Joe McCormack says 24/7 coronavirus coverage is hurting us in many ways. But don't blame the media—we need to take responsibility for managing our overconsumption of what he calls "noise."
Hoboken, NJ (March 2020)—Joe McCormack says the coronavirus is bad for your health. What makes him different from the many experts with their grim statistics and scary projections is that he's not talking about exposure to the virus. He's talking about the dangers of tracking too many updates on the subject. And that's not hard to do, considering the near-constant news coverage and social media chatter around infection rates, death tolls, travel restrictions, stock market swings, and ominous predictions on how dire the pandemic may get.
Don't get him wrong. He's fully aware the coronavirus poses a serious threat. It's just that he believes we shouldn't let it consume our waking lives.
"We've moved beyond information and are now generating a swell of noise," says McCormack, author of the new book NOISE: Living and Leading When Nobody Can Focus (Wiley, January 2020, ISBN: 978-1-119-55337-3, $25.00). "The messaging around the coronavirus is amplified to deafening levels. People are consuming hysteria, and it's not doing us any favors."
"Noise" is McCormack's name for the dizzying onslaught of information from work emails, app notifications, the 24/7 news cycle, social media updates, and other forms of screen time that leaves us unable to focus, listen, or do deep work. He says most of us consume it all mindlessly, and it keeps us in a constant state of distraction. And while noise is never good for us, noise based on such a fear-inducing topic has even worse consequences.
"Events like the coronavirus show us how vital it is to own our mental bandwidth and manage our attention," says McCormack. "We need to know what's going on and to react appropriately, but coronavirus coverage is not the only thing that matters. Overconsumption of bad news will affect you. It will feed anxiety and fear. It will eat up your thinking space. It will keep you from living your life."
How can we cope with coronavirus hysteria and neutralize the noise swirling around it? McCormack offers five tips:
1. Understand how overconsumption of bad news affects you. When something becomes the only thing, it becomes everything, says McCormack. The temptation to sit in front of the TV and consume all day long is huge. You hear all sorts of things that aren't relevant, timely, or accurate. You start believing the world is coming to an end. And when all your waking hours are spent anxious, nervous, and anticipating the worst, you start to miss all the other stuff in your life.
"Plus, when you consume too much noise, you start to vibrate at the lower energy frequency associated with fear," says McCormack. "Others around you might 'catch' your low vibrations. You pass fear on like a virus. This is how panics can start."
2. Don't confuse predictions with certainty. You've probably heard the adage that FEAR stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. That's important to remember at times like these, notes McCormack. People tend to make dire predictions with such certainty that you start to believe them, but really, they simply do not know. Remember all the past flus and viruses that were supposed to decimate humanity—but didn't.
"There are lots of people out there who personify the saying 'Often wrong, but never in doubt,'" notes McCormack. "And the fact that there are no repercussions when people make erroneous claims and predictions only emboldens them to get louder and more insistent."
3. Temper your consumption. Thanks to the 24/7 news cycle, you're likely to see the same story reported 17 times and said 17 slightly different ways. It's not healthy to dedicate all your bandwidth to one fear-producing story. But if you're tempted to blame the media, don't. It's their job. It's your job to manage your consumption: to decide when to watch, what to watch, and when to turn off the TV, shut down the computer, and walk away.
"Create filters for what's information and what's useless noise and live by them," advises McCormack. "It's not all useful."
4. Focus on the facts, not wild speculations or possible domino effects. Find one good source you trust and stay abreast of the situation. Pay attention to what you can control: regular handwashing, reasonably stocking up on bottled water and other supplies, postponing flights to coronavirus "hot spots," and so forth. If you can't impact it, don't focus on it.
"Just don't give your attention to 'domino effect' fears like worldwide pandemics or economic collapse," advises McCormack. "There's nothing you can do about what 'might' happen and it only spreads fear."
5. When others are talking, change the subject. Don't pile on. Be the voice of calm and reason. If they won't drop the subject, have a few reassuring talking points in reserve to help put things in perspective and defuse fear. The CDC website is a good source for this. For example: "The risk of getting the coronavirus in the U.S. is currently low," and "There are simple things you can do to help keep yourself and others healthy."
Above all, know we need to be at our best in challenging times. That means it's crucial not to allow ourselves to get caught up in fear or—worse—to spread that fear to others.
"Noise drowns out clarity, and clarity is critical during times of crisis," says McCormack. "When we lose clarity, we start doing impulsive things and making bad decisions. It's bad for our mental and emotional health, and it's bad for our relationships. We need to spread facts, not fear. Rather than adding to the noise, we need to be part of the solution."
About the Author:
Joseph McCormack is the author of NOISE: Living and Leading When Nobody Can Focus. He is passionate about helping people gain clarity when there is so much competing for our attention. He is a successful marketer, entrepreneur, and author. His first book, BRIEF: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less (Wiley, 2014), sets the standard for concise communication.
Joe is the founder and managing director of The BRIEF Lab, an organization dedicated to teaching professionals, military leaders, and entrepreneurs how to think and communicate clearly. His clients include Boeing, Harley-Davidson, Microsoft, Mastercard, DuPont, and select military units and government agencies. He publishes a weekly podcast called "Just Saying" that helps people master the elusive skills of focus and brevity.
To learn more, visit www.noisethebook.com.