It’s time to go on a (mental) diet!

In my last post, I took a look at the reasons why there is so much bad news in the world. But while the “whys” may be interesting, they don’t change the fact that feeding your mind negative material is bad for you. Through personal experience, I know that what you put into your mind has a huge impact on your attitude and outlook—and thus on the quality of your life.

Over time, I have consciously weeded out most of the mental “foods” that once brought me down and replaced them with a more empowering diet that challenges me in a healthy way. (If you’re curious about what sparked that quest, you can read the story here, in one of my earliest blog posts.) Being purposeful about what I feed my mind has transformed me from a stressed, insecure, self-absorbed, and perpetually anxious perfectionist into a more balanced, positive, and healthy guy. And the same thing can happen to you!

It’s really quite simple: If you’re surrounding yourself with positive, educational, and encouraging things, you’ll be happier and feel more balanced. But if you’re mainly exposed to concerning headlines, social media statuses that make you feel “less than,” and complaints from your coworkers, you’ll remain mired in negativity. Here’s how to break out of it and hardwire a more positive mental diet into your life.

*Cut out the “junk.” The first step in improving your outlook and mood is to cut out the “junk” in your mental diet. Be more mindful of how conversations, TV shows, books, etc. make you feel. If something makes you feel pessimistic, fearful, anxious, or just generally bad, then change the subject, turn off the TV, or close the book. (Honestly, turning your attitude’s tide is often just that simple: walking away from the problem!)

If it’s not feasible or desirable to totally remove yourself from something that’s flooding your mind with negativity, limit your exposure. For example, show up to staff meetings on time—but not significantly early—if you know that your boss likes to complain about how the “big guys in the corner offices” screw over everyone below them. Likewise, there’s no need to live in a current events-less bubble; just don’t leave the news channel on in the background all day.

*Choose some better “snacks.” Cutting out the junk is a great first step, but it’s not enough. If you really want to rewire your brain, you also have to actively feed it material that will help your inner optimist grow. Yes, I’m talking about motivational material, and, yes, I also understand that you may think it’s not for you. But bear with me and give this a shot. As I’ve said before, these resources changed my life, and they can change yours as well. (Click here for a list of some of my favorite things to read and listen to!)

Start by identifying an area in which you need or want the most help. For instance, would you like to be more optimistic? Do you spend a lot of your energy holding on to anger, resentment, and grudges? Are you often fearful of the future? Would you like to manage your stress more effectively? Whatever you think your most pressing “problem spot” might be, try to find a book, CD, or DVD that addresses it directly. Over time, you can branch out and add other topics to your new mental “diet.” That’s the great thing about self-improvement—there’s always room to make your mindset better!

*Plan regular “meals.” Everybody knows that to be healthy you have to eat foods that are good for you, and you have to eat them on a regular basis. It’s the same with your “mind food”—to really benefit from it, it has to be a regular part of your life. And the good news is, an investment of only 20 minutes a day will make a big difference.

If possible, I’d advise you to start your mornings with some sort of motivational material, because it can put you in a positive place for the rest of the day. The “how” is up to you. If you have an MP3 player, you could combine your listening with your morning walk. Or you might want to listen to a motivational CD in the car on your way to work (that’s what I do). You could also play a segment of a DVD while you’re getting ready at home, or read a section in a motivational book as you sip your coffee. If you like the benefits you experience due to your morning “brain breakfast,” don’t stop there! Build other chunks of time devoted to feeding your mind into your day. Personally, I find it helpful and relaxing to read a few pages of inspiration each night before bed, too.

Yes, it may take some effort to change your long-standing habits and routines as you make room for more positive material. But the results are worth it. Your attitude will transform, you’ll be in better control of your thoughts and emotions, and you’ll more naturally be able to focus on the many wonderful things about yourself, other people, and life in general.

 

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The Bad News Monopoly Explained

Have you ever noticed that the world seems to run on bad news and negative opinions? Every time you turn on the television to see evening headlines, for example, you’re bombarded with one depressing, concerning, or pessimistic story after another. (Although sometimes news outlets will throw in a story about cute animals or the like to lighten things up.) Often, the subjects of our conversations, the Internet links we click on, the books we read, and even the private thoughts that run through our heads aren’t much better.

Nobody (at least, no one I’ve ever met) thinks that being so immersed in negativity is fun. In fact, bad news decreases the quality of our lives in a very real way. The things we hear, think about, and discuss shape our attitudes, moods, and actions whether we’re conscious of it happening or not.

So, since nobody enjoys a lowered mood or a Debbie Downer, why don’t we simply change the things we report, read, and talk about? In this blog post I’d like to share several reasons why there’s such a bad news monopoly (if you’re like me, you’ll find them eye-opening and interesting). And in a later post I’ll share some strategies to help you change your mental diet for the better:

What’s driving the bad news monopoly?                   

*Survival. To some extent, humans want and need to know about worrisome things on the horizon so they can plan and prepare. From inclement weather to criminal activity to the economy’s projected fluctuations, it’s important to have an accurate picture of what’s potentially ahead. Unless you like to be blindsided, ignorance is not always bliss. And on the other hand, we can benefit from hearing about how others went wrong in the past. Some parts of history don’t need to be repeated!

*Negativity is in our language. One study shows that of all the words we use to express emotion, 50 percent are negative, 30 percent are positive, and 20 percent are neutral. Scientists believe that this is the case because negative words often convey danger or a threat (again, survival is at stake)…but this vocabulary breakdown doesn’t exactly predispose us to talk about, process, or share positive things.

*Curiosity. Let’s face it—most people have a healthy sense of curiosity. And often, it’s of the morbid variety—hence the popular saying “It was like watching a train wreck—I couldn’t look away!” In general, our society can’t resist hearing the details about this politician’s sordid secret life or that celebrity’s descent into drug addiction or even our own neighbor’s messy divorce, to give just a few examples.

*Schadenfreude. (If you’re not familiar with the term, click here for a brief German lesson!) It’s definitely not the noblest aspect of human nature, but I’d venture to say we’ve all felt a sense of pleasure when we heard of or noticed another person’s misfortune. Ha—happy it wasn’t me! you might think, or even, I’m glad to see him getting what he deserves. The media takes advantage of this fact to sucker in viewers and readers; so does your office’s resident gossip. At times, you probably do, too.

*Misery loves company. In the short term, it’s satisfying to rant and gripe about what’s bothering you with people who feel the same way. You feel validated, understood, important, and, most of all, not alone. Also, when you’re feeling depressed, frustrated, or generally crappy, you probably don’t want to surround yourself with people who seem like happy, hunky-dory Pollyannas.

*“Bad” really is news. I’ve heard the theory that—despite what you may think in your more cynical moments—the world and the people in it are still basically good; therefore, “bad” acts are out of the ordinary and thus newsworthy. I’d like to think it’s true!

So, there you have it: the bad news monopoly explained—at least partially. However, even if there are valid reasons for hearing significantly more bad news than good, that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Again, when you continuously put negative opinions and information into your head—for whatever reason—sooner or later they’ll begin to infect your own attitude and happiness levels. In an upcoming post, look for my tips on how to overhaul your mental diet.

 

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