“I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across.”
You know who said that? Sherlock Holmes, that’s who. Then again, he also bragged about turning orphans into spies, and spent a big chunk of the his adventures high. Wait… Is it too late for me to ask you to forget that example? Damn.
Let’s face it: we are what we think. Our thoughts drive our actions, emotions, decisions, and just about everything else. It’s why motivational videos about kittens make us smile, while music videos with celebrities crying into the camera make us sad.
Our personality and beliefs are shaped by these thoughts. And where do most of our thoughts come from? The environment. From the role models we see on TV, in our homes, in literature, or culture.
Let’s take an example.
When I was in Kindergarden, I used to build these big towers out of blocks. These weren’t just your everyday, run of the mill towers. I’m talking spirals, pirouettes, domes -- the whole shebang. One day, after I was putting the finishing touches on a wooden skyscraper, my teacher, Ms. S, walked over to me and said I was like a little architect. That made five-year old Patrick very happy. The towers were pretty good. Maybe I could be an architect!
But then I watched King Kong, and decided I’d rather be a plane-smashing monkey the size of a tank. The rest is history.
Anyway, the point is, thoughts don’t come out of thin air.
We’re brainwashing ourselves with information everyday, whether we like it or not. There’s no way to avoid it, it’s just how people are. A teacher says we can do something, and we can. A big monkey destroys a city, and we want to jump on the bandwagon. And it doesn’t end when we reach adulthood -- these forces shape us for our entire lives. Think about how much travel can change a person, or finding a new friend circle. The environment never stops rubbing off on us.
The subconscious is like a big sponge, molding our personality and thoughts from whatever it soaks up. From whatever’s around.
But what if you could CHOOSE what your subconscious absorbed, brainwashing yourself into becoming the kind of person you want to be? You’d be able to change your personality, outlook, and self-concept just by thinking. The good news is, you can! No drugs or orphans required.
An information diet is choosing the type and amount of media you consume. The idea is that if you take in positive, thoughtful information, while avoiding the negative or less-than important stuff, you’ll only be shaped by the positive info.
It’s not going to be easy. You’ll have to harness your will, change your thought-process, and basically give the middle finger to conventional wisdom.
Going on an information diet is recognizing that most news, TV, and media, are bullshit, and that you’re much better off without them. Sure, maybe they’re informative, or even a lot of fun, but if you’re goal is to live a happy, productive life, are they really helping? Probably not. News about celebrity overdoses or tragedy overseas might be really interesting, and maybe even make you more interesting to talk to. But will they help day-to-day? I doubt it. If all you get is a constant stream of disaster news and schadenfreude, it can be very difficult to stay focused or motivated.
“Ravenous Shark Eats Family of Four… INCLUDING The puppy!” will probably get a lot more hits than “Ravenous Shark Passes by family of four, just like it does every other 364 days of year,” but not a lot of sources are going to publish headline #2. Just because it’s educational, doesn’t mean it’s giving you an accurate picture of the world. And even if it did, why the hell does a puppy being eaten hundreds of miles away matter? Are you ever going to meet this puppy? Does your concern for the puppy make it any less unfortunate? Nope. It doesn’t.
On an information diet, you’ll have to go make a list of what media is helping, and what’s not. Which sources offer strong role models? Positive themes? Practical info you can use-day to day? Basically, the information diet is putting parental controls on your life.
It’s hard. It’s really hard. But if it means you get to take control of your thoughts, shaping yourself, isn’t that worth it? I’d say so.
Here’s a quick start guide:
Step 1: Ignore
Start by cutting out anything unnecessary. Make a list. This will probably include most social media, news outlets, and TV.
Stop reading about freak unicycle accidents and serial murderers who kill with a spoon.
Get your current events from other people, or set up a one hour chunk of time on the weekends where you can binge to your hearts content. That way, you’ll still get a good sense of what’s going on, without wasting too much time or energy.
Step 2: Forget
If you absolutely must learn something impractical or useless for school or work, do it in big chunks. That way, it’ll be fresh in your mind for the test or the meeting, but will quickly disappear and leave space for useful information.
Step 3: Learn
Now that you’ve eliminated all the negative influences, you’ll be left with just a few really great books, podcasts, shows, and news sources. Use those. use them over and over, until the concepts sink in.
Next, pick a role model, and read their autobiography. Odds are, some of their mindset will rub off, and you’ll be one step closer to the person you want to be.
Lastly, start priming yourself with positive speech. Search up ‘Motivational videos’ or ‘affirmations’ on youtube, and play it in the background. It might sound cheesy, but a lot of the ideas will rub off on you. Start read success stories from people trying to do the same thing you’re doing, learn from them, and put it into practice.
The information-diet is another counter-intuitive lifestyle changes that can make a big difference. If it’s too tough at the beginning, you can start small, just limiting your bad influences and spending more time on the good one. You don’t have to go cold turkey right off the bat.
There’s a lot of great info on this subject, but I think Tim Ferris’s book “The Four hour work Week,” along with his blog, cover it pretty thoroughly. I’ll leave that link, with facts and sourcing below.
Good luck, and happy brainwashing!
Tim Ferris: https://tim.blog/category/low-information-diet-and-selective-ignorance/
Priming Study: https://www.psychology.northwestern.edu/documents/faculty-publications/molden-priming_2014a.pdf
Affirmations and Positive Videos study: https://www.cmu.edu/homepage/health/2013/summer/benefits-of-self-affirmation.shtml