We've all heard the saying "you are what you eat" but perhaps less understood is how our information diet drives our thinking and actions—over the short and long-term.
We know that when we eat poorly, there is a clear reaction in our bodies—and minds. We feel bloated. Lethargic. We may not sleep well. We're cranky. And, if we keep eating poorly, even worse things happen. We gain weight. Our blood pressure rises. Cholesterol readings worsen. We become more susceptible to disease. And we may even shorten our life span.
Conversely, when we eat healthy, the reverse happens. We have more energy. Our mood brightens. And, over time, our bodies perform better, are less susceptible to disease, and may enable us to live longer.
What about our information diets? The content we consume every day? How is that shaping our thoughts, moods and actions?
Probably more than we think.
It's first worth noting that we are content consumption machines. Sometimes to an unhealthy point.
We all have our preferred mediums for ingesting information—television shows, podcasts, newspapers (do those still exist?), emails, social media posts, and on and on.
Many of us—myself included—take in content quite literally from the minute we wake up (emails & social media for me) to the minute we go to sleep (Kindle books, in my case).
And of course, the day is filled with content consumption hour-to-hour and minute-to-minute. Text messages, Facebook posts, business and personal emails, news articles, TV, etc. More, more, more.
It's relentless. For me, email and Twitter are almost impossible to resist checking. It borders on addiction. For others, it may be Facebook or cable news.
The pace of information coming at us is one concern. I wrote about this a few months back—how we need to find more quiet time. Time for thinking.
But it's not only the pace, it’s also the quality. To use the analogy of food again, sure, the frequency of our consumption matters. If we are eating every minute of the day, that's probably not going to do wonders for our health. But perhaps the quality is even more important—you can snack on kale all day long and probably still be okay. Do that with potato chips? Not so much.
So what is the quality of the information we are consuming? And what are the impacts of this consumption?
Just as there are direct, measurable impacts from the quality of the food we take in, there are clear, measurable impacts on our mental well-being from the information we allow into our brains. What comes in impacts what happens inside and what comes out.
Now, this is not an article in which I propose you only read 100-page academic white papers and shame you for watching Bachelor in Paradise. But more so one where I encourage you to consider what you're letting in and what that is doing for you—both positively and negatively.
For example, Bachelor in Paradise would be considered trashy TV by almost anyone's standards, but does that mean you shouldn't watch it? Not necessarily. Is it adding enjoyment to your life? Does it provide an hour of mindless escape that you value? Great, then it's serving a purpose. The same goes for social media. If you like watching TikTok videos or scrolling Instagram posts for an hour, and it's serving as entertainment, that's great. It's like having dessert. It's probably not going to kill you—as long as it's done in moderation.
But we may want to consider what the core of our information diets consist of. Like any well-balanced diet, we probably want to mostly consume things that are nutritious and make us feel good.
What is mentally nutritious? How about something that spurs wonder, excitement, or creativity? Something that inspires us. Or, at a minimum, informs us without negative side effects. A great book. A thoughtful podcast. A powerful movie. A well-written article.
Consuming this type of content as the "core" of our information diets can leave us inspired, motivated, moved, and better informed.
At the other end of the spectrum would be the not-so-healthy content. Social media posts, for instance, have often been described as the sugar of the digital world. In the way that we become addicted to sugar, we can become addicted to scrolling endlessly.
I'm personally not anti-social media. As I've mentioned, I'm more or less addicted to Twitter and while my frequency of use may be an issue, for me, it's a way to learn from subject-matter experts on topics from physical fitness to golf to writing, and on and on. It's also an incredibly powerful medium for idea-sharing. However, it is at the same time a place where vitriol can be spread relentlessly, and if you're not careful, you can easily get sucked up into arguments with complete strangers causing you stress, anxiety and anger. Not exactly the "nutritional" content I had in mind.
Of course, the other major offender especially in the heightened political environment we find ourselves living in today is cable news. The so-called “24-hour TV news networks” traffic in content that makes us angry, resentful and paranoid. They are of course incentivized not by how well they inform their viewers but rather by how many advertising dollars they can earn. And we know that controversy, arguments and outrage drive ratings, and the higher the ratings, the higher they can charge for those ads.
This is not a political newsletter and I don't intend it to become one. We’ve got enough political commentators in this world. But this concept is not a political one. It's the same story no matter your political affiliation or cable news channel of choice.
The question is: Are you willing to let content that is explicitly designed to induce feelings of outrage and anger comprise the core of your information diet?
That, of course, is a personal decision. My point is that we need to make these types of decisions eyes wide open, rather than blindly developing content consumption habits, and assuming that they are not causing real, measurable changes in our moods day-to-day, and even impacting our general sense of well-being, happiness, or contentment over the long term.
This article is not meant to be preachy. Rather, my goal here is to shed some light on something that we all contend with day-in and day-out: how much content we allow ourselves to consume, and perhaps more importantly, the "nutritional value" of such content.
Just being aware of this concept may help us to make (even small) changes around the edges—that may result in short-term improvements in our moods, and even long-term benefits to our overall happiness.
Now, if you'll excuse me, Bachelor in Paradise is about to start (don't judge me!).
Have a topic you’d like me to write about? Shoot me an email and let me know. I’m enjoying writing this personal improvement-focused newsletter and I want to make sure that I am delivering as much value to you as I possibly can. This week’s topic is a bit “meta” as I am trying to make Intentional Wisdom itself a “nutritious” piece of content for you to consume every week. Something that is positive, thought-provoking, and hopefully adds just a touch of value to your life. As always, thanks for reading, and please share with anyone who you think might have an interest in following along. It’s been awesome to see the subscriber list grow more and more every week and I appreciate you helping me to spread the word! - Greg
Photo credit: Awaneesh Kishore: https://unsplash.com/@awaneesh