4 Types of Mental ‘Noise’ You Should Ignore

UPDATED: December 16, 2019
PUBLISHED: December 11, 2019
mental noise

To me, noise is much more than just a distraction. Noise (false or misleading information) is something that can block out the signals (truly important things) you need in order to move toward positive growth. Noise can lead to a negative reality in which your potential is limited, while a positive signal can help you create a more valuable reality, map paths to success and accelerate you toward your goals.

Because of the sheer amount of information we’re exposed to each day, it isn’t always easy to hear the signal through the noise. If information coming into your brain fits just one of the following criteria, it’s almost certainly noise.

1. Unusable: Your behavior will not be altered by the information.

If the information won’t spur you to change your behavior, it is extraneous. Once you start applying this mental algorithm, you’ll realize that, sadly, most of the information that floods into your brain on a daily or even hourly basis fits into this category.

An excellent example is our tendency to obsess about events we see on the news. An earthquake in Burma, for example, is tragic, but completely out of your control. Unless you plan on doing something to help the victims, filling your day with updates on that story is nothing more than surrounding yourself with noise.

2. Untimely: You are not going to use that information imminently, and it could change by the time you do use it.

If you bought stocks you want to hold onto for the long run, then checking the NASDAQ every day is not only creating noise but wasting valuable mental resources and energy that could be spent doing something productive to create real wealth. If the information will become irrelevant by the time you’re ready to use it, then it’s noise.

3. Hypothetical: It’s based on what someone believes “could be” instead of “what is.”

Classic examples of this are most weather forecasts and stock market predictions. What if you could have back all of the minutes of your life you’ve spent listening to the predictions—90 percent of which turned out to be wrong? Hypothetical predictions, in almost all cases, are noise that drowns out useful information you could be using to make better decisions.

4. Distracting: It distracts you from your goals.

Think about the goals you have mapped for yourself: getting promoted, getting better grades, saving enough money to retire comfortably, being a good mother and so on. Now watch the flood of information coming. Does it relate to one of those domains? If your goal is to get your work done so you can spend more time with your family, for example, reading ESPN.com all afternoon is noise.

By separating useless noise from important signals, you’ll not only be primed to pay attention to what matters, but you’ll save an immense amount of time each day. I’d say that’s a win-win.

Related: 4 Keys to Eliminating Distractions

This article has been updated for freshness, as it appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Image by Elena Abrazhevich / Shutterstock

Shawn Achor is a Harvard-trained researcher and best-selling author of The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness. Get a daily dose of happy at Shawn's Facebook page.