You Are What You Read

Garbage in, garbage out. If you want your mind to run like an F1 Racecar, you need to put the proper fuel in the tank. Putting grape juice in the engine will destroy it.

Across all time, there have been approximately 130 million books written. Let’s say that you read 50 books per year with a rate of one per week, with a two-week vacation. That is more books than most people will ever read, by a large margin. Even if you read at that high rate, that gives you only 2500 books assuming you live for 50 more years, and you don’t repeat any of them!

Approaching reading this way keeps you aware of how precious your attention is. Why are you reading? To learn? For entertainment? To advance in your career? There’s no right or wrong way to do it, but if you’re reading for fun, pick fun books. If you’re reading to learn a particular subject, find the best book on the subject. Doing this over time will yield significant results.

Be mindful of the Lindy Effect. I’m not advocating against all new books. I often will pick up a recently published book if a few close friends recommend it. They have already vetted it for me, and I have determined that if it is worthy of their attention, then it is worthy of mine. Many people have read many things before you. Use that to your advantage. Don’t confuse it with social proof, though. I trust the opinions of a few close friends more than those of a few hundred strangers. We can call this attention trust by proxy. Same goes for movies. I only watch ones that are certified fresh by Rotten Tomatoes. If audiences vote yay and critics vote nay, I go with the critics. It’s easier to decide when both go in the same direction. Most people don’t do this. Like you can pick a restaurant based on the hundreds of Yelp reviews from the diners who have come before you, you can do the same thing with content. When do you need to be first? In the age of instant news, we gain social currency from knowing something before other people know it. Unless you’re using the information for money and it pays to know something quicker, most of the time whether we read something today or tomorrow or next year, it doesn’t matter. The social currency of junk content expires quickly, and we must continuously mine to replenish its supply. Replace social media with slow media.

Don’t be afraid of quitting. Be mindful of sunk cost fallacy. If you’ve started a book and you’re not getting out of it what you had hoped, there is no need to finish! Even if you’re doing it for your career, or school, there may be other ways to get the material. Can you watch lecture videos? Take tests or quizzes? Try teaching the content to others? Discuss the concepts with others? Reading is one medium. There are others you can use to get what you need.

What you read influences how you show up in life. Clogging your news feed with doom and gloom, where everyone is always on vacation and falling in love and getting promoted and having the most fabulous day every single day, negatively impacts mood by distorting reality. Life is great, but highlights are highlights for a reason — they are exceptions to the norm.

Consume content based on the content you wish to create. If you want to be a painter, read books about painting. If you want to be happier, read books about happiness and positive psychology. Whether or not your choice of content is conscious, it will influence your behavior. Be mindful.

Don’t fall for traps. When reading, ask yourself, why did this person write this? What are they selling? Are they selling me an idea? Are they trying to push product? Authors write to communicate with us. Clickbait is called clickbait for a reason.

Even this article might seem like a trap. If you take 5 minutes to read this, and it saves you from reading a single crappy book, consider it a victory!

Be careful about getting sucked into content you “must know.” Must, according to who? Your fear and outrage are being sold for profit. We are in the attention economy. We all get only 168 hours in a week. Discernment is up to you. It is your responsibility. If you are experiencing FOMO, take a break. Be mindful of always or never. Do you always need to know the score of the game? Imagine what you could do if you never watched TV again. Are you afraid of not knowing? You may find that if you stop consuming the news, you can remain informed, or don’t miss any of the things you used to spend your time on.

An excellent general rule to use is that the longer the content takes to produce, the longer it will stay with you.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you’ve enjoyed it, it would mean a lot to me if you shared it with someone you know who would like it. Keep reading 🙂