One of the biggest discoveries I've made in the last few years is simple but overlooked: What you eat is who you are, and what you read is who you become.
While most of us are willing to invest in our health, we often neglect our "content diet," which refers to the type of information we choose to feed our brains on a daily basis.
During the beginning of the pandemic, we were talking about two things: "Love is Blind" and "Tiger King." Both Netflix series combined total approximately 18 hours. That's 18 hours of ingesting mindless and sensational content.
For context, the average American used to spend an average of 11 hours per day consuming media. But in 2020, that average was expected to reach a new record high of 13 hours and 35 minutes per day.
It's easy to fall into a spiral of consuming what I call “junk food content,” which plunges you into crazy thought patterns and anxious feelings. In 2019, I made a conscious decision to elevate the information I was consuming, and it had a tremendous effect on my mental state.
First, I conducted a content audit: I took an honest look at the content I consumed on a daily basis. What do I read? What do I watch? What do I listen to? Who do I hang out with?
Then, I made a few rules: I would read fewer surface-level news articles and more long-form profiles. I would watch less reality TV and more documentaries. I would limit my conversations to 10% small talk and 90% substance.
Finally, I made it practical. I deleted a few social media apps from my phone. I stopped mindlessly scrolling. I used Pocket and Notion to save interesting articles, podcasts, and video interviews I wanted to watch. I joined communities and engaged with people who enjoyed brainstorming and debating new ideas. I listened to high-quality podcasts during my runs. I launched The Profile Dossier, so I could spend two days per week deeply studying some of the most interesting and successful figures in the world. I also started interviewing people I wanted to learn from.
In May, columnist David Brooks wrote about this idea called “the theory of maximum taste,” which states that each person’s mind is defined by its upper limit — the best content that it habitually consumes and is capable of consuming.
He writes: “This theory is based on the idea that exposure to genius has the power to expand your consciousness. If you spend a lot of time with genius, your mind will end up bigger and broader than if you spend your time only with run-of-the-mill stuff.”
When we were all in school, we were forced to put quality ideas into our brains. You got tough assignments, and you had to write essays in which you argued a point you may or may not have agreed with. But after we left college, many of us just stopped learning. We stopped reading dense, hard things. We stopped generating ideas.
As a result, our maximum taste shrinks. Brooks asks the question: "Have you ever noticed that 70% of the people you know are more boring at 30 than they were at 20?”
You'll probably generate more ideas if you spend time reading about Charlie Munger than watching The Bachelorette. It's obvious, but few of us actually do it.
2020 was a year that showed us that we are in desperate need of innovation across medicine, social justice, and the economy. If you want to change the world, start by creating an environment that facilitates falling into intellectual rabbit holes and promotes creative thinking.
Elon Musk has a similar framework in that he often thinks about his “mental software.” He says there’s a distinction between our mental “hardware” (our raw intelligence and natural talents) and our “software” (our belief systems & thought patterns).
The hardware is like a ball of clay handed to us at birth, but it’s the software that determines what kind of tool the clay gets shaped into. In other words, your brain software is the most important product you possess because you can optimize it by regularly ingesting quality information. (That’s why some of our brains are running on iOS 14 while others are still stuck on iOS 7.)
In a world that bombards us with clickbait and articles solely written to sell ads, it's up to you to become more aware and intentional about your own content diet. Ultimately, the information you consume on a daily basis will determine how you think about and see the world.
Make it a goal this year to find outlets (like The Profile!) that act as content quality filters, sifting through large swaths of information to provide a range of articles that will make you pause and see things from a different perspective.
As author Haruki Murakami said, “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
Don't let yourself run on autopilot. Be the one to choose what to feed your brain.
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— The Profile's 2020 Year in Review
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— How the World’s Most Creative People Bring Their Ideas to Life
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— I quit my job at the start of the pandemic to launch a company. Here’s what I’ve learned in the first 90 days.
Shifted to mostly short-form media a few years ago, refocusing back on long-form content in general is one of my 2021 goals.
This is beautiful and so important. Thank you for being one incredible source of high-quality signal.