The Essentials of a Healthy Mental Diet

The Essentials of a Healthy Mental Diet

Like a nutritious food diet, a mental diet should be balanced and full of hearty goodness.

Over consuming is wasteful and leaves you bloated and sloth-like. Have you ever stuffed yourself at an all- you-can-eat buffet? If you never give your mind a chance to digest – it’s not uncommon for the same fate to leave your mind overburdened and useless.

Under consumption is still a problem in some parts of the world. Not eating enough calories and nutrients leads to stunted growth – the same holds true for feeding your brain. Without exposure to new ideas and opinions, there’s nothing to fuel your education.

Lastly, you might be getting enough to eat, enough to fill your stomach, but are you consuming a healthy balance? All Mountain Dew and Twinkies won’t do the trick. You need fruits and veggies for maximum vitality and longevity. If you aren’t paying the price now – you will later. Mental food comes in all types as well.

My mental diet

Since September, I’ve simplified my daily routines and decluttered my life in leaps in bounds. Applying minimalism to my tangible world has come rather easy to me. But in the meantime, I’ve let my mental diet slip. I haven’t been paying attention to what I’m consuming and mostly how much I’m taking in on a daily basis .

Like your food diet, the effects of an unhealthy mental diet don’t always appear instantly. It can be sometime down the road before you notice any changes in the way you feel or think. Lately, I’ve had trouble falling asleep with a restless mind – and I’m taking this as the first sign that my mind is processing far too much information.

I’ve decided to take steps now before it gets worse and starts affecting my relationships, creative time, school work – although I’m probably naive to think it hasn’t already.

I thought it might be helpful for you to see what changes I’m implementing in my own mental diet. I admit, it’s nothing sexy – the tabloids won’t be running a feature on this post anytime soon – but it might help you out in a small way. Feel free too share this post or print it out and lay it next to your computer.

Simple principles

1. Reduce consumption. I feel best when I’m lighter, freer, faster. Too much noise and information (even quality sources) clogs my brain tubes and slows me down. The extra weight is a burden that keeps my brain running overtime to keep up. It’s an exhausting affair.

2. Well-timed consumption. Your brain needs time to process new ideas and store them away for reference. If you’re consuming information to grow your mind – space it out to leave your brain a bit of breathing room. This is called white-space.

3. Not just what, but how. Information consumption comes in two forms: Active and reactive. Active consumption is focused, enjoyable, conscious, satisfying. Good novels are typically enjoyed this way. Twitter is another information source – but it’s reactive in nature. You jump from one idea to the next, chose by others in one long endless stream.

Reactionary (aka passive) consumption is entertaining – think television sitcoms – but it rarely demands creative input or mental growth. A simple rule of thumb is that ¾  or more of your mental diet should be actively consumed. Leave some room for entertainment or else you’ll go crazy.

4. Creative outposts. Anyone interested in healthy living will tell you that exercise should be part of any regiment – it’s not just what you eat that’s important. Just as exercise is fueled by what you eat and leads to a more holistic health – creative work is fueled by a good mental diet and leads to a better you.

Your mental health regiment is complete when you utilize what you consume to create something beautiful, useful or unique. For me, writing is my creative outposts and a way to process new ideas and express them to others.

5. Savor every bite. Eating isn’t just about fueling your body – it’s meant to be a pleasure-filled extravaganza. You wouldn’t put your favorite dish in a blender and liquefy to make it go down faster. So why do you tear through books, novels, blog posts just to squeeze out some kernel of knowledge? Do everything and read everything as an end entirely in itself. Do it for fun and the learning part will be taken care of.

OK with those principles in mind, I came up with a few specifics that I’m trying out. If they work and are enjoyable – I’ll keep them. If not – they’re outta here.

The specifics

Here they are in bullet point form. I’d love to here any suggestions for what you’ve tried in the past –  or even critiques of my approach. Share this post on Facebook for your friends and family to read.

  • Check my blog stats once a week. That includes Google analytics and Feedburner and anything else addictive in nature. Slowly, I’d like to let go of this compulsive habit altogether. My self worth doesn’t derive from impersonal numbers on a screen. My worth comes from relationships – with God, family, friends, my readers.
  • Follow 10 blogs, that’s it. Blogs are only one way to consume information. I actually prefer long-form essays and novels/books for the good stuff. Plus, reading blogs can take away time from other things that are more important to me. Choosing just 10 will be hard – any suggestions?
  • Check email twice a day, respond once. Checking email has become an unconscious habit for me and it eats up minutes all over the place. I’ll check twice a day – once before lunch and once before bed. Unless it’s time sensitive, I’ll batch all my processing, responding, deleting in one shot.
  • A few dips in the Twitter stream. I’ll log on a few times (2-4) each day for 5 minutes to take a dip in the stream (share stuff, reply, browse, chat) – but won’t let myself stay long. This is how I keep up with my readers and other bloggers on the web.
  • No electronics after 10 PM. Reactive consumption is especially addictive when you’re tired. Plus, thinking too much before bed can keep your mind racing – for some reason – a good novel (fiction) doesn’t do that to me.
  • Slowly phase out the use of cellphone. I hate being on-demand all the time. With cellphones, it’s too expected that you’ll respond quickly and every time. That same stigma doesn’t apply online (email, twitter, skype) and it allows you to deal with non-present communication at specific times in the day instead of anytime (read: all the time).
  • Less than 1 hour a day on technology. Life is happening all around me in real time  – I don’t miss it with my head buried in a hi-res computer screen.
  • Focus mental diet on active consumption. Short blog posts are great for spreading new ideas quickly and sparking action and inspiring, but they shouldn’t make up the bulk of a mental diet. I’ll try reading long-form essays, novels, watching good movies, plays for the good stuff. Hint: you might consider reading a book with real pages – the web, with hyperlinks and interactivity is designed to distract you and pull you further in.