How to Deal with Health “Noise”

NoiseAmong the most important truths I’ve come to believe over time is the need to be selective in life. Selective with relationships. Selective with experiences. Selective with purchases. Selective with information. Selective with messages (whether they come from outside sources or, on occasion, my own head). Like it or not, we have limited time and energy in a day – and in a life. While some people respond to this fact with frantic scurrying or a miserly parsing out of minutes, I’ve found the best approach for me is to winnow what I want or need to give attention to what’s most important. It’s part spirit of simplicity and part defense of sanity, particularly when you consider the deluge of bad news and marketing distraction that would snatch up every waking moment. Yet, it’s also more than that – Primally speaking. To maintain and enjoy my Primal lifestyle, I appreciate being able to live it with as much peace, space and clarity as I can. The more I can reduce the static – those extraneous and contradictory messages – regarding health matters, the more effortlessly and clearly I can tune into the programming I want to embrace in life. But what does that process look like, and how do I apply it? To be fair, what’s the difference between a selective and discerning perspective and just a closed mind? Let’s take this apart.

The fact is, pursuing a life of genuine health and well-being requires a steady mind – especially in the world of 24-hour news programming and the talking head culture that it’s spawned. Not only do we fend off the chicken littles that make a monumental crisis out of every molehill, but we can get quickly swept off course with every contradictory headline, sidetracked by questions or findings that are founded in nothing but a punched-up talking point. Even aside from the media circus, there’s the everyday path of casual conversation and inevitable observations as I navigate the regular world. The potentially diverting influences are there, too – everything from the well-meaning warning about bacon fat shared by some random acquaintance to the blogosphere discussions about the latest diet book in which everyone is sharing their opinion, from the latest critique of paleo to the restaurant menus or conference buffets that could seal me off in a corner of eccentric limitation if I let them. I could devote mental bandwidth to these events, but why?

Harvard researcher and writer Shawn Achor picks up on the selective imperative in his book Before Happiness: The 5 Hidden Keys to Achieving Success, Spreading Happiness and Sustaining Positive Change. Among his suggested five skills is “noise canceling,” the premise being that we we’re bombarded by stimuli and messages that not only absorb our time and mental energy but that hamper our attunement to the inputs that can further our goals. In essence, we want free space for clear reception rather than the draining intake of busy static.

Achor specifically defines four criteria to use for identifying the unimportance of much information we encounter in a day: unusable for behavior change, untimely for choices you’re going to make in the short-term, hypothetical in nature and distracting from your personal goals.

Let that sink in for a minute. Think about how long you’ve been living Primally and what it took to get here. If you’re still “in process,” think about what these criteria mean for you right now. Assess what you’re exposed to in a given day – what you choose to read, notice, hear, discuss. How much do those criteria apply to the health, diet, recipe, exercise, well-being, stress or lifestyle information that you pick up on in any part of a given day? How has that answer changed for you in the last year? Would you like to see it shift further? Where do you feel extraneous input still taking up space? What sources does it come from?

Pulling back from external influences, what goes on in your own mind that distracts you from the change you want to make? Have you made peace with embracing an approach that requires different choices around certain conventional activities, or does that conflict or small trail of daily frustrations impose its own emotional noise?

Finally, while we can certainly choose to be selective about our media exposure (e.g. what magazines we subscribe to, what sources we read online, what we keep in our Facebook feed) and in the “live” world choose to not join every argument we’re invited to, I think there’s something else that is especially pertinent to health and living outside the noise – something I hear a lot about from people who write me. So often we get get caught up in amassing information about a particular health path. Sure, some people are rabid collectors of information. Their obsession for accumulating knowledge and strategies and resources often hampers their genuine action. Aside from this more extreme display, however, I think many of us at times loiter comfortably in the sidelines of learning and reading more. While I’m all for becoming informed, I believe we can easily miss the central point if we can’t rein in our informational and even conversational intake. Sometimes the “noise” we need to cut out is our own thinking that we don’t know enough yet, that we’re not ready to begin yet, that something is still missing.

If we think of the opposite of “noise” as space, we can see that the space is ours to fill – with self-experimentation, with self-study, with play – playing at being Primal in this way or that. Do we allow ourselves that amount of attention – and freedom? We can earnestly attempt to set up the perfect circumstances, cover all our bases, subtract out other distractions, but the most potent and radical thing we can do to cancel out the extraneous is to make no emotional or logistical room for it – to start living – and keep expanding. The best answer for tuning out the “noise” may be to be boisterous enough living as Primally as we can today.

Thanks for reading, everyone. What do you think of the “noise” concept? Has going Primal made you read or live more selectively – or boisterously, for that matter? Have a great end to your week.

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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50 thoughts on “How to Deal with Health “Noise””

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  1. I was just talking to a client about this issue and I believe it’s a huge one for all people who take any interest in health. For me, now that I feel really comfortable with my diet and lifestyle, I really just tune out the majority of info on health and focus on how I feel, plain and simple. When I wasn’t feeling well, I was vulnerable to every bit of info out there, but now I feel centered and confident that I have it right.

  2. Mark,

    You are steadily and successfully getting into the cognitive/evolutionary psychology/philosophical side of life. I like where you are going.


    1. I agree. I really love these posts that have less to do with diet and exercise and focus instead on the less talked about (but, in my opinion, equal or more important) aspects of health.

  3. I use a newsfeed app to pull down just the blogs I am interested in. This really concentrates the info I want in one clean space. I have added, occasionally dropped blogs and reordered the list. Every day I hit my core concerns and do as like and have time for after that.

  4. Perhaps these thoughts are all part of a primal process and as we grow along these paths of exploration we redefine the meaning to something that is most perfectly where we want to go, where we are now and the flight in between.

  5. “Sadhana” is a conscious activity to do a daily practice that discplines the mind and body to serve oneself. Typically one-tenth of your day (~2.5 hours) is spent in the morning (ideally ambrosial hours) doing a combination of exercises, breathing, and meditation to clear the minds garbage. The goal is not to experience nothingness. The goal is to let your mind freely do its thing, to stress the bodies glandular system, and to let the meditation clear the subconscious. Doing this aligns the mind/body connection and prepares a person to better handle daily stressors that will happen. Making time to do this in the morning for even 30 minutes is difficult, but daily practice will make a person stronger each day.

    1. Thanks for this comment. I’d never heard of Sadhana and have been doing some research on it after reading what you posted. What I found was, at best, vague. Could you be a little more specific regarding the Sadhana practices that work for you?

      1. There are many kriyas (physical rountines) that can be done. Search for “morning kriyas” and a really good one shows up at 3HO. You might want to look for a kundalini yoga teacher to learn the poses and to work on your breathing. The latter sounds silly, learning to breathe, but you’d be surprised how many people breathe incorrectly- it is called paradoxical breathe.

  6. “If you don’t believe in something, you’ll fall for anything.” – Emile Cammaerts.

    We certainly should not be closed-minded, but using our individual experiences of life will teach us truth and if we are steadfast and loyal to what is true, the other clutter will not bother us so much.

      1. What is truth? It’s our N=1, for lack of a better term. Different truths? None of us knows THE truth, absolutely. We live experimentally and can come to understand only a portion of truth, based on the results of our individual experimentation. Until my understanding is challenged by different results, my steadfastness will divert the clutter of others’ understanding of truth.

        1. I don’t know that there IS a one truth, except maybe in religion, where people find the need to have just one truth to simplify things.

          Of course, getting people to believe in just one truth is how you keep a united flock. For how long, nobody knows.

      2. What the representatives of democracy say, so lets go bomb Iraq. There are two sides to the story and the truth in the middle, I was once told. You and your can o worms 😉

      3. Just because two people have different perceptions does not change the truth. Truth is what is. How we perceive it may be all over the map, but reality is reality. It is a symptom of confused thinking to think otherwise, in my opinion.

      4. “What is Truth” embodies the argument of ‘relativism’ and is a self defeating concept. The statement itself is an objective truth that claims there is no objective truth. Two things cannot both be and not be at the same time. I am not both alive and dead (in an absolute and literal sense) at the same time.

        Having subjective views of an objective truth does not suddenly invalidate the objective truth. You simply end up with a view(s) that line(s) up with the way things “really are”, and another/others that veer from that reality.

        The whole point of this site is based on seeking truth. Mark seeks out facts, dispels lies and opinion, and from his research develops an outline for health and wellness supported by evidence (and an army of testimonies).

        “What is Truth” is a statement meaning nothing. It is also coincidentally or not what Pontius Pilate asked Jesus.

        Seek Truth.

        1. Truth versus fact versus perception. Are they all one and the same? IMO, a fact is indisputably what is, at least until further research proves that it isn’t. On the other hand, truth depends heavily on perception and can vary considerably. One person’s truth is often another person’s lie, unless that truth is also a fact. (heh-heh)

        2. I’d rather seek FACT, since “truth” can be interpreted so many ways.

      5. I think that’s what John meant when he said, “using our INDIVIDUAL experiences of life will teach us truth”. (My caps.)

        The word “truth” comes from the Old English “tr?ewth”, “tr?owth” meaning “faithfulness, constancy”. Again, open to individual interpretation, and based on one’s own experiences.

        However, I do believe there are “universal truths”, otherwise known as instinct, intuition, gut feeling, haragei, etc.

        We lose touch with these universal truths when we blindly accept “facts”, which can be manipulated to suit one’s own purposes.

        If the facts say one thing and my gut says another, I’ll go with my gut (my truth).

  7. I believe everyone makes the time to do exactly what’s most important to them, wether that’s sitting on the couch eating junk food and watching TV, or climbing a mountain. Everything else is an excuse of some sort.

    1. Not that simple especially when endorphins controlling our HPA axis which has been around a lot longer than our cerebral cortex (which controls our will power). Our emotions, addictions, stresses, etc.. often trump our will. I know so many out of shape people who seem to know everything regarding exercise, diet and truly desire to be fit because of its importance in their health but their will power is no match for their out of control habits detrimental to their health.

  8. I have successfully blocked out all extraneous subreddits. Now all I have is r/fitness, r/paleo, r/keto, and r/aww.

  9. Great post, Mark.

    Newsfeed for me conjures up a domesticated food animal in a battery farm. Searching for information out of curiosity, which may be too easily diverted, seems to be a relatively healthy if not completely efficient activity. Being a passive consumer of feed seems an Orwellian obligation and nightmare.

    It’s difficult for me to watch TV with the constant scrolling at the bottom of the screen. Where I live, a Chinese speaking country, they have horizontal and vertical scrolling on news programs. Ha! Chinese is so much more flexible. This is all an affront to the senses. Watching television, especially sports, in a 2.35 aspect ratio, happily eliminates the constant scroll and I can focus on the game or event at hand.

    In a traditional society, most of these lessons on how to live a good life would have been acquired early on as one passes through the rites of passage. In an information society, there is a constant reassessment, mostly over trifles, as counter-intuitive findings are championed to feed the voracious appetite of the attention hungry media-machine, or the economic imperatives of the folks running the show.

    Like the battery farm, information feed is stressful. Having the latest nutrition and exercise tips is useful, but defeating stress is half the battle. Somewhere between imperfect information and heavenly silence is a balance most productive of health and happiness. But in our current information age, this requires active filtering and trust in those information sources that have met our due diligence.

    Like MDA, for example.

  10. Mark probably wants to filter out the annoying voice of Dana McDonald. Come to think of it, we all should, I know I did.

    I am less hyperactive than I used to be (on my 50/50) but that might all be in my head, or I am not listening to myself.

    Some people need to think more: not less.

    There is an extra “we” in the text, I think.

    I don’t have a TV at the moment. Do I get bonus points for that?

    1. Some people need to think more: not less.

      So true! Some need TO START thinking. Too many are just mindless robots with one goal only: money. Then they fritter it away on junk (food, time- and energy-wasters, etc.)

      I don’t have a TV at the moment. Do I get bonus points for that?

      I haven’t had one since 2011–we both get bonus points.

  11. Good post, but:

    There is a lot of irony in a column advocating focus and selectivity — when almost every paragraph has one or more web links!

    It’s kinda a pet peeve, but I am increasingly annoyed with writers who can’t mention something without linking to it. A link is ALWAYS a mental distraction from the sentence it interrupts: should I click now? Come back to it when I’m done? Do I need to read the link to understand what I am reading right now?

    I like links at the end of an article, virtual footnotes, references ‘for more information.’
    But I am weary of links that are required to understand a sentence that is otherwise opaque, that merely refers to something mysteriously in such a way that surely make the reader feel like an uninformed outsider. I believe an article should be all-but self-contained, comprised of sentences that build on each other — not on outside articles and other sources.

    Again, good article, but it’s actual presentation seems so at odds with its inherent message that it provoked this mini-rant…

    1. Make yourself a rule, such as: never click a link until I have finished the article. it works for me, even though I choose to never follow the rule. I maintain the illusion of free will.

    2. You’re forgetting the newbies that might need the additional help.

    3. Sometimes links in an article are Search Engine Spam or distractions, but they often serve very useful purposes:

      1.) Evidence supporting an assertion: Sometimes, it’s nice to see the study or other evidence, and sometimes, I don’t care. I can click or not click.

      2.) If I don’t really know what a word means, or who a person is, a Wiki reference or link to a biographical page can help me to understand the article.

      3.) A link to a video can show the page visitor a concept that can be hard to grasp verbally. I’d rather see a short YouTube that demonstrates an exercise than read a long verbal explanation.

  12. I’ve always had this issue until now. Paleo has given me clarity and a strong sense of intuition when it comes to my health. I just “get it” now without too much thought. Gotta love it!

  13. On the other side of the coin, however, if I had lackadaisically stayed in the SPACE I was in (which had all the coca cola and Little Debbie Snack Cakes I could eat) I would not have stumbled across MDA. If we are not exploring we might miss what the truth is. So the proper place to be is somewhere between space and noise….where Liitle Debbie can’t find me.

  14. I love this post about being selective. I heard someone talking on the radio the other day and it was so-so interesting until they mentioned the word ‘mindfulness’. They said that we need to approach all we do in life with mindfulness, at all times. It got me thinking – and now I’ve just stumbled across your blog. Serendipity – and the impetus I need to start changing my life. Thank you!

  15. Too often, we lose sight of the primary purpose of “news,” on the TV, Radio, Print or Internet: To make a profit.

    I’ve known some people who work in local TV news, and it’s interesting to hear what they saw as their daily objective: Fill the time in the cheapest possible way. If you dispatch a camera person, satellite truck, and correspondent, you spent the money, so there’s going to be a story when they arrive. Even if there’s no story. Otherwise, the expenses exceed the ad revenue.

    It’s no different on CNN, Fox, or Labor is a costly resource; you need to produce content around the clock, and you must present the image that it’s breaking news of vital importance. Viewer outrage and panic are important, because anger and fear are addictive emotions that will keep them tuning back in for their daily fix.

    What’s labeled as an “outrage” is often predictable human nature: Some politician took a bribe, some businessperson lied to the public to make a quick buck, some subdivision of government is run inefficiently, somebody had sex with somebody they weren’t supposed to. Thus it was in Babylon 4300 years ago, and in ancient Rome; thus it is today. It’s not “outrageous,” and it’s not news. Half the time, the story is factually incorrect, it’s just plausible enough to sound true.

    The question is: Do you want to be outraged? Do you want to be distracted? How does that help you, or anyone else? Are you losing your money, your life, and your health, because you are hooked on watching their show, or visiting their site, and boosting their page views or ratings? Is news causing your adrenal fatigue?

  16. Long story short, there is a ton of garbage and useless information along with people trying to create issues out of thin air to sell you a superior product and supplement!

    Just a piece of what you meant, but yes… it’s a big deal.. less internet, more nature.

    1. So you mean that “Cow n Gate” follow up milk ( with 50000 items in its ingredient list and shelf life of a year ) for toddlers isn’t necessary for their survival???!!!
      but the babies in the advert seem so happy and their mums can ditch breast feeding already after 6 months and then slowly buy that awesome healthy organic mashed baby food in little jars that don’t need a fridge for like 2 years to stay fresh….is that all a lie?!

  17. What a great article. I can immediately apply this to my email in-box! I get so much email – good, junk, ads, potential info, solicitations – it’s overwhelming. So much so that I scan today’s email and avoid the rest and then it sits there. I see the number of emails. Ugh. It haunts me. It is NOISE! So today, after I type this, I’m going to delete it all. I’ve responded and saved the stuff I need already. So I’m going to turn off the NOISE. Thanks!

  18. Yes there is a huge amount of conflicting information out there. It takes time to go over everything and reach a perspective that you believe to be true. When you are just starting out you can’t simply assume that any one person is right; you need to look at other sides of the argument too. To further complicate matters many people take a stance based more on a moral perspective than on what actually works. And also what works and is good for one person may not necessarily be good for another. So as you say you need to self-experiment a bit too.

  19. There’s a fascinating book called “Thinking Fast and Slow” written by a Nobel prize-winning indidivudual, Daniel Kahneman. He is a specialist in human decision making. In his exhaustive research, he has teased out what seems to be magnificent blind spots in intuitive decision making. His contention is that our intuition is remarkably accurate the vast majority of the time. However, in a significant number of cases, we are all subject to multiple blindnesses that evolution has built into our consciousness. The intuitive is always easy. Thinking hard about something is hard work, and, since we are inherently lazy, we naturally succomb to the path of least resistance. We are, for example, remarkable dense as a species when it comes to the accurate assessment of statistical truths. We also continually believe that “what we see is all there is” to a specific problem set. Our primitive brains, including (among other regions/systems) the brain stem, hypothalamus, hippocampus, and amygdala all seem to be driving behavior, with the cerebral cortex lagging far behind. Of course we need to honor intuition, and go with the flow, but we also need to work hard to tease truth with a lower-case “t” from out of hiding by using our intellect.

  20. I am focussing on adding good things instead of focussing on avoiding bad things. Mark’s post gets that idea in there too when he says “keep expanding”. Eating more vegetables is my goal right now so I try to use my energy finding ways to do that rather than thinking too much about the non-primal things I ate yesterday (sugar). Also I could give my loved ones books about paleo instead of talking to them about it…