I don’t watch The News on TV or read newspaper articles…other than when readers send me the occasional gem.
I think of The News as like the announcements made over The Tannoy System in The Prison Camp: a loud stream of misinformation, propaganda and general bullshit.
I started avoiding the news as a deliberate part of my approach to investing. And that has made me richer. But over time its also had the surprising side effect of making me calmer and happier.
I used to think it was strange that Warren Buffet was a great investor and yet based himself in a small town in the middle of nowhere and with no Bloomberg terminal anywhere to be seen.
Wrong! I had this almost entirely backwards. Warren Buffet did not become a great investor despite distancing himself from Wall Street. No, he became a great investor partly because he distanced himself from that noisy cacophony of misinformation.
Strategy is the bit that everyone focuses on. But most people miss the 2 other elements to good investing. The missing elements, which are just as important, are Story and State. Story is the way you see the world, your mindset and belief system. State is your emotional condition: being calm is a state, being anxious is a state.
Watching the news fucks with your state. If you want to be anxious, frazzled, worried and fearful, then go right ahead and watch the TV news. Preferably in the evening after a stressful day at work. By flopping down in front of the television nightly to catch up on the day’s violence and disasters in faraway places, you’re developing a habit that messes with your mind over time.
When I grew up, my parents watched the TV news every night, the interweb was not around and quality newspapers were sources of valuable information. But in recent decades the media has expanded and its spun out of control. The internet and social media have increased competition for attention. The news cycle has speeded up and our attention spans have got way shorter. The result is clickbait and sensationalism.
Watching The News is not a waste of time, its worse than that. Digging a hole and then filling it back in is a waste of time. Watching The News is actively harmful because it distorts our view of the world. Everyday is earthquake / school shooter / child abduction day in News World. As MMM put it: the news completely fucks up the layperson’s perception of risk.
If you’re in a state of fear or anxiety, you’ll make bad decisions…in investing and in life generally. You’re more likely to self-medicate with retail therapy. More likely to procrastinate, freeze and get stuck in your investing. Or overtrade. Or panic when the stock market falls.
When I suggest to coaching clients that they cut out the news, they sometimes look puzzled. Firstly they feel they have to know about politics and current affairs in order to invest. Wrong! Secondly, they believe on some level that they have a duty as a good citizen to watch the news.
I understand and sympathise with these concerns. The Escape Artist is all for being a good citizen. But your duty to stay informed about current affairs is done once you have the information you need to exercise your vote wisely. The rest is just entertainment.
If I want information, I bypass the information gatekeepers and I go direct to the original source. Thanks to the electrical interweb, you don’t need the news media to get quality information. So if you want the stats on, say, inflation you can either read the newspaper and get something like this:
Hard pressed working families SLAMMED by shocking rise in price of unnecessary plasma screen TVs
or you could go to the website for The Office for National Statistics and see that inflation was 1% in the year to September 2016.
The trick is to keep in mind the difference between what you can control (or at least influence) and what you can’t. The news is an endless parade of things that you can’t control. Political dramas, stock market fluctuations, sports, local tragedies, weather, red carpet dresses and celebrity gossip. The thing that they all have in common is that they are fascinating to our monkey brains and yet entirely beyond our control.
In the bad old days, insufficient information was the main problem. But these days we need to protect ourselves from information overload. Imagine your brain is a computer. Watching The News regularly is like plugging that computer into the internet without virus protection. You’ll be bombarded with pop-ups, advertising, viruses, spyware, malware and general bullshit. Your hard drive will eventually seize up and require de-fragging.
If you are a knowledge worker, then your brain is your greatest asset. It’s the source of all your future earnings. Look after it.
The News is not an objective stream of unbiased information wisely selected by our Elders And Betters. No, its the result of a noisy, chaotic and intensely competitive fight for our attention, our votes and for our spending.
As an example, last week I was walking through Leicester Square in central London and there was a commotion going on outside one of the buildings. There are sometimes red carpet film premieres in Leicester Square so The Escape Artist sensed an opportunity to spot an A list celebrity. Maybe the fine, chiselled jaw of George Clooney or perhaps the sellotape assisted bust of some celebrity actress?
Imagine my disappointment when I saw it was Jeremy Corbyn (who apparently is a politician). In front of him were a couple of bored looking cameramen and photographers. Behind him were a noisy and vocal gaggle of what I estimate were about 6-8 supporters chanting and holding up placards. And behind them was maybe 15-20 or so passers by…who, like The Escape Artist, didn’t know what was going on but were just vaguely curious.
Looking on, I worked out the camera angles and realised that, to the TV viewer or newspaper reader, it would have looked like a big crowd had formed, like something important was happening.
And here is the result: the photo opp as presented on Jeremy Corbyn’s Twitter feed.
If you saw this on the TV news or in a newspaper, you might have thought that Jezza and The Corbynistas were being swept to power on a huge wave of popular democratic support. That’s what they’d like you to think anyway.
The reality was slightly less interesting. A realistic newspaper headline might have been:
Old man shows up to non-event, few interested.
Now even before this happened, The Escape Artist was not so naive as to think that politicians didn’t stage-manage events and try to spin the news agenda in their favour. But it’s still revealing to see it first hand.
One of the great things about escaping from The Prison Camp is the gift of getting your own mind back. Now, part of the reason I can do that because I don’t have to pretend in meetings that I’m fabulously well informed about current events. But even if you are not yet financially independent, you can stop watching the news. People love to chat and so if anything important happens, someone will always tell you about it.
My “No News is Good News” policy led to some comedy moments when I explained it to others. A few years ago, The Escape Artist was at a Surrey dinner party. The conversation was going smoothly until we got onto The Important Subject of Current Affairs.
Concern was earnestly expressed at the threat from Middle Eastern terrorism which had recently been in the news. The Escape Artist was asked for his view on this terrifying threat and replied honestly that I dealt with this issue by cunningly not living in Iraq, not watching the news and not worrying about irrelevant things that I can’t control.
Cue shock and general outrage!
The Good People of Surrey expressed the view that The Escape Artist had a duty to watch The News and keep up with developments in global terrorism. Hhhmmm. At that time I was working in corporate finance and I’m pretty sure there was nothing about monitoring global terrorism in my job spec.
A lot of people are clearly confused on this point, so let me clarify. You have a duty to keep up with latest developments in global terrorism if your job is any of the following:
- President or Prime Minister of a major country
- Head of Homeland Security
- Head of MI5 / MI6 / CI5 / SAS etc etc
- Head of The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation
- Secretary of The UN Security Council
- Chief of Interpol
It would be nice if everyone else could just get on with their own jobs.
It’s impossible to know whether my flagrant disregard of terrorism in the Surrey suburbs has endangered me. What I do know for sure is that, since that dinner party, not once have I have been blown up by terrorists.
Now, the office workers at that dinner party would have you believe that their watching The News has kept me safe the last 5 years.
Me? I’m not so sure about that 😉