My mother's motto was, "You are what you eat." Actually, it was gospel rather than a motto. I think she just about stopped short of painting it on the kitchen wall!
When I was a child, I hated eating avocado. The green slipperiness of it made me want to hide in the bathroom. When it was the last food left on my plate, my mother would sing its healthy praises, while reminding me that I wasn't going anywhere until I had eaten it.
Today, I eat avocado, but it's still not my favorite food. However, I've learned to accept and embrace that what we put into our bodies is important if we want to get the most out of them.
A healthy diet is essential to a healthy mind and body. The nutritional content of what we eat is absorbed into our cells, and thus, our composition.
Some people find it very hard to break the junk food habit. As soon as the fix wears off, they crave more. And the common outcome is a cycle of fatigue, headaches and feeling "down."
But food is just one of the things that we consume, and only one of the things that has the power to influence and shape us.
"Where you will sit when you are old shows where you stood in youth."Yoruba proverb
Last year, during the height of pandemic lockdown, I became fixated with the news. I felt as if I had to know, hour by hour, what the COVID statistics looked like for countries around the world.
While I was scrolling the pandemic headlines, I invariably saw other news headlines as well. And, you know how it goes: you see a headline, you click, you read, see another headline, click, read... a phenomenon we've covered on the Mind Tools blog, known as "doomscrolling."
News sites were one part of that consumption. My beloved Facebook? Well, that became an animal (or virus) of a whole different kind!
At first, the conspiracy theories made me laugh, and then they made me indignant. Who were these people who dared spread such nonsense, or try to take advantage of less-informed people?
Like the dutiful nerd that I am, I endeavored to help by pointing people to credible sources and scientific studies. But I soon discovered that some people had no interest in facts: they preferred to believe that 5G, villainous billionaires, and secretive cabals were responsible for all the woes and viruses in the world.
I soon realized that neither doomscrolling nor conspiracy battling were doing me any good. I had to take action to protect my well-being, and set time limits on news sites and social media apps.
I have, for many years – doomscrolling aside! – been fussy with what I read, watch and listen to. (Blame my mother, she was strict like that.)
I don't much like watching television because I don't like the "fakeness" of most of it, and I often feel drained, even depressed, after watching a TV show.
I love reading, but I mind what I read, because I've noticed how much books influence how I think. I'm also mindful of podcasts for the same reason.
Even the music we listen to can increase or decrease our energy. I know there's music that definitely doesn't help me to get into the mood for a good workout! Other songs make me want to dance spontaneously. I also have "motivational songs," and they're not from a particular artist or for that purpose. They're just everyday songs that make me feel ready to take on the world.
One of my friends often says, "Show me the five people who are closest to you, and I will show you who you will be in five years."
We can't help becoming like the people we associate with. How often do we hear, "He/she started hanging with the 'wrong' friends"? We don't hear that sentence because something good has happened.
Not all "bad" company will corrupt you. Some people simply drain your energy – energy that you could have used more productively and positively.
An energy vampire of a different kind is the one that could live between your ears. You are the one who consumes everything you say to yourself, and you "hear" every thought in your own mind.
That's reason enough to be vigilant about your thoughts, and to question the truth of what you're thinking. My first go-to question is, "Is this the truth, or is it my perception?" The second one is, "How is my thinking helping me right now?"
What we eat, think, read, watch, and listen to, and who we spend time with, are all things that we "consume." In our #MTtalk Twitter chat on Friday, we talked about how what we consume becomes part of us, and why it's important to be mindful of our consumption.
Here are the questions we asked, and a selection of participant responses:
Q1. Why do we talk about content "consumption" – and what are the parallels with our food and drink?
@chase_csc If we eat bad foods, we will get sick. It's similar to consuming content: if we consume negative content, it will also affect our mindset.
@Dwyka_Consult It's visible if people don't consume good mental material. Their level of thinking and conversation will give it away. Just like our bodies show what we put into them.
Q2. How do you choose the content you consume? What strategies do you use (if any)?
@PG_pmp Relevance and area of interest.
@DrKashmirM No WhatsApp, newspapers in first 30 minutes in morning; instead prayers and meditation.
Q3. How much do other people influence what you consume?
@ThakoreVu People try to sell what is best for them. What we want to consume is our choice. Stick to your interest and plan.
@SizweMoyo Except the random people I follow on Twitter for entertainment purposes, only people and groups that have earned my trust influence what I consume. They are the ones whose external links I'll follow and look into in detail.
Q4. What format do you most like to consume content in? Why do you like it?
@J_Stephens_CPA I prefer to read when possible, but driving and cooking are some great times for listening to a book (or podcast).
@JKatzaman If I'm online, I'll look at news articles or tweets. There are also YouTube videos. Of course, I get good mileage from Twitter chats. In semi-real life, I'll catch what's on TV news programs.
Q5. How did you first become aware that you need to be mindful of what you consume?
@SustainedLeader I've always been an inquisitive, constant learner. I am always on the lookout for "what's next." The supply is endless! It is very important to curate your intellectual intake.
@Dwyka_Consult I heard a voice in my head that sounded like someone whom I didn't want to sound like – and it was because I didn't consume a diverse range of material. If I wanted to be different, I would have to consume differently!
Q6. At what point does consuming content become toxic?
@llake When it's argumentative and divisive, meant to deliberately inflame rather than pique interest.
@nitinwelde The creator has created what they wanted to. The toxicity comes from the negative effect/ impact it has on us. So I may say the content is toxic when it triggers negativity etc in us. It’s not the consumption but the after processing that needs thought.
Q7. How can we avoid cancel culture or banning books if we divide content into "healthy" and "unhealthy"?
@Midgie_MT It's about becoming more selective and making conscious choices, rather than simply letting an algorithm present suggestions.
@MicheleDD_MT Educate children & adults on media literacy. Discern what's behind the content by knowing who wrote it, their intentions and point of view.
Q8. How has your content consumption affected your career so far?
@virtudeskcom As you consume content like reading books, you add value to yourself. On the other hand, if you consume toxicity, then you stress yourself out. As we learn to identify what's valuable and not, we learn ethics.
@pavelStepanov77 As I read books, I learned more. I grow professionally and learn strategies on how to manage my business effectively. I am now managing over 300 employees and [have] started developing products that offer solutions.
Q9. How can you improve the quality of the content you consume?
@SizweMoyo Thinking further about the content you consume – raising questions and discussing the answers more deeply – will help improve the quality of the content you've consumed, because you're not just taking it in, but processing and maybe adding new perspectives.
@Yolande_MT Learn to question. Don't just ingest: question the source, the agenda/motive of the content creator, the platform where it's published.
Q10. What mental food will you consistently and intentionally consume in future, and why?
@temekoruns Purpose-led and purpose-filled journeys require content that will move the needle and help me create a plan and implement actions to improve circumstances.
@ColfaxInsurance Content on controversial topics, to try and see both sides, especially if I feel strongly about the topic. I do this to help train myself to stay calm and think rationally, so I can make better decisions and help the other party feel heard as well.
To read all the tweets, see the Wakelet collection of this chat, here.
Smartphones allow us to consume more content, more often. Our devices, plus the added issue of working from home, often blur the boundaries between our personal and professional lives – including what it means to take leave. In our Twitter poll this week, we want to know how you handle emails and message channels when you're on leave.
In the meantime, here are some resources that explore "You Are What You Consume." (Some of these may only be available in full to members of the Mind Tools Club and to Mind Tools for Business licensees.)
Fresh is the key ingredient to every start. In our upcoming #MTtalk Twitter chat, we will be discussing fresh starts and managing new beginnings.
See the best responses from our latest Twitter Talk on holiday highs and lows - discussing the best and worst of the winter holiday season!
"It's learning to balance push and pull, holding on and letting go, being there without smothering."