much more.

Tricycle Magazine has a daily blog called Trike Daily that posts articles on current events, spirituality, Buddhism and Buddhist practice.

The Singapore International Foundation’s website, Our Better World, tells stories that inspire social change for good.  Check out their reporting and see if you’re among the 80% of their readers who are moved to social engagement.

Human beings have all the luck?  Not so, if you check some of the videos posted on The Dodo.  We challenge you to stay in a bad mood after watching a cat who thinks she’s a dog, horses playing with squeaky toys and all around inter-special love.

Here is an extensive website that covers good news from all over the world.  Check this out on the daily rather than your regular go-to websites.  It just may change how you view the world and enable you to make more of the changes you want to see.