You are what you eat, they say. And of course, they’re right. The food you consume is literally broken down so that it can become the material to build your body – your bones, skin, muscle, and more.
But what about your mind? After all, you aren’t merely a body. You are a person, with thoughts and feelings that drive your actions. But where do those thoughts and feelings and behaviors come from? Mind food, of course. Just like your body, your mind also needs to be fed.
Unlike physical food, however, we receive mental food involuntarily – through our eyes and ears, from our smart devices and the people we meet. Mind food is literally everywhere, and we can’t completely shut it out, like we can with physical food (that’s called fasting). But like physical food, not all mind food is good for you.
Although we cannot avoid being exposed to all kinds of mind food, the key is to curate your mental inputs. Make sure your feed yourself high-quality mind food on a regular basis, and you will see the effects on your worldview, behavior, and life quality. So how do you find or create high-quality mind food?
Consult Wise, Trustworthy Advisers
Pay attention to the ideas and stories of respected role models in your life. Listen to their talks, read their books, and spend time with them in person if you can. We are all learners on this journey called life. Those who have the attitude of a student are more able to learn, to grow, to avoid mistakes and be successful.
So pick a few good mentors (in your life, and in the public arena) and pay attention. Choose the right people – only those who are where you want to be. Let these people polish your ideas.
Offer to be the coffee boy or run “lowly errands” just so you can be close to people you want to influence you. You can also look at people you DON’T want to be like and ask them what mistakes they made (they may not know it’s a mistake though – but you do), and then avoid all of their mistakes.
Read Good Books
“Words are the raw materials of thoughts. When spoken or read…the mind automatically converts words and phrases into mind pictures.” – David Schwartz, The Magic of Thinking Big
“Good” doesn’t always mean popular or fun to read. Good books must have both truthful, helpful content and (preferably) strong style. There are two kinds of books: Informational and Transformational. That is, some books give you useful information, others transform your way of thinking. The best books give you a bit of both.
This metnalhealthamerica.net article says to feel free to skim and determine whether the book is interesting and helpful before settling in and reading (I often read the introduction, and sometimes the conclusion to see if the material is relevant). When you find a good book, see what other books/authors are referenced in the boook and read those first.
Who are the people you admire and what kind of books do they read? Lots of people recommend booklists. Just google your role model’s name and “book list” and you will likely find several great suggestions.
Read widely. Try out ideas that run counter to yours – challenge your worldview. If it’s a true and helpful worldview, it will only grow stronger. If it fails the test of truth, you should be glad to be rid of it anyway.
I also usually tend to finish books I start, but others sometimes advise quitting books that aren’t helping anymore, which I think is good advice. Not all books are 100% helpful. So skip the sections that aren’t relevant to you, and if you find a book that isn’t good for you, don’t waste your time. Toss it and pick a better one.
Remember that books are either informational or transformational? Well, nonfiction is usually more informational, and good fiction is transformational.
Nonfiction uses history, research, authoritative advice to give you useful tips.
Fiction brings you through a story arc leaving you changed along with the protagonist.
Both can be extremely helpful, because living well requires both knowledge (information) and wisdom (transformation). Sometimes, some people may find fiction a “waste of time,” but not if you’re reading the right books.
As long as choose the right books and aren’t abusing fiction books for pure escapism, novels can help change your life for the better. After you’ve read high-quality books, figure out a way to remember the most useful stuff you read: If you can, apply the lessons you’ve learned right away. If you need to store the information for a later time, come up with a system to do so:
For example, psychologytoday.com notes that you should highlight and write detailed book reviews. Or you can use Ryan Holiday’s index card method, which he picked up from mentor Robert Greene. This type of filing system is more relevant for when you read those nonfiction “informational” books. With transformational books, the idea is transformation, so instead of focusing on collecting quotes, let the book engage your heart and change your viewpoint.
Keep an idea file and REVIEW IT REGULARLY
“He who learns but does not think is lost! He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.” – Confucius
In addition to having a system to remember important information you read, include a way to incorporate important ideas you come across in day to day life. But remember: hoarding ideas is useless if you forget them and never put them to use. So review them regularly.
Regularly doesn’t mean every day (though it could). Just make it a habit. Once a week? Once a month? Pick a recurring time and a good, undisturbed place, and do it regularly.
Hone your Listening Skills
“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway
Listening allows you to learn from everyone. And it also has the added benefit of making you more likable (think about it. Most people like to talk about themselves, but how many like to listen to you talk about yourself?) Be humble. Always assume that the other person’s thoughts are more important than your own.
After all, you’re used to your thoughts. They, on the other hand might spout some gem while talking, and if you’re not careful you’ll miss it. Don’t just hear; listen. Hearing is thinking about what you want to say. Listening is actually considering what others say. Actively consider other people’s words, thoughts, opinions. Make it your objective to learn from everyone you talk to – because you can.
You can learn what to do/think from those better off than you, and what not to do/think from those worse off than you. Everyone you meet is a potential teacher, so listen up!
How to Make More Mind Food
“For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate.” – Margaret Heffernan
Ideas are slippery, so pin them down while you can! Test ideas. Tie ideas together. See which ones work. Let them grow together. Weed out the unhelpful ones. You understand better the things you teach/communicate to others. After all, Ernest Rutherford once stated
An alleged scientific discovery has no merit unless it can be explained to a barmaid.
In other words, if you don’t know how to teach an idea, you don’t know it well enough. So if you want to truly understand something, you have to teach it. We all need to have our ideas and worldviews tested now and then. Find a respectful, worthy opponent to bandy ideas and see which ones can stand the test. The key is to be respectful, and really listen. It helps if your opponent is a friend as well.
Nabeel Qureshi and David Wood were college classmates and friends with very different worldviews. They were both dedicated to their beliefs, yet great friends with one another. The two spent half a dozen years passionately debating religious topics – reading each others’ religious books, consulting outside experts, but never allowed this to get in the way of their friendship. We all need to learn how to test our ideas as vigorously as these two did.
Plato once said: the unexamined life is not worth living. Similarly, untested ideas are not worth keeping. So test your ideas, your thoughts, your worldviews with a worthy opponent. The debate will help you refine your perspective and give you even more mind food to munch on.
You are Your Own Chef
“You only have control over three things in your life – the thoughts you think, the images you visualize, and the actions you take.” – Jack Canfield
Just as eating healthy food makes you look and feel healthy while eating junk food over time will cause you to look and feel unhealthy, certain ideas are harmful and dangerous while others are helpful and life-giving. People who want to be physically healthier watch their diets and eat more healthy food than junk food. When you treat your mental inputs like food and make sure you are “eating healthy mind food,” you will find your mind growing healthier as well.
With the right mental inputs, not only will you be smarter and more well-educated, you’ll be more creative, have a clearer perspective, and be mentally healthy. So stop mindlessly letting your brain absorb random (usually unhealthy) mind food and deliberately feed it high-quality ideas and attitudes, and you will be able to transform yourself from the inside out.