Keto, Atkins, Paleo, low-carb, South Beach, Mediterranean, vegetarian, and vegan. The list goes on and on. The number of diets in our day and age proliferates. The goal of each diet is a healthier way of living, resulting in weight loss, improved health, and increased energy.
There is a different kind of diet that would benefit our minds and souls, however: the low-information diet. First conceptualized by Tim Ferriss in his book The Four-Hour Workweek, a low-information diet seeks to limit the amount of unnecessary information we digest to free up time and brainpower to increase productivity.
As a CEO of his tech firm, Ferriss found himself responding to 1,500 emails per week for four years. It was an unsustainable pace. He later wrote in the book, “Just as modern man consumes both too many calories and calories of no nutritional value, information workers eat data both in excess and from the wrong sources.”
We don’t need to be a CEO to feel the strain of excess data in our lives. While Ferriss proposed the low-information diet as a means of productivity, we as Christians can take this concept one step further to reduce overwhelm, simplify, and walk closer with God.
If you struggle with information overload in your day-to-day life, this lifestyle is for you.
Overwhelmed from Information Overload
I once had a conversation with someone who lamented that she was not able to keep up with all the podcasts that she subscribed to. I realized that I, too, had this self-inflicted dilemma of low-level information FOMO. Too much good information, not enough time.
Often, I just can’t keep up. Perhaps you feel this way about your ever-growing e-mail inbox, that pile of unprocessed mail, the 24-hour news cycle, your social media feed, or stack of unread magazines and books.
Perhaps you work in an industry where the information is always changing. Or you feel bombarded by ads in every corner of your smartphone screen, computer, and TV.
It’s a case of TMI (too much information).
In our modern technological era, we are inundated with a flood of information from the time we wake up until we go to sleep. According to a recent study, the total amount of data consumed globally in a year was 79 zettabytes, or 79,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes.
According to a more classic study, each person consumes about 34 GB of information each day while awake—about 100,000 words or 23 words per second.
While the amount of information available to us has increased, our human limitations have not changed. We are not computers and robots that can process whatever is presented to us—or at least we should not be.
Something must give, and it’s frequently our wellbeing and relationship with God. Information overload results in at least three consequences for Christians.
1. The Impact on Our Time
Research shows that despite the glorified hustle culture in the U.S., we work less than we used to. One hundred fifty years ago, the average worker in industrialized countries worked more than 3000 hours per year—about 60-70 hours each week for 50 weeks per year.
Now, the average worker in a Western countries works roughly half that amount when vacations and time off are factored in.
The invention of the smartphone in 2007 was one of the biggest blessings and curses for mankind. One reason people feel so overworked is that nowadays we instantly reach for our smartphones during any downtime. This habit both fills our spare moments with more information and squeezes out any free time that we might have had.
Parkinson’s Law is the concept that work will expand to the time allotted for its completion. If you allow yourself two hours to complete a task that should only take 30 minutes, it might end up taking you two hours. In a similar vein, phone usage—and information—fills the time that we allow it to have if we are not intentional about drawing limits.
It’s not that smartphones are inherently bad—they have plenty of amazing tools for us to take advantage of. However, they have contributed to our perception of having less margin and time. There’s just so much to do and see on our phones at all hours!
2. The Impact on Our Mental Health and Concentration
If you have ever been presented with so much information that you mentally shut down or check out, you are not alone. Research has shown that constant information overload can lead to feelings of anxiety, overwhelm, powerlessness, and mental fatigue.
The cognitive overload from too much information can lead to impaired or impulsive decision-making. And multitasking at work, which involves processing large amounts of information, has been shown to increase the levels of cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones).
Author Linda Stone once coined the term e-mail apnea in reference to our overflowing e-mail inboxes. People who have classic sleep apnea have periods of time when their breathing stops while sleeping. Stone found 80% of people that she observed experienced e-mail apnea, which she defines as “a temporary absence or suspension of breathing, or shallow breathing, while doing email.” Gasp!
Information overload has also fragmented our ability to pay attention and focus. Economist and psychologist Herbert A. Simon aptly described this phenomenon. He wrote, “What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”
According to one study, the human attention span has decreased to 8 seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000. Apparently, we now have an attention span shorter than that of a goldfish, which has a 9-second attention span!
3. The Impact on Our Spiritual Growth
Perhaps the most significant consequence of information overload is what it does to our spiritual walk. You’ve heard the saying, we are what we eat. When it comes to information consumption, we are what we consume.
Of the information that we actively and passively consume each day, some of it is relevant and important—and much of it is not.
Information that is aligned with our Christian worldview builds us up and encourages us. Too much irrelevant information distracts our minds from God and chokes our spiritual growth (Luke 8:14). Too much negative or toxic information changes us for the worse, causing us to feel angry and irritable, encouraging us to be less Christ-like.
For that reason, we must be careful about what we allow ourselves to be exposed to. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (NIV). Matthew 6:21 goes on to say, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Philippians 4:8 describes the kind of information that we should be paying attention to instead: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Let us be wise and intentional in the amount and kind of information that we consume through a low-information diet. Our choices have the power to shape our spiritual growth.
A low-information diet can also help us be less distracted and more aware of God’s presence. In fact, the more noise and stimulus that you deal with in your daily life, the more beneficial this lifestyle change will be.
The Low-Information Diet
The low-information lifestyle looks different for each person. Here are 10 ideas on how to get started. Implement what works best for you.
1. Curate all your information sources.
Go through your social media, YouTube, podcasts, blog subscriptions, and e-mail. Clean up your feeds. Unfollow anyone that doesn’t add value to your life. Unsubscribe to unwanted e-mail subscriptions. Subscribe only to the people and sources that you truly love.
2. Choose only a couple of reliable sources of news.
Stop allowing yourself to be bombarded by an endless feed. Avoid the incessant negativity of TV news. Prioritize your mental health over being up to date in the news cycle.
3. Turn off all unnecessary smartphone notifications.
Push notifications contribute to information overload and multitasking. It’s hard to focus on anything important to us when we’re constantly interrupted.
4. Check your social media and e-mail at set times in the day.
Avoid checking them throughout the day. Give yourself a time limit.
5. Give yourself permission to not finish books, podcasts, and other content.
Author Tony Reinke once said that good readers know when to stop reading a book. Instead of reading/listening to every book and podcast to the end, know when you have gotten the value out of them, and let the rest go. Another idea is to consume only the relevant sections for you. (This applies mostly to content that you aren’t not enjoying as much as you’d thought.)
6. Choose “quiet” sources over audio sources.
If you have a lot of noise in your life (think young kids or a stressful work environment), consider cutting down on your podcasts and audiobooks. Read a physical book/magazine for less stimulus. Give your mind a much-needed break.
7. Spend some time in silence.
Turn off the latest podcast, audiobook, news, or music during a commute. Do a task without listening to something else in the background. Avoid multi-tasking, if possible. Pray, or be simply mindful of God’s presence in the task.
8. Pray when you are using your phone.
Instead of allowing phone use to be a distraction that distances you from God, converse with God about whatever you are scrolling through. Include Him in your digital life. Talk to Him even when you watch Netflix or YouTube about your thoughts. Pray when you see a need on social media.
9. Practice humility in not being up to date in everything.
In the next social situation, it’s a great opportunity to ask someone else about it instead! Learn to tolerate information FOMO.
10. Accept our human limitations.
We will always be limited in our capacity for understanding. God is omnipresent and all-knowing, and we are not. This is great news! Take comfort and rejoice in this fact.
Replacing Junk Food with Soul Food
Not only should we eliminate the excessive and junk information of our souls, but we should also consume healthier content in its place. Otherwise, it is easy to slide right back into a poor-information habits.
Fill those newly found spaces of time with something better for your soul. Read the Bible, pick up a devotional, talk to God. Spend more time with family, friends, or pets.
Take a leisurely walk outside and admire God’s creation. Get some much-needed sleep. Or simply enjoy the downtime and moments of silence.
Even as the world floods us with information and clamors for more attention, we are not left without recourse. By proactively cutting back on the unnecessary noise, we can make room for what really matters. Join me in following the low-information diet. It just might be the best diet you’ll ever find.
What are the effects that information overload has had on you? What can you do today to reduce the amount of noise in your life?
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“When we reach the end of our days, our life experience will equal what we have paid attention to, whether by choice or default.” –Tim Wu, The Attention Merchants