On November 13, 2015 I decided to unplug from news media. This is the story of how I came to make such a decision, how it has lasted more than three and a half years (to date) and how it has transformed my way of thinking and being.
How did I prepare for disconnecting:
November 13 (my twin daughter Natalie and Emily’s 33rd birthday) I saw opening credits for a film called the 33. It was a film about 33 Chilean miners who were trapped underground for weeks and weeks before being rescued. I remember the nightly drama unfolding on the evening news as rescuers lowered, food, water, communication tools to the miners while the rescuers worked on how to get them out alive. In the end, they all survived. The opening credits identified that every year 10,000 miners die. That’s roughly equivalent to 33 each and every day!! Where was this in the news media? It struck me cold; the media are agents of anxiety. The more anxious they can make us, the more susceptible we are to the advertising that makes up their revenue.
I called my mother and told her I was doing a news fast. That it was a sort of mental flossing and that I would try to do it for a week. No news media of any kind.
The year before I had quit all social media after recognizing although there were good things being shared I wasn’t willing to digest the crap that was causing me anxiety. For a while I was removing people from my feed that were the source of much anxiety, but I found Facebook was still sending me crap that wasn’t healthy. So I pulled the plug on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I would need to count on face to face meetings with family and friend to keep me in the loop, just like in the days before the internet.
What did I need to disconnect from?
My mom was incredulous. Was that before or after Paris she asked me. Well it has to be before, because I have no Idea what happened in Paris. To this day have not read an article or seen a picture or news story of any kind about that or any other Paris terror news story. In short I am blissfully ignorant of much of what is going on in the world geopolitically or otherwise unless it comes up in conversation with my friends and family. That is true for any news media story you have encountered since late 2015. I know little or nothing about it whether a social crisis, political crisis, environment crisis.
But isn’t it the way we lived on this planet for millennia, being concerned about the needs of our immediate community, rather than be entertained by tragedies unfolding around the world?
I think I am healthier for it.
When I tell people about my radical approach they universally look at me with a sense of jealousy. Most say I wish I could do that.
Now being immune to the traditional news media doesn’t mean I do not care about the health and well-being of people. I care. Deeply. I believe my approach of meditation and what I have come to call smile therapy is incredibly healthy for me and the people I love, work and play beside. There is enough anxiety in the world. And it is a crisis of mental health for many plugged-in people. I want to know about social issues that matter to my community and I want to make a difference where and how I can. I think we all can be living lives with care, compassion and peace by working for those things in our community. Subscribing to an anxiety-provoking news media doesn’t do this.
During my unplugging adventure what have I reconnected with?
The most important thing I have connected with is my sense of peace, a greater connection to the community of people in my life, a greater appreciation for wonder and wandering and the healing power of nature in my own life. I have been focusing on growing community connections and working with allies to grow the visitor economy in our region working with traditional and non-traditional tourism allies.
I continue to practice my own inspired form of smile and walking meditation and read voraciously – not news, but books that teach me about different cultural and historical perspectives of life around the world in both fiction, historical fiction and non-fiction. This is largely because I have the time to do it because I am not wrapped up in social or news media. I notice how much less anxious I am than others and feel like I am walking a good path and inspiring others along the way.
What new understandings / reflections do I have to share?
I have been using a five-stage process in setting out on a journey of discovery, growth and transformation. I use it in small bite-sized bits as it applies to any moment in time or as a tool for considering longer multi-day or year long journeys.
Smile: setting the stage for success always starts with gratitude as we did in our first communication. I am grateful
For the opportunity set before me and great those I meet along the way by standing tall and smiling.
The Adventure has two stages in my thinking.
Decide: this is closely connected to the idea of preparing. We need to be clear about our purpose and intention for embarking on the journey. If sharing the journey with others, the mission can be co-created in what we have come to call ‘the way of the circle’ by gathering the dreams and visions of anyone who has gifts to offer then integrating these ideas into a statement that weaves together everyone’s insight. If leading the journey this purpose is presented as an invitation, clearly articulated so others can see and feel if the adventure is one they want to join.
Focus: Planning is carried out with constant referral to the decision that outlines the reasons for participating. By limiting the distractions and disconnecting (for me that means no social media browsing or digesting news produced for my consumption to sell my eyeballs and attention to advertisers). By controlling my attention I am more apt to have a successful outcome and my focused efforts will bear fruit. Clarity can only come without distraction. Words, symbols and rituals (actions) can set the stage for great focus.
What have I Learned from the experience of unplugging?
Learn: Continuous improvement/kaizen is possible when we take the time to review our goals and look back on the journey to wonder with the sincere question: How can it get better than this? Learning also presents new opportunities to evolve when things don’t go quite as planned, challenges come up that need to be met and overcome with grace and ease, without blame or judgement. This can best be achieved when we are unattached to outcome but rather focus on processes that will have uncertain outcomes with the question, ‘ I wonder how this is going to work out?’ or wondering how different approaches could be used to achieve stated decisions on where and how the journey is being undertaken. I tend to be always on the lookout for opportunities with the philosophy that the best is yet to come. While on any journey, whether encountering the unknown or challenging situations or enjoying the bliss of just soaking up the ambience around me or enjoying magical moments, the question, “How will it get better than this?” Leads me to extra-ordinary moments.
Celebrate: Honouring for me is best addressed with an action that is best described as taking time to ‘Celebrate’. This can be done with words, hugs, expressions of gratitude, gift-giving, pausing for reflection, writing about an experience, sharing it with family and friends. The emotional response and stimulation of positive release of happy hormones including dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins locks in the memories of the experience to create meaningful memories.
I also have written a small manual of hundreds of story-starter questions that helps me learn more about my travelling companions or guests. My genuine interest in hearing these often untold stories of others helps create connections between team members, hosts, travelling companions and guests we host.
How am I honouring my journey?
By telling this story and inspiring others. Since 2015 I have hosted ten rural community tourism groups who have come to learn about our way of doing sustainable rural tourism to grow the visitor economy. I have given six keynote presentations of This Extra-ordinary life, presenting a formula for living a more fulfilling vibrant connected, empowered sustainable life. Although I have consulted and delivered training to thousand of tourism operators from2004-2011, new programs are the most powerful transformational programs I have ever been involved in. Delivering these multi-day trainings leaves me energized and joyful in ways that I would never have thought possible. These new IGNITE programs and keynotes have all grown out of my own extra-ordinary unplugged life at Northern Edge Algonquin.