Mental Kale

We’ve all heard the truism, “you are what you eat.” Clearly this applies to food intake and how our body composition is directly correlated. Eat fruit and veggies, have a healthy physique. Eat fried, processed foods, have a sick body.

But what if we extended this common sense phrase to our mindset and performance? If we are what we eat, it only stands to reason that we think what our intellect consumes.

Our minds – just like our bodies – are fed regularly, and we consume both good and bad things. Sometimes, we savor ‘health food’ such as reading a great book, having a thoughtful discussion with a colleague, or watching a compelling TED talk. These inputs are mind-expanding, creating new synapses and elevating our thinking and performance.

Other times, we gobble up the mental equivalent of junk food. These inputs can be the constant barrage of our negative and divisive news cycle, angry rants from customers, or harsh and unproductive criticism from bosses. Exactly like junk food, some inputs feel good in the moment but take a toll over the long-term: gossip, brainless reality TV shows, jealousy-inducing social media posts, and mind-numbing small talk. These empty calories may ‘taste’ good, but they create a mental fog rather than a state of growth and empowerment.

Being realistic, most of us eat some good meals and some bad ones. For our minds, the trick is to balance out the junk food with some mental kale. In other words, ensuring that we consume fresh ideas, creative thoughts, and inspiring content will offset the all-you-can-eat buffet of polluted thinking. It reminds me of the fable of an old Cherokee man teaching his grandson about life:

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil—he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

If we want to create inspired work, drive our businesses forward, and achieve greatly, we must feed our minds with stimulating, raw materials. In the same way an elite athlete carefully monitors her food intake for optimal performance, those of us in the knowledge economy need to take equal care of what we feed our minds.

Creating habits around positive mental inputs, while keeping the junk food to a minimum, will provide us the strength, stamina, and power to succeed greatly. The higher quality the inputs, the more delicious the outputs.

In this holiday season, let’s gobble up many heaping portions of positive thoughts, wisdom, and insights to make 2020 our best year yet.  Now that’s a dish worthy of second helpings.