Quitting Noise to Prosper
Some of my best, most enjoyable days have been when I’m disconnected from the internet. I think it’s a healthy practice, to walk away from it. It’s a great reminder how noisy it all is.
But when I think back to the times I’ve taken long internet breaks I was always anxious to get reconnected.
Like I’d travel to Ghana or Nicaragua or wherever for a month. My phone wouldn’t work so I’d just leave it off. I’d have an amazing time. Totally immersed in experiencing a different country.
Eventually the trip would end, and I’d start feeling nervous, wondering what happened. “What did I miss? How’s the stock market?” I’d get reconnected and spend the next few hours bingeing — clicking and scrolling — until I collapsed from exhaustion.
This happened a few times before I noticed the pattern: I didn’t miss anything!
Most of the day-to-day information being created and consumed is just pointless filler. Noise.
So I questioned why I wasted hours each day immersed in it. And I quit. I quit clicking on news. Deleted social media apps. Stopped listening to podcasts. Unsubscribed from blogs. Quitting noise.
I’ve been making this change over the past few years. It feels great. Acknowledging you don’t need those things. That life is far better when you’re not hitting reload, or thinking about hitting reload. No longer a hamster checking for a pellet.
Of course, someone will argue there’s a payback. That it’s about “being informed.” They know what’s going on, and they know what happens next.
But consuming all the information in the world doesn’t transcend into knowing what will happen. It doesn’t help you make accurate forecasts. It doesn’t help you prosper.
For example, if you think interest rates will fall it makes sense to buy stock because when interest rates fall investors sell bonds and buy stock and that makes stock prices go up and so you will make a lot of money buying stock, right?
Yeah, but no one knows what interest rates will do!
Not even the “experts.” The psychologist Philip Tetlock studied this. He asked 300-some experts to judge the likelihood of various economic or political events occuring. What he found was that experts were worse than dart-throwing monkeys. Like Yogi Berra once said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”
You can prove this. Go look at “forecasts” or “predictions” or “projections” made in 1950 about the future.
First, many things that did appear nobody even imagined. Like, I don’t know, lasers. And now unimaginable lasers are used for everything from reshaping corneas to scanning barcodes. (Of course we’d invent them!) Second, many things predicted to appear never did. We’re not commuting in flying cars, nor spending weekends in space.
This happens in the market too.
Nobody predicted the global financial crisis of 2007-08. (Yet the very same bankers, economists, and journalists who didn’t see it coming provided the post-game analysis about its inevitability.) Afterwards, the experts talked endlessly about the upcoming “double-dip recession.” It turned out to be the longest bull market in history.
Seems Yogi Berra was right. And that’s why I quit the day-to-day noise.
What you’ll find is that taking breaks from the news or social media unlocks the time for high value activities. To expand your knowledge, learn a foreign language (what I’m currently doing), add a professional skill, create something useful for others, whatever. When you get good at doing things other people want then people pay more for what you do.
A more prosperous career.
But I suspect the bigger benefit is more subtle. You start operating with a clear mind. With equanimity. So now when big scary things happen they don’t cause a knee-jerk reaction.
And that leads to a more prosperous portfolio.