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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