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Original picture from The Wall Street Journal

What Do You Choose To Listen To?

How auditing what you listen to can shape your life

We live in an age where we get bombarded by countless pieces of information from all angles, from the time we wake up to the moment we go to sleep. Content comes cheap and in abundance. The person putting out a good or helpful message has the exact same tools and distribution system as someone trying to scam you.

With this great abundance means a greater need to filter it. Leaving it unsupervised can fill your head with nonsense, anxiety, or worse. We naturally tend to remember the last thing we’ve heard, whether that’s items on a grocery list or the last thing we saw on TV. Also known as the recency effect, first discovered by the psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus’s studies on short term memory, people tend to recall things best depending on how recently and in what order they’ve been exposed to it.

So what does this mean for you? We’re exposed to messages from billboards, newsletters, social media, tv, radio, podcasts, books, magazines, movies and more every day. You may think of it as simply ‘’keeping up with the times’’ or passive entertainment, ignoring the effect it has on your mood, perception, and world view. This happens in insidious ways but has the ability to creep into our daily habits and actions. For example, if you just heard about the virtues of eating healthily you’ll most likely resolve to go for a salad at lunchtime, that’s unless an advertisement for junk food catches your attention at the key moment when you’re hungry and your willpower is caught blindsided.

Every recent piece of content that you pay attention to is a slight pull towards a certain direction on a subconscious level. Get exposed to something enough times and eventually it will find a long-term parking space in your mind.

The challenge being that by default we don’t have control over what messages are being served to us. We don’t have control over the nature of the content being broadcasted. Amongst the sea of noise, there may be a lot of gems out there, and gems are great for your development as a human being. However, if you go through any mainstream outlet these are usually diamonds in the rough. You can’t afford to go through all that rough to eventually get to your diamonds. This is all the more reason to be picky over what you choose to listen to.

Going out there and exposing yourself to a variety of messages without filters or systems put in place is like going to war without armoured protection. It’s up to you to defend yourself from who, what and where you get your content from. You may think you are rationally vetting every piece of information that comes your way and are smart enough to know the difference, but you’re still being exposed to the effects of them and most likely are affected whether you feel it or not. The truth is, you don’t always choose what content comes into your life.

In essence, we’re exposed to god-like communication technologies that speak directly to our primal emotions to make us react with stone-age instincts.

Humans are suggestible creatures ruled by incentives, that is why so much of the information we see is clickbait because the publishers’ interests lie in getting clicks to sell advertisements, not to get you proper information or make your day better. That’s why traditional media has a field-trip with crises. Sensationalism and shocking headlines get attention, and therefore money, whereas unbiased rational information doesn’t if it's not poignant. Amplifying a problem is in their interests so people can stay hooked to their channel. Before paying attention to any story or piece of media, question where the authors, network, or publishers’ interests lie.

To avoid being sheepish from one end to the next, a good place to start is to use a filtering system based on the publishers’ incentives and interests, what one can do is be wary of all AD information. That means ADvertisement (incentives to sell you something), ADministration (incentives in getting you to follow a bureaucratic protocol), ADdiction (incentives to keep you hooked with their content regardless of factual accuracy or worthiness).

There is a saying that says ‘’you are the equivalent of the people you surround yourself with’’. It would also make sense to think that you are a product of the content you most often pay attention to and believe.

Scepticism is healthy unless it always drifts to conspiracy, for it to work it should be exercised on both ends of the spectrum, not just for questioning the mainstream. Open-mindedness, on the other hand, is the seed that makes you grow and learn. For it to work it has to omnipresent, taking into account both sides of a story, not just the one that fits your pre-existing beliefs. No fact, opinion, story or political party is ever entirely right or entirely wrong. Being a die-hard cult-follower of anything inevitably leads to deceit, making its members more susceptible to believe falsehoods because they are rooted in a ‘’us against them’’ mentality, not in a ‘’let’s figure out the best way to go about this’’ mindset.

If you can navigate what you listen to based on the agenda behind it, you are already ahead of the pack. You see behind the scenes first, not just the mesmerising puppet show. This is applicable for all network sizes, a conspiracy theorist’s Youtube channel may be motivated by the same incentive principles as a media giant. Size doesn’t matter, human nature does.

You will never be able to block every negative piece of content that comes your way, but you can create habits that flip the ratio in your favour.

If you listen to a lot of sensationalistic news media during the day, you will naturally be more anxious, fearful and cautious. Read a well-written self-help book however, and your world will light up with inspiring possibilities.

Using the recency effect, you can at least make sure to change what you can control. Since we remember mostly the beginning and the end of the items on a list, we can choose to start our day strong and finish it on a high note. To do that, make sure that the first and last piece of content you listen to when you wake up and check out is meant to proactively help you, not put you in reaction mode. That means no news, emails, social media, or any platform that could expose you to reactionary content. Choose a book, magazine, clip or podcast beforehand so that you don’t get sidetracked in the process of searching for it. Soon enough, your subconscious will be filled with more constructive messages than toxic ones and it will start cleaning many corners of your mind and how you see the world.

Words matter. What you see impacts how you feel and how you feel impacts how you act. Don’t be caught in the crossfire. Don’t let your mind be an open-pit dump, your sanity depends on it. With a surge in mental health issues, now more than ever is the time to start questioning the effects of what we listen to on our well-being and develop the tools necessary to navigate through a noisy, complicated world.

We protect our heads with helmets, our belongings with insurance, hell we even protect our phones with cases, isn’t it time we protect our minds against the influences of what we listen to?

Written by

Creative Director at @goodvibepeople — Serial Creator, culture aficionado and ‘’work hard play hard’’ advocate.

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